There are 450 total roster spots among all 30 NBA teams for the regular season. Many guys play in the Summer League hoping to get training camp deals, or two-way contracts to play between the team's regular season roster and its G-League affiliate.
The 15th and final roster spot is decided after a team's three-week preseason training camp ends in mid-October. That heightens pressure to make the cut and possibly become a millionaire lifestyle that can help them accumulate generational wealth and change their loved ones' lives.
Two of the Suns' 17th and 18th preseason roster additions, Frank Jackson and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, understand being a journeyman player in the league isn't easy. The team announced them as free agents signed to non-guaranteed contracts as training camp invitees on Sept. 24.
Two of the Suns' roster spots belong to their two-way players Ish Wainright and Duane Washington Jr., the latter was signed in August after he was waived by the Indiana Pacers the previous month. Jae Crowder is still technically on Phoenix's roster despite his imminent departure while not attending training camp and on the trading block.
If one more player gets waived, that would make room for either of their training camp invitees in the 15th spot.
But Luwawu-Cabarrot doesn't just focus on the pressure to land a veteran minimum salary of about $2 million. He's focused on possibly being a part of a title contender's roster while unsure where they'll play next if one of them doesn't make the cut.
“I’m very grateful to be here and I appreciate being able to compete with these guys that have done amazing things these past couple years," Luwawu-Cabarrot told The Republic at training camp. "They’ve been to the finals, competed in the playoffs last year, so it’s a great opportunity and great experience.”
The 27-year-old Luwawu-Cabarrot is a 6-foot-7 wing who played professionally in his native France and in Serbia between 2012 and 2016. He was drafted 24th overall in the latter year by the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Suns are his sixth NBA team since then. Luwawu-Cabarrot has also played for the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, 76ers and Brooklyn Nets on two-way deals before he came to Phoenix.
He averaged 4.4 points per game in 52 games with Atlanta last season, 5.9 for his career.
The Suns are the third NBA team for the 6-foot-3 point guard Jackson since he was an early second-round pick by the Charlotte Hornets out of Duke in 2017.
He has an 8.5-point-per-game average and shoots 43.3% for his career. Jackson was traded on draft night to the New Orleans Pelicans, and had two foot surgeries that sidelined him for his entire first season. He returned in the 2018 Summer League, where he suffered an ankle injury that kept him out for much of the tournament until he played for New Orleans at the start of the following season.
Jackson joined Dallas Mavericks' G-League team Texas Legends for the 2018-19 season, and his 26.8 points per game for that team helped him get signed to Oklahoma City in December 2020. But he was waived after 17 days by the Thunder, and then signed a two-way deal with the Detroit Pistons shortly after Christmas that year. His 9.8 points per game with Detroit got him a two-year extension in August 2021, but they used their team option this past June and made him a free agent.
“It’s been a different dynamic, especially coming from two teams that were kind of rebuilding in New Orleans and in Detroit. It’s kind of like a new space to really tap into,” Jackson said.
Suns coach Monty Williams said he always does his best to make training camp invitees like Jackson and Luwawu-Cabarrot feel less nervous in team activities.
Jackson added about Williams, "Monty's been amazing to even play for just a week and just to see how he coaches and he runs things."
'That's a hard spot'
Williams empathizes with training camp invitees living on a “check-to-check basis," trying to land a roster spot.
“Anytime you’re in that position, as a coach you want to give them every advantage that you can to make themselves look good, to the staff and to the other players. That’s a hard spot. Because the 15th guy is typically someone who’s one step in and one step out," Williams said.
“Those guys know what they’re signed up for. They come with a different kind of intensity. They’re playing desperation basketball every second they’re in the game.”
Jackson and Luwawu-Cabarrot made their Suns debut during Phoenix's 119-115 win over the Lakers in Las Vegas Wednesday. Jackson got a steal and two rebounds in five minutes played, and Luwawu-Cabarrot had seven points, five rebounds and a block in 18.
Williams was like them three decades ago. He was signed to one-year contracts in each of the last five seasons during his nine-year career before he retired in 2003.
After he was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1994 and played with them for the following two years, Williams had stints with the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic, and Philadelphia 76ers. He was a small forward who averaged 6.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in 16.7 minutes played throughout his career.
New York traded Williams to San Antonio, then he joined Denver as a free agent in 1999, but the Nuggets released him within a month. After Orlando picked Williams off waivers, he remained with the Magic until 2002. He became a 76er in free agency later that year, was traded back to Orlando in 2003, then waived just three days after he returned there.
“One team I stayed with for a while thinking I was gonna get a long-term deal and it just didn’t work out. And then the last two, I had a one-year and an (player) option, which is the same thing,” Williams said.
“That’s a different mindset. You’re thinking about your job 365 days out of the year, 24-7. You don’t have time to rest. That just became my world and I got used to pressure just because of that, because every day I stepped on the floor I had to be the best that I could so that I could keep my job.”
In addition, Williams explained how the durations of NBA contracts have drastically changed from when he first entered the league, especially for first-round draft picks. He recalled many teams used to sign players to six or seven-year deals. He cited former NCAA champion and North Carolina All-American Eric Montross’s 10-year contract with the Boston Celtics after they drafted him in 1994.
Williams said he wanted at least a four-year deal in his first contract so he could eventually qualify for the NBA’s retirement pension. Players are eligible for the pension after playing for three years in the league.
Now, shorter contracts are more the norm.
“It just went down, it’s depressed more, man. If you can get a two-year deal in this economy, man, you feel like it’s a generation on a certain team if you spend some time there,” Williams said with a chuckle. “It’s just a different economy. It was crazy. Back then, no one knew that the money would be where it is today, so security was a big deal."
Jackson and Luwawu-Cabarrot don't have job security at the moment, but having the family-oriented Williams embracing them beyond Xs and Os and practice drills makes it easier.
“He just talks once every day. It’s not about technique or anything like that," Luwawu-Cabarrot said. "It’s just about human connection, asking how I’m doing, how’s the family, all these kinds of things for me to feel comfortable out here.”
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Monty Williams relates to Suns players' drive for final roster spot