Inside The Life Of An NBA Player On A 10-Day Contract, And Why It’s Harder Than You Think

Henry Sims rests quietly at his dinner table at New York City hot spot, Philippe.

No one to his right. No one to his left. Sims sits alone.

After his meal, he will return to his hotel in Brooklyn, New York, just a short arm’s reach from Barclays Center, where he will be playing with the Nets for at least a week and a half stretch after signing a 10-day contract with Brooklyn on March 17. The Nets would eventually re-up him for a second 10-day deal. After that, he couldn’t tell you his future.

Over at the adjacent table, he hears fans discussing the hit Netflix show, House of Cards. Sims hasn’t seen it, though he’s heard all the reviews. He interjects.

“Should I start it?” he asks the two friends dining next to him.

Sims doesn’t get recognized all too often, but this time is different. One of the House of Cards conversationalists was the same year as Sims at Georgetown, someone who watched him star as the starting center for one of college basketball’s elite programs, who watched him run for student body vice president before he graduated in 2012.

“Woah, you’re Henry Sims,” says the star-struck alum.

Sims isn’t using his tickets for the upcoming game. How could he? He just got to New York. He gives his number to one of the fans after receiving a positive review for the show.

“Text me tomorrow, and I’ll set you up with tickets to the game,” the Nets’ newest member offers.

Come two days later, a couple of Georgetown alums had free Nets seats, and Sims had made a couple of friends amidst his unique professional environment.

This is hardly Sims’ first time on a 10-day deal; he signed one with the New Orleans Hornets in March 2013. He inked non-guaranteed, training camp deals with the Knicks in 2012 and Suns in 2015 that saw him get waived before he could ever play a regular-season game, though he did capture a year-and-a-half span as a rotation player for the tanking 76ers during the time between.

“I think probably when you’re on your first 10-day or you’re a rookie or something, you’re not accustomed to the NBA lifestyle,” Sims said. “You don’t know you’ve got to be early to everything. Get in the gym early, stay late. Be attentive with film. [There are] just things you don’t know, and it’s not your fault, because you haven’t experienced it.”

Brooklyn yields just another chance for the journeyman.

The Nets will send their unprotected first-round picks to the Celtics in both 2016 and 2018. Boston has the right to swap selections with them in 2017, as well, an almost certainty given where the C’s and the Nets project to be in next season’s standings. So, with new general manager Sean Marks still wetting his feet, Brooklyn has to get creative to find young talent.

They already have Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough, who they traded for and drafted, respectively, on NBA Draft night this past summer. And now, after watching Jarrett Jack go down with a season-ending knee injury and buying out Joe Johnson, they’re finding ways to take low-risk, medium-sized-reward moves on young talents.

That’s how Sims gets into the mix. It’s how the 26-year-old Sean Kilpatrick, a former University of Cincinnati standout and 10-day contract veteran, found his way onto the team with a multi-year deal after previously signing back-to-back 10-day deals with Brooklyn.

“I’m home now,” said Kilpatrick, who grew up in White Plains, New York, about 45 minutes north of Brooklyn. “I found a home in the NBA. And that’s something every player coming through this, especially on a 10-day, would want to know. Where’s he gonna be next week or the week after that? So, having that type of security is something that’s gonna be really good for me.”

Kilpatrick has shot the lights out with the Nets. The contract, which will take him into 2017-18 — though it is not guaranteed for the final season, per Basketball Insiders — was well-deserved. More so, it was necessary for an organization without many vehicles to acquire young talent. Those draft picks were the Nets’ meal tickets, and the NBA doesn’t provide food stamps.

Now, it’s almost as if someone plopped the organization in the middle of New York City with no money and told Sean Marks & Co., “You want to eat. Forage your way to meals.”

Kilpatrick has immediately appeared as unexpected sustenance.

The 10-day contract comes with an immense amount of pressure; not even two weeks to prove that you belong on an NBA team. Often, organizations will give a player a second 10-day — as happened with Kilpatrick before he signed and Sims now — but the string of deals ends there. NBA rules stipulate that a player cannot sign more than two of them with the same team during the same season. That leaves just about three weeks for someone like Sims or Kilpatrick to prove he deserves a contract.

“My first 10-day was more stressful,” said Sims, whose initial 10-day contract came with the Hornets in 2013. “I didn’t know what to expect. And it was a little difficult, just in the aspect of trying to sleep at night, trying to come into the gym not being on eggshells and not really know what to do on a 10-day. But now, this 10-day is a little different. I know what to expect. I know what to do. I’m older. I’ve been through it.”

And when it comes to that coveted multi-year contract, security can be as much of an incentive as the actual dollars.

“It’s been great, man, being able to kind of relax now a little bit, mentally,” Kilpatrick unloaded. “Now, I can just go out and not have to worry about all the other stuff and just play my game now.”

Kilpatrick didn’t need to explain the burden that lifted once pen hit paper on the longest NBA contract he had ever earned. He had committed to teams before — signing 10-days and non-guaranteed deals with the Warriors, Timberwolves, Pelicans and Nuggets — but no franchise had ever committed to him.

He went for 15 points in 21 minutes after officially signing that three-year deal with Brooklyn. In the ensuing game, his first contest at Barclays Center since the Nets locked him up for the near future, he dropped a career-high 25 in only 27 minutes.

There’s something to be said about a profession where where stressless work still comes while living in a hotel.

Sims and Kilpatrick reside in the same one, even with Kilpatrick’s family still calling White Plains home.

“I try to go home as much as possible,” he said. “I’m able to go home and really see my daughter, my mom, my dad. I’m just trying to stay local, so I can stay around my family a little bit.”

Kilpatrick has a 23-year-old brother and 10-year-old sister, the latter of whom may have usurped the title of Loudest Fan at Barclays over the past month.

“It’s a little different, because she looks at me as an older brother, but I’m also like a friend to her,” said Kilpatrick.

There are few contracts in sports that could yield more situational success than a 10-day. Maybe it’s no coincidence that Kilpatrick, with family and friends around, just so happens to churn out the best basketball stretch of his life in Brooklyn.

Sean Kilpatrick
Getty Image

The Nets didn’t just sign up Kilpatrick because of his production — he’s averaging 13.2 points per game and shooting a superb 44 percent from 3 in a mere 20.5 minutes a night during his month with Brooklyn. They were also thrilled with Kilpatrick’s work ethic; with how he would stay late to shoot around; with how he spends each pregame sitting by his locker, headphones in, listening to Jay-Z or Drake or Meek Mill (yes, he’s a fan of both) while studying game film of the upcoming opponent on the big television in the Barclays home locker room.

That’s what teams look for in 10-day guys. It’s so darn tough to evaluate someone in a few weeks. You know any player will be on his best behavior during that time.

After going through the rounds more than once before, Sims knows he needs to show that same sort of vigor to his newest team.

“They say you’re supposed to give something that nobody else has given,” he said. “So, with that being said, you’ve got to pay attention to the game when you’re out of the game. You’ve got to be very much attentive on a 10-day, very business-cultured on a 10-day.”

But that’s life on a 10-day contract. Even if you’re lucky, your lifespan isn’t much longer or more sociable than a fruit fly’s. That is, unless you adapt.