NBA Draft History: Do you remember when Toni Kukoc made more money than Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen
With the 2019 NBA Draft happening this upcoming June, it has brought back memories of how one player, a clever agent, a serious owner and his general manager essentially help create "Rookie Scale Contracts" and made them a part of the league's collective bargaining agreement for almost the last thirty years.
Back in July of 1993 the Chicago Bulls finally signed Croatian and European basketball star Toni Kukoc for an estimated $17.6 million over seven to eight years. The contract details at the time were very sketchy, but the one thing known for sure was that the Bulls were not going to have any salary cap restrictions after signing Kukoc since they owned his rights by drafting him in 1990.
As a rookie, Kukoc got paid $1.1 million for the 93-94 season which was actually less than the $2.2 million he was making playing for Treviso in the Italian Series A League the season before.
However, Kukoc left to join a Bulls' team coming off of three NBA championships and to get the opportunity to play with Michael Jordan and yes, Scottie Pippen too. However, Jordan abruptly retired and Kukoc with Pippen navigated through a tough 93-94 season for the reigning champs.
Just over a year later in August of 1994, Kukoc signed a new contract for $26 million over six years that made him at the time, the highest paid Chicago Bulls' player in the franchise's history topping Jordan and a very unhappy Scottie Pippen.
Pippen had a well known displeasure towards Bulls G.M. Jerry Krause and team owner Jerry Reinsdorf's desire to sign an unproven NBA player in Kukoc to such a big contract. They also seemingly disregarded Pippen's market value and showed a lack of seriousness about trying to renegotiate his contract or sign him to a better one.
However, it wasn't a simple disregard on Krause or Reinsdorf's part. The truth was that Kukoc had a very sharp and clever agent in a man named Dr. Luciano "Lucky" Capicchioni.
In Kukoc's rookie contract he essentially had an opt-out option after one season. This meant if the Bulls were going to keep Kukoc, who was coming off of a solid rookie season, they were going to have to pay what his new market value was or take the chance of losing him.
Like it was stated before, Kukoc's rookie contract details were vague to the outside world. Did Krause over-look the one year opt-out option?
Maybe, he did or maybe he simply agreed to finally get Kukoc signed and didn't think the player or his agent would exercise the option because, after all, the Croatian was a rookie.
It has been discussed and written about in the years since, that Krause did try and get Reinsdorf to play hard ball with Capicchioni, because he knew the contract would add more fire to an already tense situation with Pippen.
And if Jordan did return to the Bulls (like he did), it would certainly create issues there as well. However, it is well known that Jerry Reinsdorf has a reputation as being a very serious person and if he makes a deal, he will honor it, which he did with Kukoc and Lucky.
So Kukoc got a bigger contract.
And to avoid a situation like this, where rookies will hold out until they get a contract that they want (anybody remember Glenn Robinson holding out for $100 million and signing for a 10-year $68.15 million contract) and backlash from veteran players who would be getting paid less for having more experience, 1994 became the last year without a salary scale for rookie players.
In the 1995 NBA-C.B.A., salaries for first-round picks were set to a strict scale that was based off their draft position. Also, their contracts would be for a two-season minimum with team options for a third and fourth season.
So there you have it, Toni Kukoc, a man named Lucky and two guys named Jerry helped create a situation that will make sure this year's draft picks, like Zion Williamson, will be restricted until he proves what his actual market value.