With every other top ten pick locked into a shoe endorsement, Dennis Smith Jr. is betting on himself in the Las Vegas Summer League.
A little over a week before the 2017 NBA Draft, the projected (and eventual) number one pick in the draft, Markelle Fultz, signed an endorsement deal with Nike. Fultz joined both Karl Anthony-Towns and Ben Simmons as the past three number one picks becoming Nike athletes.
Since then, Jayson Tatum, Jonathan Isaac, De’Aaron Fox, and Lauri Markkanen all have signed with Nike. Josh Jackson signed with Under Armour, Lonzo Ball with Big Baller Brand (!) and Frank Ntilikina is still under contract with Nike from his time in Europe (according to NiceKicks).
The only top ten draft pick that has yet to sign a shoe endorsement?
Dennis Smith Jr.
"“In the NBA, the shoe deal is the pinnacle endorsement deal for all players. On the low-end of the spectrum, there’s a guaranteed annual base salary of compensation for a standard endorser,” DePaula said. “Signature shoes with royalty earnings for the top-tier of players can quickly escalate in value and pay more than $15 million annually.”"
Translated, this is a HUGE decision for Smith Jr. as some players make more annually through their shoe endorsements than their actual contract. Also, it’s not just the heavy hitters of Nike and Adidas that are a part of the mix now.
Klay Thompson recently signed a 10-year extension with the China based shoe company called Anta that is worth up to $80 million.
Heading into Summer League, everybody is playing for different reasons. Some are trying to gain training camp invites while some are trying to prove they are worthy of actual minutes come the NBA regular season.
For Dennis Smith Jr., it’s a time to showcase himself for potential shoe endorsements.
When I asked DePaula for an update on Smith Jr.’s shoe situation, he said that Smith Jr. is betting on himself in Vegas.
"“While teams are excited to get a first look at their rookies during the annual Summer League, the series of games can also serve as a showcase for players looking to lock in marketing deals,” DePaula said. “This summer, Dennis Smith Jr. is betting on himself and waiting to sign a shoe deal until after the Summer League. He’s hoping his explosive play and impressive point guard potential will lead to increased offers from interested brands looking to sign him to a shoe deal.”"
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Is this the only reason Smith Jr. is showing out in Vegas? Absolutely not. But is the situation playing a small part in his impressive performances? I believe so.
Going into the draft, you imagine Smith Jr. had his list of offers from shoe companies, but by the looks of the current situation, none of them were to the standards he was looking for.
Now, after becoming arguably the most talked about player in the Las Vegas Summer League, you have to think shoe companies will circle back to Smith Jr.’s camp with a better offer. But this isn’t the first time a top draft pick pulled off the “betting on himself” stunt in Summer League.
“In 2012, Blazers rookie point guard Damian Lillard waited until after the draft to sign his shoe deal, wanting brands unfamiliar with his game to see him in action first. He went on to win Co-MVP and signed a multi-year deal with adidas,” DePaula told me.
Two years after that, the relationship with Adidas and Lillard only grew as Lillard signed a new extension with Adidas that could lead to 10 years and over $100 million (per ESPN).
The decision of what shoe to play basketball in might not mean much to some, but for rising stars, it means marketing opportunities, personal branding, relationships and millions of dollars.
Dennis Smith Jr. didn’t take guaranteed shoe endorsement money before the draft or Summer League, instead, he’s betting on himself in Vegas and he looks to cash out very soon with a very lucky shoe brand.