This is what is at stake over the next week in the NBA: a trip to Las Vegas for four teams and the opportunity to be the first team to hoist the league’s newest trophy.
And money. A lot of money. In some cases, what some players earn on Saturday will be about half of what they will earn all season.
There are cash prizes for reaching the elimination round of the tournament and the prizes will continue to increase as the team advances. Each player receives $500,000 for winning the title, $200,000 for reaching the finals, $100,000 for reaching the semifinals and $50,000 for reaching the quarterfinals. But there’s a caveat: Players on two-way contracts only get half as much as those on standard contracts.
Boston two-way player Neemias Queta doesn’t care. For him, everything he earns will be appreciated.
A two-way contract allows the team to alternate the player between the NBA and the Development League (G-League).
“Obviously it’s some extra money, something to help your family, whatever it is,” Queta said. “But, at the end of the day, it’s not the money that makes us want to get to the tournament. “It is simply the prestige of getting the first trophy.”
For the highest paid players left in this tournament, who are Lebron James and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers; Phoenix teammates Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker; and the Bucks’ Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, winning $500,000 would be like getting another check for a game.
But for players like Queta, one of 22 two-way shooters from teams that reached the knockout round, this tournament could bring a considerable advantage.
Two-way players earn about $559,000 this season. If they are on the title-winning team in Las Vegas, they will receive $250,000 more. That will be a 45% increase over what they expected to earn this season. At a minimum, just by being on a team that reached the quarterfinals, two-day contract players are already guaranteed $25,000 each.
“It’s another good reason to be motivated,” Phoenix two-way player Saben Lee said. “But anyway, the guys love playing basketball and competing at a high level.”
The NBA will distribute about $18 million in bonuses for the tournament results, with just under half of that amount going to the winning team. James has the highest salary of the players still on the field at around $47 million this season, so he’s basically making around $500,000 per game anyway.
That doesn’t mean the money hasn’t piqued the interest of some of the league’s highest earners.
“I’m sure the richest guy in the world would be happy to get $500,000,” said Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who makes just under $29 million this season. “We are all excited about the opportunity to make some extra money”.
The quarterfinal matchups are: Boston vs. Indiana and New Orleans vs. Sacramento on Monday, then New York vs. Milwaukee and Phoenix vs. the Lakers on Tuesday. Pelicans forward Zion Williamson said his team was happy to be in the running for the title and that $500,000 per player prize.
“That’s something you can give to your family or whatever you plan to do with it. I think it’s a good motivation,” Williamson said.. “But we haven’t won anything for ourselves either. So, I think it would be like a first step for us, to try to win it.”
For the regular playoffs, the NBA has a similar setup: the further a team advances in the postseason, the more money it can share between players, coaches and staff. The 16 playoff teams split about $27 million last season. It is up to each team how to distribute their part.
But this tournament has a clearly defined bonus structure. And the drama could be high.
“We talk about it all the time, money is on the line,” Bucks forward Bobby Portis said.