Fans of the minutiae of NBA contracts will note that Anthony Tolliver once earned a shade over $353,000 for barely a day’s work. By anyone’s standards, that is quite the yield. But it took Tolliver several years of further good fortune in the form of future contracts to reap those benefits. In the case of the Milwaukee Bucks and Jrue Holiday, it took only eight seconds.
Almost one year ago to the day, a few months after trading for him, the Bucks tied Holiday into a contract extension. Holiday had one year left to run on the five year, $131.1 million contract that he signed in July 2017, but that one remaining year was a player option season for $27,120,000 – so as to get more money in both the immediate and long terms, Holiday declined that option and signed another four-year contract via an extension, one including a base salary of $134,997,333.
“Base salary” is an important caveat here, as this new contract includes several incentives that can boost his salary beyond that. This is not unusual in big contracts such as his, and nor are the specific requirements in Holiday’s specific deal. Bonuses are paid if certain thresholds are met, and those thresholds can pertain to the player’s specific performance, to the performance of the team he is under contract to, or both. From the point of view of the salary cap, incentives are added to the team’s cap number if they are considered “likely”, and are not if they are considered “unlikely” – likelihood is determined by whether or not the threshold was met in the previous season.
The particulars of Holiday’s 2021-22 contract call for the following:
- $30,133,333 in base salary
- $306,000 if he makes the All-Star game
- $306,000 if he plays 2,075 regular season minutes
- $306,000 if he plays at least 66 regular season games
- $306,000 if he plays at least 67 regular season games and averages at least 3.15 rebounds per game
- $306,000 if he plays at least 67 regular season games and averages at least 7.3 assists per game
- $120,000 bonus if he makes either NBA All-Defensive Team
- $240,000 if his team makes the NBA Finals
- $1,020,000 if his team wins the NBA Finals
In the 2020/21 season, Holiday had achieved all but two of those [the games and minutes played thresholds were prorated down to 58 and 1,822 respectively, to account for the season only being 72 games long instead of the usual 82]. He was not an All-Star selection, and nor did he hit the assists-per-game threshold, but he and his team did manage the rest of that list. As a result, $2,298,000 has been considered “likely” and added onto his (and by proxy, Milwaukee’s) cap number on the season to date.
Nevertheless, to actually get paid those amounts for the 2021/22 season, Holiday would have to hit those thresholds again. A player’s cap number and his salary are not always the same, and although he had earned (and been paid for) six of those eight bonuses in 2020/21, he needed to hit the thresholds again to be paid them again.
At this time, it of course remains to be seen whether Holiday and the Bucks can earn the Finals-related bonuses, and the All-NBA Defensive Teams are also yet to be announced. But now that the regular season is over, the related performance thresholds can be determined decisively.
Heading into the final game of the regular season, Holiday had appeared in 66 games and 2,207 minutes. Those were good enough to meet the games and minutes played thresholds. But to meet those that combined games played with per-game metrics (i.e. rebounds and assists), he needed to play one more game. There, the contract stipulates 67 appearances, not 66.
Averaging 4.6 rebounds per game, Holiday was comfortably over that threshold, so long as he appeared in the 67th game. Yet at 6.9 assists per game, he would need to play that game and record what would be an NBA record 32 assists to get up to the required 7.3 per contest.
This, clearly, was not realistic. But nowhere did it say that Holiday had to play a certain amount in each of his 67 games, just that he played in 67 games. A token appearance would suffice. And so a token appearance was what he got.
With the Bucks comfortably assured of home court advantage and either the second or third seed in the Eastern Conference – with the cynical view suggesting they might also prefer third and a first-round series against the dwindling Chicago Bulls, thus benefitting from a loss in their final regular season game – there was no need to put out their best players and run the risk of injury. That of course includes Holiday, who would not have played were it not for the financial incentive.
However, because of the incentive and the need to get that 67th game in, Holiday did indeed play. He started, gave a foul as soon as he could, and subbed out, ne’er to return.
All in all, it took eight seconds, the most fleeting of cameos. In a game in which only six other players of the Bucks deep bench played, sharing the remaining 239 minutes and 52 seconds of court time between them, Holiday was the starter credited with 0.08 minutes of playing time. Such is the way of the annual anomaly that is the end of the regular season.
Had Milwaukee not given Holiday that one possession, they could have saved themselves nearly $1.5 million. As it is, they now will pay Holiday an extra $306,000 in salary for meeting his 67-games-plus-3.2-rebounds-per-game bonus, and, in being provisionally more than $20 million over the luxury tax threshold, they will also pay 3.75 times that amount in tax payments. That is a total $1,453,500 for eight seconds of a largely meaningless game, in terms of the current standings. But in terms of a show of loyalty to their players, it is not meaningless at all.
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