Two-way players get significant pay bump with NBA In-Season Tournament

Dec 4, 2023, 8:03 AM

Phoenix Suns guard Saben Lee...

Phoenix Suns' Saben Lee (38) celebrates after a 3-point basket against the Indiana Pacers during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Phoenix, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

(AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

At stake over the next week in the NBA: a trip to Las Vegas for four teams, a chance to be the first team to hoist the league’s newest trophy, along with bragging rights for winning the inaugural in-season tournament.

And money. A lot of money. In a few cases, what some guys win on Saturday will be about half of what they’ll make all season.

What are the bonuses for players in the NBA In-Season Tournament?

There are cash prizes for reaching the knockout round in the tournament, and the prizes will keep growing as a team advances. Each player gets $500,000 for winning the title, $200,000 for making the final, $100,000 for reaching the semifinals and $50,000 for making the quarterfinals. There is one caveat: two-way players on those rosters only get half as much as those on standard contracts.

Boston two-way player Neemias Queta doesn’t mind. To him, whatever he gets will be appreciated.

“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’s just the prestige of getting the first one.”

For the highest-paid players left in this tournament — LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers; Phoenix teammates Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker; Milwaukee teammates Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo — winning $500,000 would be like getting another game check.

But for players like Queta, one of 22 two-way players on the teams that made the knockout round, this tournament could bring a sizable bonus.

Two-way players make about $559,000 this season. If they’re on the title-winning team in Las Vegas, they’ll get $250,000 more. That’ll be a 45% raise over what those guys expected to make this season. At minimum, just for being on a team that made the quarterfinals, the two-way players are already assured of $25,000 each.

“It’s another good reason to be motivated,” Phoenix two-way player Saben Lee said. “But regardless, guys love to play basketball and compete at a high level.”

Lee and center Udoka Azubuike are the pair of two-way players for Phoenix, as the Suns are the only NBA team who have not filled the third two-way spot this season.

Phoenix opens tournament play with a quarterfinals matchup in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Tuesday.

The NBA will distribute about $18 million in bonus money based on results of the tournament, with just under half of that going to the winning team. James has the highest salary of the players still in the field at around $47 million this season, so he basically makes about $500,000 per game anyway.

That doesn’t mean the cash hasn’t piqued the interest of some of the league’s top earners.

“I’m sure the richest guy in the world would be happy to get $500,000,” said Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who’s making just under $29 million this season. “We’re all excited about that opportunity to get some extra cash.”

The quarterfinal matchups: It’s Boston at Indiana and New Orleans at Sacramento on Monday, then New York at Milwaukee and Phoenix at the Lakers on Tuesday. Pelicans forward Zion Williamson said his team was pleased to be in the running for the title — and the running for that $500,000-per-player prize.

“That’s something that you can give to family members or whatever you plan on doing with it. I think that’s good motivation,” Williamson said. “But also, for us, we haven’t won nothing. So, I think that would be like a starter step for us, trying to go and win that.”

The league’s playoff pool has a similar setup — the deeper a team goes in the postseason, the more money it gets to share among players, coaches and staff. The 16 playoff teams split about $27 million last season. It’s up to each team on how to distribute its share.

But this tournament has a clearly defined bonus structure. And the drama could be high.

Imagine this: It’s Saturday night in Las Vegas, the championship game is in the final seconds, a team has the ball down by one with a chance to win. A shot goes up as time is about to expire — and that shot might be worth about $5 million to that player’s team, based on the total difference between winning the tournament and finishing second.

“We talk about it all the time, the money’s that’s on the line,” Bucks forward Bobby Portis said. “It’ll mean a lot. … But the end award is what we’re all shooting for, getting to the Finals, getting back there, drilling it and being the best we can be. This is nice but all our minds are focused on what can happen in June.”

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Two-way players get significant pay bump with NBA In-Season Tournament