NBA contract incentives are far more complicated and secretive than we mere mortals could ever hope to comprehend. For instance, did you know that if Sam Perkins had scored 50 points in a single game, the Seattle SuperSonics had agreed to pay for his hair to be braided for a 10-year period? That's probably not true, but that's the thing about NBA incentives — they're kept under wraps and often times arcane in their nature.
However, every once in a while, a contract incentive is revealed and we all realize how crazy it is to be a professional athlete. The most recent example is that of Nate Robinson(notes), who lost out on a big chunk of change because he didn't play enough games this season. ESPN's Henry Abbott has the story:
Boston Celtics guard Nate Robinson was benched for two games near the end of the regular season, and it cost him $1 million, while saving the team twice that amount.
A clause in Robinson's contract calls for him to make a $1 million bonus if he both played in at least 58 games and made the playoffs this season. Robinson's Celtics are in the postseason, but he played in 56 games. As a result, the Celtics saved the $1 million they would have paid Robinson -- equivalent to a quarter of his reported annual salary -- and an additional $1 million they would have owed in luxury tax to the NBA (most of which would have been distributed to teams with payrolls below the luxury tax threshold).
Tough break, lil' guy. Getting benched partly because he took a shot on the wrong hoop after the buzzer probably doesn't seem so funny now. But at the time it was hilarious. Totally worth it, if you ask me.
While this is bad news for Robinson, the Celtics have to be loving it. The $2 million is a lot of money saved to not play a guy who wasn't producing very much in the first place. Heck, Danny Ainge could throw his towel during a free throw 80 times and pay off the $25,000 fine with that much money. Money saved is money earned, so this is a pretty smooth move by the Celtics. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but this sounds like a pretty convenient way to save some cash.
Of course, Robinson did make $5 million this season between his stints with the Knicks and Celtics, so he's not going to be hurting that much. Plus, he's a free agent this summer. Not only can he ask for a bigger salary, he can also negotiate for incentives he'll easily reach. And no, that's not a short joke.