In-Season Tournament a rare chance for Heat, NBA to intone ‘Hey, must be the money’

MIAMI — “Oh, why do I live this way? (Hey, must be the money).”

“Oh, why must I feel this way? (Hey, must be the money).”

When it comes to the NBA, Nelly might have been two decades ahead of his time, but with Friday’s arrival of the league’s first-ever In-Season Tournament, it is the rare time when the NBA publicly acknowledges that to stoke players’ engagement, it must be the money.

So $500,000 to each player on the winning team of the NBA Cup.

As well as $200,000 to those who lose in the NBA Cup final.

As well as $100,000 to the players on the teams that lose in the semifinals.

And even $50,000 per player for the eight teams that make the semifinals.

In a league where Stephen Curry is earning $51.9 million this season, Jimmy Butler $45.2 million and 25 total players at least $36 million, an argument could be made that players and fans can become anesthetized to the cash.

The difference with the In-Season Tournament is every player on standard contract gets the same payout, regardless of if they actually play in the tournament’s games.

As part of the NBA’s presentation, players were made aware of the payouts.

“I didn’t know about all the money until after we had the meeting about it,” Heat forward Caleb Martin said ahead of the Heat’s tournament opener Friday night against the Washington Wizards at Kaseya Center. “I didn’t even know it was $500,000 for the winner and some money for second place and other games.

“Obviously, money’s always a great incentive. That’s a cool addition. I didn’t even know it was broken down like that. So it makes it more interesting, for sure.”

For those who have been taken care of with long-term deals, the discussion of such cash incentive comes off almost as garish.

“No,” Heat guard Tyler Herro said, not wanting to enter such discussion, “it doesn’t motivate me or move me at all. No.”

But unlike Herro and the four-year deal he is beginning this season that could pay out as much as $130 million, for others on the lower end of the NBA pay scale (as relative as that is), it is an opportunity to build a financial bridge to something greater.

“That could go a long way for guys in that position,” said Martin, who only last season moved above the NBA minimum. “That’s actually motivation for me, too, who has been in that position, to play well for those guys and put money in their pockets.”

Therein lies the irony — the players who likely will be most appreciative of the payout are those who likely will have the least to do with achieving such a potential payoff.

Related Articles

As a matter of perspective, the contracts of Heat guard Dru Smith and Heat center Orlando Robinson so far are only guaranteed for $425,000. So if the Heat were to hoist the inaugural NBA Cup, it would be an instant doubling of guaranteed salary.

“They definitely made the incentive something nice for the guys to try to work toward,” Smith said. “So when they came to explain it, they let us know about it.”

Cole Swider, on a Heat two-way contract that pays $509,000 if he is with the team all season, said there is nothing wrong with keeping an eye on the ledger while also prioritizing victory. Players on two-way deals receive half the In-Season Tournament payout of those on standard deals.

“I always say I would play this game if the salary was a T-shirt,” the second-year forward said, his two-way deal paying half the veteran minimum. “But at the same time, $250,000 would do a lot for my family and friends. So, yeah, that’s cool.”

There also are the pragmatists.

“I want to win it just to win it,” said guard R.J. Hampton, who also is on a Heat two-way contact. “The money would be cool. But the money is taxed, so it really doesn’t make it out to the $250,000. So I just want to win, just to say we won it and then go into the real playoffs.”

For the Heat, that essentially was the theme going into the event, which also counts toward the regular-season standings, that it also has to be about more than just the money.

Coach Erik Spoelstra also largely put aside any aspect beyond the need for victory, even with coaches also included in the bonus-payment pool.

“The money is great and all,” rookie guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. said. “But I think, regardless, we’re going to try to win, even if the money was there or not.

“Our mind has just been on trying to get a win any way we can right now. But that’s another motivation.”