Tyrese Haliburton calls NBA's new 65-game threshold for awards a "stupid rule"

Milwaukee Bucks v Indiana Pacers
Milwaukee Bucks v Indiana Pacers

Forty-one million dollars.

Tyrese Haliburton had missed three games this season before straining his hamstring after playing 13 minutes against the Celtics on Jan. 8. He proceeded to miss 10 of the Pacers' next 11 games due to the injury, with his return set Tuesday night against those same Celtics.

Haliburton has had a breakout season, was voted an All-Star starter, and is on a path to be an All-NBA player — except for the league's new Player Participation Policy that says a player must play more than 20 minutes in 65 games to qualify for any postseason award. This is where the $41 million comes into play — Haliburton signed a max contract extension with the Pacers in the offseason, a five-year, $204.5 million contract (using the $141 million salary cap the NBA told teams in the latest projection sent out Tuesday). That's 25% of the salary cap. However, if Haliburton makes an All-NBA team, under the Rose rule he can make up to 30% of the cap, an extra $41 million over the contract's life.

The bottom line is that Haliburton can miss only three games the rest of the season, or he does not qualify for All-NBA. It's a topic that has garnered a lot of discussion around Joel Embiid, who is many voters’ mid-season MVP but has missed 12 games already and can only miss five more all season or he does not make the MVP/All-NBA threshold. Which would suck for Embiid, but his contract is locked in, he does not lose any money — Haliburton would.

You can guess how Haliburton feels about the new rule, as he said to James Boyd of The Athletic.

"I think it's a stupid rule, like plenty of the guys in the league, but this is what the owners want, so as players, we gotta do our job and play in 65 games if we're able to," Haliburton said after practice Monday. "So, that's what I gotta do, take care of my body to be able to play in those games, and I think you're seeing other players in the league kind of face the same thing. As long as the owners are happy.”

It's not a coincidence the 65-game rule suddenly appeared — along with the In-Season Tournament — just as Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA were negotiating a new broadcast rights deal and needed to prop up the value of the regular season. The NBA is selling inventory to fill up all those cable television hours from October through April with an 82-game regular season, but the value of those games goes down if key players are sitting out. It was an effort by the league to limit "load management," even though much of those games sat were dictated by teams trying to keep star players healthy and rested for the playoffs, which is when fans (and owners) truly care about the nightly outcome of games.

Media members vote for MVP, All-NBA, and most of the other league postseason awards, and I can say firsthand that many voters take games played (or total minutes played) into account. I do — when casting my ballot for first-time MVP winner Nikola Jokic in 2021, part of the logic of picking him over Joel Embiid, Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo (the next three in the voting totals) was games played. Jokic played in 72 games that season compared to 51 for Embiid, 63 for Curry and 61 for Antetokounmpo. It mattered. Voters would rather have that control in their hands and be able to say for All-NBA Embiid's 51 that season was more valuable than some other centers' 65+ games played because of how dominant he was (Embiid was second-team All-NBA that season). That season, using the 65-game threshold, Embiid, Bam Adebayo, Domantas Sabonis and Clint Cappela would not have played enough games to qualify, so Rudy Gobert would have been second-team All-NBA and Nikola Vucevic third team.

Players can miss 17 games this season and still qualify for postseason awards, but get to 18 and they are out (which works out to missing a little more than 20% of the season). Haliburton has missed 13 games following his hamstring issue, but the game where he got injured and played a little more than 13 minutes also doesn't count under the NBA's math (players are allowed two games to count toward the 65 where they play 15+ minutes but don't get to 20, but Haliburton doesn't clear that threshold with his injury game).

Meaning if Haliburton misses just four more games all season, he loses out on $41 million. One rolled ankle that sidelines him for a week and he's done.

Haliburton, understandably, thinks that is stupid.