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Nurkic’s $1.25 Million Bonus: The Implications

50 wins and 70 games played? I wouldn’t worry about it.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Jusuf Nurkic signed a new contract with the Trail Blazers this summer for a reported four years and $48 million. The contract included an “unlikely” bonus, but the quantity and qualifying criteria were not released. Until now.

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Nurkic will earn a $1.25 million bonus this season, in addition to his $11.1 million salary, if he plays in at least 70 games and the Blazers finish with at least 50 wins.

Nurkic’s $1.25 million bonus could actually be a $3.45 million bill for Paul Allen.

Since the Blazers did not win 50 games last season the bonus does NOT currently count against the team’s salary cap and luxury tax bill, but if the bonus is paid out it will count when the final bill is tabulated in June next year.

So if the unlikely 50 wins/70 games combination actually does happen the Blazers’ cap figure for this season will increase to about $132.9 million and their tax bill will jump from about $12.6 million to $14.8 million. (Maybe Paul Allen didn’t want to pay Earl Thomas so he could save money for Nurk?)

Importantly, if Nurkic hits the incentive this season the bonus converts from “unlikely” to “likely” next season and it will count against the Blazers cap from the start of the 2019-20 season.

Should I care about this bonus this season?

In the immediate future, the bonus is mostly irrelevant for the average fan. If anything, Nurkic may be more motivated than usual if the Blazers are nearing 50 wins in March — kind of the opposite of Maurice Harkless hesitating to shoot 3-pointers to preserve his bonus. But, in general, a $1.25 million change to the team’s cap figure will have no practical, on-court effect since the team is already $7.5 million into the luxury tax.

One storyline to watch is what happens if Nurkic misses a few games. Harkless and CJ McCollum recently admitted to playing through bothersome knee injuries suffered negative effects — Harkless is still recovering from a starightforward arhtroscopic procedure six months later and McCollum needed PRP treatment to (theoretically) alleviate ongoing swelling. If Nurk wants to play through some pain to hit 70 games will there be long term consequences?

Should I care about this bonus in the future?

The Blazers are set to have some salary cap space entering the 2020-21 season. The conservative scenario of keeping most of the young players and the Lillard/Nurkic/McCollum core puts the payroll at about $98.3 million against a $116 million cap estimate.

As stated above, Nurkic’s bonus could convert to “likely” for the 2020 offseason if he hits the criteria in 2019-2020, meaning that the Blazers expected cap space for July, 2020 would take a hit of $1.25 million and decrease to around $16.5 million in the most conservative scenario.

(We’ll just ignore that Allen Crabbe and Anderson Varejao will kill about $5 million in cap space in 2020.)

(Note the cap estimate should be $116M and adjust accordingly. Oops. On the left is conservative. On the right is aggressive. Max space will be about $33 million in 2020.)

If Nurkic’s bonus converts to likely it could also become more difficult to trade him, but I doubt the Blazers are winning 50 games over the next couple seasons and also looking to trade Nurkic, so we will ignore that for now.

Key Points

  • Nurkic will receive an additional $1.25 million if he plays at least 70 games and the Blazers win at least 50 games.
  • The bonus will not count against the cap this season, but will be added to the final cap figure in June, 2019 if he does achieve it.
  • Any year that Nurkic does hit the bonus will convert it from “unlikely” to “likely” for the following season meaning it will count against the cap immediately.
  • Example: If Nurkic receives the bonus for the 2019-20 season, $1.25 will be added to the Blazers payroll entering the 2020-21 season, slightly reducing their ability to sign free agents.
  • The $1.25 million would be removed at the end of the season if he fails to meet the criteria and would NOT be applied for the 2021 offseason.