Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant Will Only Earn Full Max Deals Through Strange Incentives

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The Brooklyn Nets had to perform some careful cap mechanics to fit sign their three biggest offseason targets: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and DeAndre Jordan. As a result, both Durant and Irving’s contracts are slightly short of the maximum value (each by $1 million), but both players can get the full max through a series of incentives.

Durant’s incentives are unlikely to be reached this season, as he needs to play in 50 regular-season games. The far more interesting contract is Irving’s which has eight unlikely bonuses, per reporting by Zach Lowe and Bobby Marks of ESPN.

Each of these bonuses is worth $125,000 in year one of the deal, and then rises slightly over the life of the contract.

Here are the criteria (from ESPN):

  • He appears in at least 70 regular-season games.

  • He appears in at least 60 regular-season games and averages fewer than 2.4 turnovers per game.

  • He appears in at least 60 regular-season games and attempts at least 4.6 free throws per game.

  • He shoots 88.5 percent or better from the foul line in the regular-season.

  • He makes at least 2.8 3-pointers per game in the regular-season.

  • He commits fewer than 2.1 fouls per game in the regular-season.

  • Nets score at least 114 points per 100 possessions in the regular-season with Irving on the floor.

  • The Nets allow 106 or fewer points per 100 possessions in the regular season with Irving on the floor.

All of the bonuses are deemed unlikely because Irving didn’t hit any of these benchmarks last year, but his career averages come tantalizingly close. That means Irving could be put in a Moe Harkless-type situation where his stat-watching at the end of the season subtly affects his play. For example, Irving has averaged 2.2 fouls per game per his career. Would he be unwilling to commit a foul at the end of the close game in order to reduce his average?

The Nets also could find themselves in a curious load management situation if Irving comes close to playing in 70 games. His brittle history certainly suggests that he could benefit from taking a few games off, but that could be a sticky situation at the end of the season.

There is also an interesting dichotomy of incentivizing both Irving’s three-pointers and his free-throw attempts. Brad Stevens bemoaned that no one on the Celtics drew enough fouls last season, and Irving’s 3.7 attempts per game was among the primary culprits. Irving will have to find a way to be aggressive attacking the paint while also setting a career-high in 3-point makes in order to simultaneously achieve both of those bonuses.

At the very least, Brooklyn has created a situation where the last few games of the regular season could have very valuable intrigue for Irving and for the viewing public. That’s a good outcome when only $1 million is on the table for an owner who is worth billions.