Fans always want players to practice and play like their paycheck depends on it.
For many members of the Jazz, it actually does.
Ten players on the Jazz have incentives written into their contracts that give them financial bonuses for reaching off-court or on-court benchmarks, far more than any other team in the NBA. For some players, those total in the millions of dollars.
These bonuses come in three types for the Jazz: on-court performance bonuses, health and health management bonuses, and offseason workout bonuses. All three are categories that the Jazz want to emphasize as they work to build a standout culture in the NBA landscape.
Rudy Gobert’s contract is a good example of one that features numerous on-court performance bonuses. He’ll make $22,741,573 this season as his base salary, and over the course of the 4-year deal he signed, will make $94 million in base salary.
But he has the opportunity to make up to $2 million extra per year through incremental bonuses. If Gobert is named to the NBA’s first All-Defense team, he’s given an extra $500K. If the Jazz allow fewer than 100 points per 100 possessions while he’s on the floor, Gobert gets another $250K. If he gets enough rebounds per 36 minutes, he gets another $250K.
And if he is named an All-Star starter or reserve, he gets a cool $1 million bonus.
“I don’t even think about that,” Gobert said. “Of course I want to make the All-Star team, but I’m just focused on winning. If we keep playing well, good things will happen.”
Gobert isn’t the only one who gets a bonus if the team has better than a 100 defensive rating while he’s on the floor. Derrick Favors has such a bonus, as do Joe Ingles, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto. Ingles makes $250K if his defense is up to par, Exum makes $100K, and Neto makes $50K if they hit that benchmark. All four must play 67 games in order to qualify for the bonus, so no small-sample-size bonuses are paid out by ownership.
Favors also has a bonus for making the NBA’s first All-Defense teams, just like Gobert, while Exum gets a bonus if he makes either the first or second team.
And even for the incentives that aren’t primarily defensive, the Jazz try to keep their on-court bonuses team-oriented. Bonuses based on minutes played or points per game can actually be a perverse incentive for players, to start chucking bad shots or demanding more playing time from their coach.
Favors, on the other hand, has a total of $650K in bonuses, which he can earn if he hits specific blocks, assists, and rebound per 36 minute numbers. In order to earn these bonuses, he also has to play 67 games. The Jazz know that Favors' playing time can ebb and flow based on matchups, Gobert’s health, and many other factors, so they wanted to incentivize him to play well even if it’s just in short spurts.
“It’s nothing outrageous, like 20 points per game. I just try to go out there and contribute in any way I can,” Favors said about his incentives. "They know I’m not going to be able to put up big stats every night.”
Ricky Rubio’s deal is an exception that does contain offensive clauses — he agreed to it with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Jazz inherited it when they traded for him in the summer of 2017. His contract gives him a $100K bonus for shooting at least 40 percent from the field, $75K for shooting at least 4.1 free throws a game, and another $75K for shooting at least 82 percent from the line. All of those bonuses require Rubio to play 62 games or more.
Health is also important to the Jazz, which they try to maximize in two ways. First, they give incentives to the players for showing up to training camp in shape, with certain body weight or body fat targets for the players to maintain during their offseason.
Again, Favors' new contract is a good example. When Favors signed his deal, he, his agent Wallace Prather, and Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey agreed on a weight and body fat percentage that would best reflect how Favors needed to train after suffering through knee and back injuries in previous seasons.
Joe Ingles, Thabo Sefolosha, Dante Exum, and others also all get something added to their deal if they hit certain benchmarks at the beginning of training camp, in order to make sure that the players are staying in shape year-round and hit training camp ready to go.
Exum’s case, given his injury history, is a little bit special. Exum can earn $200K just for appearing in 67 games, and if he reaches 72 games, he’ll get another $200K. With those bonuses, Exum will be cutting it close due to the sprained ankle he suffered in Detroit last weekend; so far, he’s played in 39 of 42 contests and is expected to miss a couple of weeks more.
Finally, the Jazz also add bonuses in order to incentivize the players to work out in Salt Lake City with team coaches over the course of the offseason. Donovan Mitchell, Favors, Ingles, Exum, Neto, and others all have this type of bonus. While the league maximum for this kind of bonus is just for two weeks, the Jazz prefer to have something in their players' contracts that incentivizes them to come to the team’s OTAs, or optional team activities, which begin before the start of training camp.
Some players, though, stay in Salt Lake City for most of their summer, and fulfill their bonus obligations by June or July. The idea is to create a culture of offseason basketball improvement, something Lindsey knew was important from his time at San Antonio and Houston. The rebirth of the Utah Jazz Summer League was another important step in this process, Lindsey says.
In general, players have been very willing to add these bonuses to their contracts in negotiations: they believe in themselves and their ability to hit the benchmarks on and off the floor. One notable exception is that of Trey Lyles, though, who sat out some of the Jazz’s summer league on the advice of agent Rich Paul in the summer of 2015 over disagreements in the incentives in his rookie contract. Lyles was eventually traded for Mitchell in the course of the 2017 NBA Draft.
All of these bonuses can add up quickly. Favors’ bonuses total $2.8 million per season, Gobert can make up to an extra $2 million on his deal, and Exum can make an extra $1.9 million per season. With that sort of variability, it can have a big impact on the Jazz’s salary cap planning.
Bonuses are categorized by the league as “likely” or “unlikely” depending on whether or not they were achieved in the previous season. If they’re likely, they are calculated in the team’s salary cap calculation, if not, they aren’t. For example, Gobert’s All-Defense bonus is now considered likely after he made the team last year, adding another $500K to the Jazz’s salary cap totals for this season, but his All-Star bonus is not. Favors' block, assists, and rebound incentives are considered unlikely.
To prevent teams from circumventing the salary cap, unlikely bonuses are limited to just 15 percent of a player’s overall compensation. And there are other rules to know, too: minimum salary players are ineligible for bonuses, as are two-way contract players.
But while they can make the salary cap math a little bit harder to predict, the bonuses also have a significant benefit to the Jazz as they try to create the kind of culture that leads to winning.
“The highest goal for the Utah Jazz is to be a significant program, and to do so, we need to be great defensively, and we need to be great with individual development,” Lindsey said. “So many of the bonus structures inside the organization and with our players have been created with those goals in mind.”
There’s also a simple fundamental truth: if your players are succeeding, your team probably is too. So while Gobert’s $1 million bonus for making the All-Star team is hefty, if Gobert is an All-Star, it likely means the Jazz are pretty good. “We hope he gets it,” Lindsey said.
Gobert certainly does too.
JAZZ VS. LAKERS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
Tipoff • Friday, 8 p.m.
TV • ESPN
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 21-21; Lakers 23-19
Last meeting • Lakers, 90-83 (Nov. 23)
About the Jazz • Ricky Rubio (right hamstring), Thabo Sefolosha (right hamstring), Dante Exum (left ankle sprain) and Tony Bradley (knee surgery) all are expected to be out for Friday’s game. ... Raul Neto (groin strain) and Grayson Allen (ankle sprain) will also be out Friday. ... Jazz are the second-best defensive rebounding team in the league, getting 80.1 percent of opponent misses.
About the Lakers • LeBron James did not travel with the team due to a groin strain. ... Rajon Rondo is out as well after undergoing surgery on his right ring finger. ... former Ute Kyle Kuzma scored a career-high 41 points in the Lakers' last game, a win against Detroit on Wednesday.