Some top earners face IOUs as reductions start

NBA teams will withhold more than $30 million from player paychecks on Friday, as players receive their first salary reduction since the league and union agreed to a plan to temporarily cut pay by 25%.

But six of the NBA’s top 10 earners this season — LeBron James, Stephen Curry, John Wall, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant and Paul George — have already been paid in full and will not see a pay decrease Friday.

Their salary reductions will come out of their advances for the 2020-21 season on Oct. 1 or beginning with their Nov. 15 paychecks. Each player will essentially have an IOU per paycheck to his team ranging from $390,000 (James) to $420,000 (Curry) each time there is a scheduled 25% pay reduction. That amount will increase if games are eventually canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

If the league cancels the remainder of the regular season and jumps right into the playoffs, players likely will see the 25% paycheck reduction increase as high as 40%. If the league cancels the entire season, including the postseason, players are projected to lose more than $1 billion in total salary.

Although teams were notified in an April 17 memo that steps should be taken to preserve the withheld funds until the completion or permanent cancellation of the 2019-20 season, each franchise is free to spend the money however it wants, sources said.

No teams contacted by ESPN said they had immediate plans to spend the withheld player salary, but those that are low on cash could choose to use the money to offset expenses amid the pandemic.

However, if the NBA season picks up where it left off in mid-March, teams will be responsible for refunding the full amount to their players.

After the next round of salary withholding on June 1, the total amount per team will range from a high of $2.8 million (Portland Trail Blazers) to a low of $1.4 million (Los Angeles Lakers).

Of the 434 players under contract, 100 will have their scheduled paychecks drop by at least $100,000.

Players could lose 23% to 26% of their full-season salary — based on how many games their teams have already played — if games don’t resume. The NBA and National Basketball Players Association will spread out the salary reductions into the first four pay periods, through November and December, of the 2020-21 season. The union has informed players that it could be June 15 before they know whether games will be canceled, and how many.

According to the collective bargaining agreement, players lose approximately 1% of salary per canceled game, based on the force majeure provision that covers several catastrophic circumstances, including epidemics and pandemics. The cancellation of games automatically triggers the force majeure.

Three other top-10 earners — Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry and James Harden — will not face the full 25% reduction because they received salary advances in the offseason. While Chris Paul and Westbrook both make around $38 million this season, Paul will have $401,109 reduced from his May 15 paycheck and Westbrook will lose $200,555. However, Westbrook will owe the Rockets $200,000 in 2020-21 salary.

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