CLEVELAND — For the second season in a row, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love will be forced to miss the NBA All-Star Game, this time with a hand injury suffered in late January. Last season, it was midseason knee surgery that kept him out of the NBA's annual star-studded event. This year, however, the injury may prove much more costly.
In addition to having teams spearheaded by the top two vote-getters in LeBron James and Stephen Curry, the NBA is motivating players with a bonus for each winner, to the tune of $100,000. The losing team will take home just $25,000 each.
In Love's case, he will be a spectator out in Los Angeles this weekend. He'll miss out on not only the potential $100,000 for winning the All-Star Game, but also up to $100,000 in winnings from the three-point shootout.
"It is my off hand," Love joked with Bleacher Report, his left hand clad in a heavy brace. "Maybe I could still make it work."
The NBA All-Star Games of the past have been a dazzling array of alley-oop dunks and long-range three-pointers mixed with a complete absence of defense. There is an element of suspense involved in what highlights each player will provide, but it quickly washes away with each play providing little in the way of marginal value. The NBA is hoping the incentive will make for a fourth quarter worthy of fan eyeballs.
More importantly, everyone seems to think it will work.
"These guys are competitive," prominent NBA agent Mark Bartelstein told B/R. "It's like Little League: If there's a prize at the end, and even if it's just some trophy, everyone wants that prize.
"With the bonus, you're playing for something, but not only do you get it, you keep it away from the guy you're playing against."
Bartelstein represents Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, who will make his first All-Star Game appearance this weekend. Beal is averaging career highs in points (23.6), rebounds (4.5) and assists (4.2), and he has helped carry his team while John Wall nurses a left knee injury. It's a significant honor for him to be recognized, but it's also viewed as yet another responsibility and sunken cost for some players.
The league provides each player who participates in All-Star Weekend festivities with airfare and lodging for two guests. But most NBA players—especially those participating in their first All-Star Weekend—will likely have more than two other people joining them on their trip.
So if your question is, "Does the $75,000 matter to a bunch of multimillionaires who get paid every time they make an hourlong appearance at basketball camp?" The answer is a definitive yes.
"Hell yeah," three-time All-Star Derrick Rose told Bleacher Report. "Don't get me wrong. We're blessed to be in this position, but $75,000 is $75,000. That pays for your All-Star trip. For guys who have family members coming in, and they're paying for hotels and travel and all that, that pretty much takes care of that. For me, I would love to be back in [the game]. To win it would seem like I walked away using their money.
"My biggest expense has always been to take care of people. I don't spend on myself that much, but I make sure my family is all right. That's my biggest expense, but everybody is different."
For reference, players routinely make anywhere between $3,000 to $5,000 per hour to attend offseason camps held by either their respective teams or third parties.
The rub, of course, is that All-Star Weekend is doubly known as the All-Star break. Players who are not taking part in the three-day festivities get the time off from any team-required activities, including days off before and after the weekend itself.
Most players take mini-vacations, while the league's best have to fulfill a gauntlet of appearances, be it league-mandated media availability or those created by the multitude of brands that set up shop for the weekend.
When he returned to Cleveland, James—who was active in getting the break extended to seven days of rest—spoke of how exhausting it would be for his hometown team to host an All-Star Weekend (Cleveland hasn't hosted since 1997), joking that he hopes he is "no good" the year the Cavaliers win the bid.
Not everyone is sold on this $75,000 difference being enough to spur anything that resembles competition in the NBA All-Star Game. On a recent episode of his morning radio show with Trey Wingo, ESPN's Mike Golic, a former NFL player, recently called for a "winner-take-all" approach to the NBA's new rule change.
"People always talk about the Pro Bowl. 'They're not even hitting out there,'" Golic said. "The NBA [All-Star Game] is usually 200-190. You want to make it more competitive? Add up the money—the winner and loser—and winner take all. Winner gets $100,000; losing team, zippola. You get nothing."
While this provided a bold, fist-on-the-table take for radio airwaves, it ignores the NBA's collective bargaining agreement that guarantees split-rate pay. A league source confirmed to Bleacher Report that Love—along with injured teammates Kristaps Porzingis and DeMarcus Cousins—stands to make a collectively bargained $50,000 if James' team wins or just $25,000 in the event Curry's team prevails.
It's rare that any part of the league's All-Star Weekend is "winner-take-all," as monetary awards are presented to the top four finishers in the Slam Dunk Contest, Shooting Stars Competition and Skills Challenge, along with the top six finishers in the three-point shootout.
These All-Star festivities come just weeks after the NFL's attempt at its "All-Star" weekend with the annual Pro Bowl. The league has perennially attempted to make its version of the game more worthwhile, but it's really a two-hour slap-fight that sees competition pick up in the game's final minutes, which likely has to do with the fact that $64,000 goes to every player on the winning team compared to $32,000 for all losers.
While the NBA's newly formatted All-Star Game won't turn into an all-out defensive battle, we may have seen the last of the individual team scores nearing the 200-point mark.
"I think guys will definitely take the game more seriously," Boston's Al Horford recently told ESPN.com's Chris Haynes. "In the last couple of years, the games haven't been good, and we're all aware of that. ... I think guys are going to come out and compete. ... We're going to be diving for loose balls out there."
But how much of the game will be competitive? According to Rose, fans should be in for a show—at least in the final 12 minutes.
"It may not be the entire game, but you'll notice a difference come the fourth quarter, for sure," he said.