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With each passing day, the NBA league office continues looking to the future with the hopes of resuming the 2019-20 schedule. Unfortunately, those same officials must also plan for worst-case scenarios and the potential cancellation of the season. If that happens, players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Blake Griffin could likely be repaying back millions of dollars to team owners.

Potential cancellation of the season

When the NBA shut down on March 11, it was a reactive and proactive move at the same time. Reactive in that the league decided to suspend the season only after learning that Utah’s Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus. Proactive in that the league-wide shutdown was the first of its kind by any major professional sports league in the U.S. 

At the time, that decision was a postponement and temporary. No one knew how long NBA action would be suspended, but there was never any indication the season might be canceled altogether. It was too early in the process. Unfortunately, that sentiment has seen a shift in recent days. 

With no immediate end to the pandemic in sight, the NBA has begun exploring the possibility of canceling the season and what that looks like from every possible angle. A central topic of discussion has been recovering money lost, and one of the ways suggested is for players to repay a portion of their contracts.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant and others would pay back millions

The National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) recently informed agents that any compensation deal constructed by the NBPA and league owners will include refunds on all contracts if the NBA cancels the season.

The repayment plan will affect certain players more than others. Those players who receive paychecks on a six-month cycle and receive more money per pay cycle but don’t collect checks during the off-season will be hit the hardest. 

The program will also impact some players who received advance payments on their contracts like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. Many teams incentivize free-agent players to sign deals sooner by offering advances, which can include full or partial payment of contracts upfront.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant
LeBron James and Kevin Durant | Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

The New York Times reported last month that Durant and Griffin both received advances on their contracts. The Brooklyn Nets star, who hasn’t appeared in a game all season, is scheduled to earn approximately $37 million this year. The Detroit Pistons forward will earn $34 million. 

Those players with contracts that extend beyond the current season might be in luck as they could potentially work out deals with owners and pay back the money over the life of the contract.

League already able to collect from players for missed games 

While repayment plans in the event of a season cancellation are currently being discussed, the NBA already has the right to retain roughly one percent of players’s paychecks per the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).  

Part of the CBA stipulates the NBA can retain a portion of player pay for each canceled game that is the result of an unforeseeable event like a natural disaster or pandemic. ESPN recently reported the NBA and players have already discussed a plan to withhold remaining salaries and place funds in a league escrow if games are canceled. 

Oklahoma City Thunder star Chris Paul, who is president of the NBPA, told CNBC that players are staying in the loop and want to understand all the league discussions involving compensation. 

“We’re aware. As long as we have the conversations about it and try to make sure that guys are prepared as possible, I think we’ll be fine.”

While all fans and NBA players remain at home like the rest of the nation with the hopes of resuming the season to determine a champion, a select group of players have millions more reasons to keep a watchful eye on the calendar and upcoming decisions made by the league office.