In the NBA, Misnamed Supermax Contracts Are a ’50-50 Proposition’

Russell Westbrook (left) and Jaylen Brown, two supermax signees

Getty Russell Westbrook (left) and Jaylen Brown, two supermax signees

It’s technically known as the “Designated Veteran Player Extension,” but it’s generally referred to as the supermax, which is an interesting word for some.

“The more I thought about it, I started to laugh,” said one NBA executive. “When I think of ‘supermax,’ I used to think of those big prisons — and that’s where your team could wind up if you f*** up one of these contracts. You make the wrong decision, and you could be locked up in (salary) cap hell for a while — especially with the way the new collective bargaining agreement is set out. It’s going to get harder on teams if they make mistakes with big contracts.”

Players essentially get eligible for the DVPE if they have seven or eight years with their current team and hit one of three benchmarks: All-NBA first, second or third team in the most recent season or two of the previous three; MVP in any of the most recent three seasons; or Defensive Player of the Year in the most recent season or two of the three most recent years.

But as nice as those honors may seem, some execs warn that they may not warrant giving said player 35 percent of the salary cap.

“Supermax isn’t a guarantee of the result you’re looking for,” one general manager told Heavy Sports. “Just because you qualify doesn’t make you that guy.

“Inflated contracts are even harder to move. The additional penalties in the new CBA should slow the roll of everybody giving out a supermax deal the first time a guy qualifies for it. Just because a guy qualifies for it doesn’t necessarily make him entitled to it.

“That’s become the issue in the league. If you’re going to call yourself a franchise-level player, which is what I think the supermax number says, you’ve got to have more than just putting up numbers.”

No Guarantees Come With Big-Money Payout

Another league exec told Heavy the granting of a supermax deal “is almost a 50-50 proposition. You’ve got Steph (Curry) and Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and Joker (Nikola Jokic) who can not only play but who set a tone for your franchise, for the rest of the players.

“But you’ve also got John Wall and Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook, and the return just isn’t there. In some cases, it’s not the guy’s fault. Wall got hurt, and Beal was in a bad situation with a team that kept screwing up as they tried to throw pieces together and make a team. Westbrook put up numbers, but, like I said, it’s got to be about more than just that, and I think everyone has seen with him that numbers are what he is.

“The genius of Denver is they knew they had something special in Joker and they knew that if they kept putting good pieces around him, sooner or later it would come together. They were patient, which is easier to do in a place like Denver where there’s less pressure. And Joker isn’t just a unique player, he’s a unique person. But what Denver did was sanity.”

Celtics’ Jaylen Brown Deal a No-Brainer

Most every front office person spoken to by Heavy Sports has said the Celtics’ signing of Jaylen Brown to one of these deals (five years worth potentially as much as $304 million) was essentially a no-brainer because, while they certainly don’t place him in the Giannis-Steph-Jokic pantheon, he produces and is a key element to Boston’s success.

“And with as close as they are to the top, you don’t want to risk having his future hanging over your head as you’re trying to keep a team together and win games,” said one Eastern Conference source. “You actually saw those questions come up last year about ‘does he want to stay?’ and all that, and it would have gotten a lot worse if he’d gone into the last year of his contract without a new deal. You can’t have that s*** if you’re keep your room together and win games. You can’t have those questions floating around about your important guys.

“If Boston didn’t have the kind of team that could win now, you might have to think twice about what you offer a Jaylen Brown. But from everything we’ve seen about him and know, he’s not the kind of person you have to worry about. It looks like he’s invested in the team and not just his stats. That’s more important than people realize when it comes to how a guy’s new contract sits with the rest of the guys in the room.”


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