Ahh, the supermax NBA contract. A supermax deal is one where a player drafted by a team who has won MVP, DPOY or made an All-NBA, and in the 8th or 9th year in the NBA can sign a deal with annual 8% raises.
The team offering the deal has to either have drafted the player or traded for that player still on his rookie deal. The supermax deal counts 35% against the salary cap, and the deals are designed for small market teams in particular to keep players the franchise determines are worthy of a supermax deal.
Are the deals good for the NBA? Are players loyal to staying with the teams drafting them? Are players disloyal for leaving? Where does this leave teams that players leave?
Players who could've had the NBA Supermax contracts but opted not to
Kawhi Leonard, at Media Day Monday, said why he turned down a supermax deal: “Because I wanted to play. I mean, the best situation for me was to do it one-and-one and then opt out and sign a long-term five-year deal, but there's a lot of concerns that that brings up for you guys and your job and it creates storylines that I'm going to leave the team. One thing, I wanted to secure some money, and I wanted to be able to come back if I was able to this year. If I would have taken the one-and-one, I probably would have not played just to be cautious and opted out and took a five-year.”
Kawhi seems like a different animal. His moves across the league have proven to be all about winning instead of raking in all the cash. While front offices may not like the ability of players to move about, they have to respect the way Kawhi Leonard is doing things.
Anthony Davis told Chris Haynes why he turned down the supermax deal in New Orleans: "I'd take legacy over money. I want to have a legacy. All the people that look up to me, the younger kids, I want them to know about AD's legacy. Championships, the things I do in the community, being a good teammate, playing hard. All that stuff matters the most to me. Don't get me wrong, money is amazing. But I think in that sense, money or legacy, I think my legacy will win that battle every time."
Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State has been much scrutinized, and when he left the Thunder for the Warriors, he declined to sign a supermax deal to stay in OKC. The inability to keep Kevin Durant in OKC has to be a big regret for Sam Presti. The plan was to add to small markets, not subtract, so Durant's signing with the Dubs backfired on the NBA.
Insulation for teams
Teams do not have to offer supermax deals. The Charlotte Hornets declined to offer Kemba Walker a supermax deal, and instead allowed him to walk to the Boston Celtics. The onus is on the front offices as well to be judicious in how they hand out supermax money. It appears Charlotte made the right decision regarding Kemba Walker. Will other teams be just as conservative?
NBA loyalty vs. disloyalty
The NBA is a business, and business transactions happen all the time. Trades and signings are done to augment teams. Why should players stay with their original franchise simply because that team offered more money?
Is it all about the money? I can't imagine an NBA player simply staying with a team unless that team also shows loyalty by making the best front office moves in the better interest of the team.
With Golden State and Steph Curry, the supermax process worked; Milwaukee did the same with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both franchises have won NBA championships because they kept their superstar, and those teams will be seen as the best examples.
Loyalty in sports is a rarity. Agendas for the front office are combined with a sense of urgency by players turning professional and taking full advantage of their time as pro athletes in the NBA.
Like anything else, the supermax deal has its advantages and disadvantages, and if teams were smart, they'd ensure the necessary provisions regarding the qualifications and cap hit of supermax contracts were included in the next CBA.
For now, loyalty on either side is an albatross.
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