The NBA introduced the Designated Veteran Extension, commonly known as the “super-max” contract, back in 2017. Before the introduction of the super-max, players with seven to nine years of NBA experience could sign for a starting salary worth up to 30% of the salary cap. Now, a player who has seven or eight years of NBA service with one or two years left on his contract and qualifies for the Designated Veteran Extension is eligible for a starting salary worth up to 35% of the cap.
In addition, a free agent can sign a super-max contract if he has eight or nine years of service and meets the required performance criteria. However, a player is eligible to sign a super-max deal only with his current team, and only then if he has not been traded at any time since his first four years in the league. It’s this technicality that recently cost Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard their potential Designated Veteran eligibility. Anthony Davis is eligible, but as we know, he has already informed the Pelicans that he will not re-sign with New Orleans.
To this point, only four players have inked super-max deals: James Harden, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and John Wall.
Now let’s discuss the particulars when it comes to eligibility. In order to qualify for a super-max pact this summer, a player has to meet one of the following performance criteria:
The player was named to an All-NBA team in 2018-19, or in two of the last three seasons.
The player was named the NBA MVP in any of the three most recent seasons.
The player was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year for 2018-19, or in two of the last three seasons.
Thus, the importance of who is named to the All-NBA teams next month is clear.
Here is a list of players who could see a significant increase in their potential paydays based on their super-max eligibility.
Lillard is a lock to earn All-NBA honors this season, although he may have to settle for second-team recognition. James Harden is a no-brainer for the first team. The other first-team spot will likely come down to either Stephen Curry or Lillard. Either way, in averaging just shy of 26 points and seven rebounds per game while leading the Blazers to another 50-win season, Lillard has undoubtedly been one of the six best guards in the NBA.
Lillard, who was also named to the All-NBA first team in 2017-18, still has two years remaining on the five-year, $140 million contract he signed back in 2016. However, this summer he will be eligible for a four-year, $187 million extension that would start in 2021-22.
It will be interesting to see if Walker can earn enough votes to be named to the All-NBA third team. After Harden, Curry and Lillard, Walker will be battling the likes of Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal and Klay Thompson for the three remaining guard spots. A strong case could be made for Walker. He was an All-Star starter back in February and has somehow powered an undermanned Hornets team into playoff contention. He is just the fourth player in NBA history (joining Harden, Curry and Lillard) to average at least 25 points, five assists, four rebounds and three made 3-pointers per game for a full season.
If Walker, who will become an unrestricted free agent this summer, overcomes the odds and makes an All-NBA team, it will give the Hornets a massive advantage in terms of what they can pay him compared with other teams that will be vying for his services. In this scenario, Charlotte would be able to offer Walker a five-year deal worth up to $221 million this summer, whereas every other team would be able to offer a max of only four years and $140 million. Then the question becomes, how much would Charlotte be comfortable paying Walker, who will turn 29 next month? Having him on the books for $40 million or more annually in his mid-30s would not be an ideal use of cap space.
As noted above, there is stiff competition among guards for inclusion on the All-NBA teams. Thompson, who will hit unrestricted free agency in July, remains one of the league’s premier wing defenders, but his efficiency on the offensive end has tailed off a bit this season. He’s shooting 46.5% from the floor, which is his lowest mark since 2014-15. He’s also converting 40.1% of his 3-point attempts, which would be a career low.
In addition, it should be noted that each team can offer the Designated Veteran Extension to just two players, and Golden State signed Stephen Curry to his super-max contract in 2017. If Thompson did qualify this off-season, it would be interesting to see how the Warriors would handle it, considering that they are headed toward an astronomically high luxury-tax bill and that Draymond Green, who’ll be looking for a massive payday as he approaches free agency in 2020, may be eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension as well.
Beal has emerged as a legit superstar this season. It could be reasonably argued that he’s the league’s second-best shooting guard, behind only Harden. However, he still has two years left on his deal and doesn’t have an opportunity to become a free agent until after the 2020-21 campaign.
In addition, it’s understandable if the Wizards are a bit reticent about offering another super-max extension. The four-year, $170 million Designated Veteran Extension that Washington signed John Wall to kicks in next season, even though Wall is expected to miss the vast majority of the year after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured left Achilles tendon. Wall will earn an average of $42 million annually over the next four seasons.
Drummond has had a terrific all-around season for the Pistons. He’s averaging a career-high 17.3 points and a league-leading 15.5 rebounds to go along with 1.4 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.8 blocks while shooting 53.1% fro the floor. According to Basketball-Reference, he is the first player in NBA history to average at least 15 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. Still, considering the frontcourt competition for All-NBA honors and the Pistons’ poor record in the Eastern Conference, it’s somewhat unlikely Drummond gets the nod. Furthermore, he can’t become a free agent until 2020 at the earliest (he has a player option for the 2020-21 campaign), so even if he is surprisingly named third-team All-NBA, the Pistons will likely wait until 2020 before deciding whether to break the bank.
Antetokounmpo will finish either first or second in the MVP race and will undoubtedly be named to the All-NBA first team, after being named to the second team in 2017-18. He has just six years of NBA experience under his belt, which means his contract status is unaffected this summer. However, the Bucks will be able to put a Designated Veteran Extension offer sheet in front of him on July 1, 2020.
With Antetokounmpo the unquestioned face of the franchise, and arguably the best all-around player on the planet at just 24 years of age, Milwaukee will be extremely eager to lock up the Greek Freak long term, as soon as possible. It will be fascinating to see how Antetokounmpo handles the constant questions regarding his future that will surely begin next season. Have no doubt: The queries are coming. In 2019-20, Antetokounmpo will essentially be in the same position that Anthony Davis was in this season, and we know how that turned out for the New Orleans Pelicans and AD.