Michele Roberts says fans should not have expected “supermax” to keep players around

Kurt Helin

When it came into existence in the latest CBA, it was nicknamed the “Kevin Durant rule.”

Officially called the “designated veteran extension, the idea was to give teams leverage to keep their best home-grown players. To qualify, a player had to be in his 8th-10th NBA season (the end of the first extension of his rookie contract), still with the team that drafted him (or he was traded during his rookie contract), plus the player needs to have made been named MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, or have made the All-NBA team in the most recent season or two previous ones. If a player meets the criteria, they could get a “supermax” extension that gave them 35 percent of the salary cap to stay, plus a fifth year, rather than the 30 percent of the cap and four years that other teams can offer.

Except guys are not sticking around for that extra cash.

Anthony Davis is the latest in a line of guys who forced their way out (Paul George) or were traded (DeMarcus Cousins) rather than use that extension.

Players’ union Executive Director Michelle Roberts told Tim Bontemps of ESPN the supermax is working as intended, the problem is people thought it would be a panacea that would keep players in the same city for most of their careers.

“I mean, the players that are eligible, frankly, are players that are going to get paid, and they’re going to have any number of alternatives,” Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, told ESPN. “It hasn’t hurt them. It was something that they were able to secure and they were interested in getting it, and it was going to be a tremendous advantage in terms of just the amount of money.

“But I still don’t see a downside. The only downside is to the extent that people absolutely believed that it was a slam dunk way to keep their guys. And it just isn’t. And if they doubted it, they can now take a look at Anthony [Davis] and see, ‘Oh, wow, there is no way.'”

The league would say that the goal of this “supermax” was to either keep players with teams or at least let them know earlier in the process if a player wanted out, so they could trade him and get something back. In that sense, it is working with Davis.

Roberts is right, this has not been a panacea to players wanting to switch markets. Part of it she gets at a key issue: The money is so large for these players (Giannis Antetokounmpo’s extension could be $247 million) that the difference in taking it and not taking it is not enough to make up for being on a bad franchise or in a city they don’t like. These elite players have options and are using them.

Only four players have signed those deals — Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall — and at least one of them (Washington) and maybe two (Oklahoma City) have regrets already. Kemba Walker is now eligible for one after making the All-NBA team, but the Hornets organization knows if (or, more likely, when) they offer it to him it will be an anchor on their ability to put a good team around him on the court. Walker is going to eat up a lot of their cap space, and this is not a franchise paying the tax.

Expect the process to be tweaked in the next round of negotiations. The league is always looking for a way to give small and medium market teams a leg up in keeping stars.

Of course, put the right team around those stars (ala Milwaukee) and it’s not much of a problem.