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Trade Demands By Max Contract NBA Players May Force Rule Changes

League executives want players making big bucks to stay with their signing teams.

Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

With the start of the 2021-22 NBA season less than a week away, stars Ben Simmons and Kyrie Irving continue to be the center of league-wide controversy. Simmons surprised the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this week by showing up to work after threatening to hold out for the season amid a trade request, while the Brooklyn Nets announced Tuesday Irving couldn’t join the team until he received his COVID-19 vaccination. According to a piece by Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the two situations could lead to significant changes in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), particularly with supermax contracts.

Simmons isn’t signed to a supermax contract, but he did sign a five-year, $170-million maximum contract extension in July 2019 that included extra financial incentives for making the 2019-20 All-NBA Third Team. His trade demand this summer one year into that lucrative contract “raised alarm bells.” Irving signed a four-year, $136.5 deal with the Nets in 2019, but may not even suit up this season. In the modern era of player empowerment and freedom of movement, franchise executives argue they need more protection from trade requests and player noncompliance.

The union and its agents will always vote in favor of increasing players’ freedom of movement and have generally supported trade requests as players’ parallel to teams’ ability to move them at a moment’s notice. Yet there is a clause in every player’s contract that explicitly states their team’s ability to do so, and team officials have recently discussed the possibility of introducing monetary repercussions for players who ask out, sources told B/R.

“There’s gotta be some kind of penalty or fine,” said one assistant general manager. “These guys sign the supermax and they want to get traded the next day.”

Along with fines, some team officials are suggesting players who request trades should be forced to forfeit upwards of 70 percent of their salary. Other possible alterations to protect franchises from trade requests include no trade request clauses and awarding supplemental draft picks to teams when they lose an All-Star to trade request.

To win these concessions from the NBAPA, Fischer said executives will likely have to give up more Basketball Related Income (BRI) which is league revenue generated from ticket sales, concessions, TV deals and merchandise.

Any such outcome would clearly be disadvantageous to the union’s side, and would likely require NBA governors to yield even more of the BRI that has already been whittled down to an essentially 50-50 split. That could be a worthwhile sacrifice, though, in the name of greater team stability.

Fischer said altering the supermax contract is a likely solution. The supermax, or designated veteran player exception, was implemented with the current CBA which took effect in 2017 and runs through the 2023-24 season. The exception allows teams to re-sign qualified players to maximum five-year contracts worth up to 35 percent of the salary cap with eight percent escalation in each subsequent year. The goal of the supermax was to help franchises retain star players by giving extra financial incentive. Yet, the supermax largely hasn’t kept players from jumping markets and often leaves franchises in difficult circumstances salary-wise.

It can also hamstring teams that aren’t in title contention. For instance, John Wall’s contract long muddied the Washington Wizards’ books. When Kemba Walker qualified for the designated player exception in 2019, it gave the Charlotte Hornets and Walker’s agent a higher ceiling to negotiate his next contract. However, that new salary range for Walker would have made it more challenging for the small-market Hornets to further build around him, which led to them sign-and-trading the All-Star point guard to Boston.

“The designated player was an epic disaster of a rule,” said one assistant GM.

“If you look at every team that has signed that contract, they’ve either ended up in the tax or that player has been traded,” a team capologist told B/R. “Players get disgruntled because they sign the contract early in their career, you have less cap room to build around them, then you’ve stalled your building process. You can’t pay everyone, it becomes too expensive. It’s a mess.”

Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard signed a four-year, $196-million supermax contract in June 2019. He is one of only six players signed to the supermax contract in the NBA today. Fischer said rival executives are hoping he’s the next disgruntled supermax star to request a trade, following in the footsteps of James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Fischer said more issues will also be negotiated in the next CBA, including the buyout market and medical evaluations of NBA prospects during the predraft process. You can read the full piece here.