Memphis Grizzlies’ star Ja Morant was suspended without pay for eight games earlier this season for “conduct detrimental to the league” after he was seen holding a gun on a livestream video. That off-the-court decision only cost Morant around $1.5 million of his 2022-23 salary, but it might have indirectly cost him much more over the course of his next contract.
The extension Morant signed with the Grizzlies last summer was worth at least 25% of the salary cap ($192.2 million) and had the potential to increase to 30% ($231.4 million) with a 2022-23 All-NBA team selection. By not making the cut, Morant missed out on $39 million over the next five seasons.
Although Morant averaged 26.2 points and 8.1 assists per game, both top-10 marks in the NBA, he only started 59 out of 82 games. Had he started in 67 games, Morant would have played more games than many of the award recipients and could have been a legitimate All-NBA candidate.
The “Derrick Rose Rule” (officially named the “5th year, 30% max criteria”) is a clause in the league’s 2011 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) allowing a player re-signing with his current team to earn a salary greater than the typical maximum starting in his fifth season if at least one of a list of criteria is met. As of the 2017-18 season, that includes being named to an All-NBA team in the most recent season, or in two of the previous three seasons.
The initial concept was to reward the league’s extraordinary young players with higher wages; it actually means that awards voted on by 100 members of the media cause significant salary changes for a few players every season. For instance, Trae Young netted a $35 million pay raise last year thanks to his All-NBA selection, while Jayson Tatum missed out on a $33 million opportunity the year before due to being snubbed.
Tatum actually earned more total ballot points that season than the Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving, who made the third team as a guard. However, Tatum was classified as a forward and just missed the cut at that position. Beginning in 2023-24, the league’s new CBA will make all-NBA voting positionless, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, preventing a strange technicality, such as the one involving Tatum, from hurting a player’s wallet.
Rookie extensions like Morant’s aren’t the only salaries impacted by awards. Thanks to a second-team selection, the Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown will be eligible to sign the Designated Veteran Extension (also known as a “supermax” contract) this summer, which would kick in for the 2024-25 season. His teammate Jayson Tatum will also be eligible for the same distinction starting in 2025-26 regardless of whether he makes an All-NBA team next season, since he has now made it in both 2022 and 2023. Typically, players cannot sign deals worth more than 30% of the cap until the start of their 10th season, but all-NBA status allows players to secure a salary worth 35% of the cap before their eighth or ninth season.
Brown becoming eligible for the supermax bumps his potential deal from four years, $190 million to approximately $290 million over five years. With a more lucrative contract in the offing, the Celtics will have a better chance to keep Brown. Otherwise, they couldn’t have offered an extension worth more than what he could have earned as a free agent after the 2023-24 season.
Brown’s alternative deal without the all-NBA nod would have actually been even lower under the last CBA. It used to be that the starting salary for a veteran extension could only be worth up to 120% of the player’s previous salary. The new CBA ups that to 140% in an attempt to help teams retain players, particularly those outperforming their prior contracts.
Even with those increased veteran extensions, a supermax contract still dwarfs what a player can make from a regular deal. Earning that supermax, though, could be more difficult in the future. Starting next season, players will have to play 65 games to be eligible for awards (with some exceptions), in an attempt by the league to curb load management. This year, five of the 15 All-NBA players failed to reach that threshold, and an unintended consequence of the new policy could be players playing through injuries to secure the bag.
The system of determining awards based on a media vote has come under scrutiny in recent years, with voter bias being a concern. For instance, the only vote for Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker in the year he was up for a pay raise came from the Arizona Republic’s Duane Rankin.
The status quo isn’t perfect, but it may be here to stay. It appears player salaries will continue to be tied to awards based on the CBA term sheet highlights reviewed by Sportico. "It’s a lot of pressure on you guys to have to make decisions that impact people financially,” NBPA president CJ McCollum said to the media at a press conference in February. “[But] I don’t necessarily have an idea of a better alternative.”