Call it the cost of success.
Thanks to his place in the All-NBA third team this season, and his Defensive Player of the Year trophy last season, Rudy Gobert has made himself eligible — along with a few of the NBA’s other elite players — for what would be the largest contract in NBA history: approximately a five-year, $247.3 million extension that would begin in the 2021-22 season.
Such a deal, referred to as a “supermax” contract by most but by the term “Designated Veteran Player Extension” in the league’s 598-page Collective Bargaining Agreement, was introduced to give the home team the advantage in keeping a star player. Only the player’s current team can give a supermax contract; where every other team is limited to giving a player with 7-9 years in the NBA 30% of the salary cap and four years, the current team can offer 35% of it and five years.
The qualifications needed to be eligible for such a deal are steep: a player must have either been named MVP in the last three years, or be named to an All-NBA team or DPOY in the most recent season or the two previous. Each team can only have two designated supermax players, and a supermax player cannot be traded for a year after signing the extension. Players can only sign a deal entering their eighth or ninth season in the league.
As a result, Gobert, who has completed only six seasons, is not eligible to sign such a deal yet. He’ll have to wait until the summer of 2020 to do so. Or, if he were named MVP, DPOY, or to any of the All-NBA teams in either 2019-20 or 2020-21, he could sign a 5-year supermax deal with the Jazz as a free agent in the summer of 2021.
Regardless of whether Gobert were signed to the supermax as an extension in 2020 or as a new contract in 2021, the contract maximum would start at 35% of the league’s salary cap for the 2021-22 season, currently projected to be $121.8 million — though, still more than two years away, the league’s projection is solely based on a 5% raise from the more informed $116 million estimate for the 2020-21 season. From there, the maximum annual raises for a supermax are 8% under the league’s CBA.
The total of $56.3 million would represent about 38% of the salary cap in the final year of the 2025-26 season, assuming 5% year-over-year raises in the league’s revenues. Then, Gobert would be 33 years old.
Of course, that Gobert is technically eligible for such a sum of money does not necessarily mean that the Jazz will agree to give it to him. Utah could also negotiate with Gobert on a percentage of the cap between 30% and 35% under the rule and still offer him a 5-year extension. If they were to agree on a deal below 30% of the cap, they could offer him only four years.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker are the league’s three other players who met the criteria thanks to the league’s All-NBA results announced in May; Anthony Davis wasn’t selected but was already eligible. Walker is a free agent this season, while Lillard, though he has two years remaining on his deal, is reportedly expected to agree to a 4-year supermax extension worth approximately $191 million this summer, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Antetokounmpo, like Gobert, must wait until next summer, thanks to one year fewer of NBA service time.
The 26-year-old Gobert does have two years left on his current deal, one that will earn him approximately $25 million next season and $26.5 million in 2020-21, so if they’d like, the Jazz can simply delay these conversations until much later. There’s also an unlikely door No. 3: Gobert and the Jazz could agree to a smaller extension this fall — after Oct. 1 but before the beginning of the regular season — if Gobert wanted to sign a long-term deal right away.
If it seems early to have these conversations given that Gobert’s only halfway through a 4-year extension, you’re not alone. Davis’ situation, for example, has been criticized, as he essentially told the New Orleans Pelicans that he did not want to sign a supermax extension earlier this year, about 18 months before he was to become a free agent, resulting in a saga that has yet to be resolved. Likewise, the Bucks must consider the impact of such an extension for Antetokounmpo when deciding the fate of their own free agents.
But the NBA has said that one goal of the supermax system was so that players would have these sorts of conversations with their teams sooner.
“Part of the goal in ‘earlying’ up the discussion was that those players then wouldn’t reach the end of their contracts and frankly surprise teams by then announcing they were leaving,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in an April press conference. “The fact that a player left the market doesn’t mean it was a failure, because at least in those cases the teams got value.“
While Davis’ public trade demand wasn’t well received by the league or the Pelicans, him asking out might well be a better situation than the one that the Jazz faced in the summer of 2017, when Gordon Hayward left the Jazz with no compensation in return.
Gobert, both before and after Hayward’s departure, has been a stalwart for the team, leading them to three consecutive years among the league’s top-3 defensive teams. By all indications, Gobert wants to stay in Utah, and the Jazz want to keep their defining All-NBA center.
But whether it be this fall, next summer, or as a free agent in 2021, Gobert, his agent, and the Jazz’s front office will have to decide on a dollar amount. Thanks to the NBA’s supermax rules, it could be a large one.