Note: This is an updated version of an article that was sent exclusively to our Trade Rumors Front Office subscribers in June. Click here for more information on Trade Rumors Front Office.
The NBA’s Designated Veteran rule, as we explain in our glossary entry on the subject, allows players to qualify for a maximum salary worth 35% of the cap before they gain the required NBA service time.
Typically, a player is ineligible to receive a maximum contract that starts at 35% of the cap until he has at least 10 years of experience, but the Designated Veteran rule gives a player with between seven and nine years of experience the opportunity to do so if he meets certain performance criteria. This has become colloquially known as signing a “super-max” deal.
The performance criteria are as follows (only one of the following must be true):
- The player was named to an All-NBA team and/or was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in the most recent season, or in two of the last three seasons.
- The player was named the NBA MVP in any of the three most recent seasons.
Since the NBA introduced the concept of the Designated Veteran contract in 2017, 12 players have signed them across seven offseasons. Celtics wing Jaylen Brown became the latest player to join that group this summer when he signed a five-year super-max deal that could become the NBA’s first $300MM contract.
Brown will be the only player who signs such a contract this offseason, but it’s worth taking a peek down the road to see which players are the best candidates to join the list of super-max recipients in 2024 and 2025.
We can start by penciling in another Celtic, Jayson Tatum, for 2024. Although he doesn’t yet have enough years of NBA service to sign a Designated Veteran extension, Tatum met the performance criteria in the spring by earning his second consecutive All-NBA berth.
That means that even if he doesn’t make an All-NBA team in 2024, he’ll have received an All-NBA nod in two of the previous three seasons when he meets the service time criteria next summer, making him super-max eligible. It seems likely the Celtics will offer him a Designated Veteran extension at that time.
Here are some other candidates to watch during the 2023/24 season:
- Bam Adebayo (Heat)
- De’Aaron Fox (Kings)
- Brandon Ingram (Pelicans)
- Jamal Murray (Nuggets)
- Pascal Siakam (Raptors)
Because a player become ineligible for a Designated Veteran extension if he’s traded after his first four years in the NBA, prime candidates like Donovan Mitchell and Domantas Sabonis won’t be able to qualify. Still, there’s an intriguing group of candidates in play for next summer.
Ingram, Murray, and Siakam, members of the 2016 draft class, would have become super-max eligible if they had made an All-NBA team this year. They’ll get another chance in 2024.
Ingram averaged a career-best 24.7 points and 5.8 assists per night in 2022/23, but injuries limited him to just 45 games. While he’s not one of the best 15 players in the NBA, it’s not impossible to imagine the 26-year-old earning an All-NBA spot if he stays healthy and helps lead the Pelicans to a top-four seed in the West. He’s probably a long shot, but we can’t rule him out entirely.
Murray was making his way back from an ACL tear last season, which meant he was subject to load management and wasn’t necessarily at his best from day one. But his postseason performance – 26.1 points per game on .473/.396/.926 shooting en route to a championship – served as a reminder that he has All-NBA upside.
Siakam made the All-NBA Second Team in 2020 and the Third Team in 2022 and received some votes in 2023. However, he still needs one more All-NBA nod in 2024 to become eligible for a Designated Veteran deal. He’ll be a candidate to watch as long as he remains in Toronto for the 2023/24 season. A trade – which would make him ineligible – still looms as a possibility.
Adebayo and Fox are 2017 draftees with just six years of NBA experience, which means that Fox didn’t meet the Designated Veteran performance criteria by earning All-NBA honors in May — he’ll need to do it again in 2024 to qualify for a super-max deal. His performance this past year showed that he’s capable of it.
Adebayo’s path to an All-NBA berth is complicated by the fact that the All-NBA teams will become positionless beginning in 2024. That means voters won’t necessarily have to choose three centers, which may reduce his odds of making the cut.
Still, the field of All-NBA candidates may be more wide open than usual in 2024, since the league is also requiring players to appear in at least 65 games in order to be eligible for one of the 15 spots. That means a player who misses a few weeks with an injury might be out of the running. If Ingram, Murray, Siakam, Fox, and Abebayo can stay healthy and play at least 65 times, their All-NBA odds will increase.
It’s worth noting too that being named Defensive Player of the Year is another way to qualify for a super-max. Adebayo has finished in the top five in voting for that award in each of the last four seasons and is a legitimate candidate to win it at some point.
Doncic, Gilgeous-Alexander, and Jackson were drafted in 2018 and have just five years of NBA experience, so they’re still two years away from having the service time required for a Designated Veteran contract — none of them would be able to sign a super-max extension until 2025. However, they all have an opportunity to meet the performance criteria in 2024.
Doncic and Gilgeous-Alexander made up the All-NBA First Team backcourt in 2023, so if they make an All-NBA team again next year, they’ll have done so in at least two of the three years leading up to the 2025 offseason.
As for Jackson, he missed out on All-NBA honors in 2023, but was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. It’s a tall order, but if he can win a second DPOY award in either of the next two seasons, he’ll make himself eligible to sign a super-max contract in 2025.
The rookie scale extension recipients
Ball, Edwards, and Haliburton have all signed five-year, maximum-salary rookie scale extensions this offseason that project to start at 25% of the 2024/25 cap. If we assume the cap will rise by the maximum allowable 10%, those deals would be worth just shy of $217MM.
However, all three extensions include Rose Rule language. This is another form of the super-max — we can call it the “mini” super-max, paradoxical as that may sound. Unlike a player who signs a Designated Veteran contract, which starts at 35% of the cap instead of 30%, a player who meets the Rose Rule criteria can receive a starting salary worth 30% of the cap rather than 25%.
The performance criteria for a Rose Rule salary increase are essentially the exact same as for a Designated Veteran bump, but must be achieved by the end of the player’s four-year rookie contract. That means Ball, Edwards, and Haliburton would have to make the All-NBA team in 2024 in order to increase the projected value of their respective extensions to $260MM over five years — an All-NBA berth in 2025 or 2026 would be too late.
Each of these three players has an All-Star berth under his belt, so making the leap to All-NBA certainly isn’t inconceivable. Edwards may be the best bet of the three to qualify for the mini super-max, but if Ball and Haliburton can lead their teams to playoff spots, they’d certainly have a case.