The provisions of a collective bargaining agreement can be tricky things. After all, by definition they’re negotiated and agreed upon by parties with different and largely opposed interests, who will want different and often directly conflicting things out of them. The purpose or intent of any given one of them can differ wildly depending on where you’re standing and to whom you’re talking. So it follows that your choice of where to stand and whom to talk to has meaning.
Take the NBA’s Designated Veteran Player Extension (DVPE), more commonly known as the “supermax” extension, for example. This is a provision of the 2017 collective bargaining agreement that grants a team, under certain conditions, exclusive rights to offer a qualifying player a contract extension for up to five additional years and with a starting salary equal to up to 35 percent of the total salary cap—far more than the rules allow that player to receive from other teams in free agency.
The conditions are important. In order to qualify to receive a supermax extension, a player must be entering their eighth or ninth NBA season; must be under contract with either the team that drafted them or a team that obtained them via trade while they were still playing out their rookie contract; and must have met certain high performance standards, such as having made All-NBA teams or won the MVP or Defensive Player of the Year award within a set time-frame.
The context for its creation likewise is important. In the summer of 2016, with the league’s salary cap spiking due to its huge TV contract and with no provisions specially privileging incumbent employers, free agent Kevin Durant left the team that had drafted him, the Oklahoma City Thunder, for the team that had defeated the Thunder in that spring’s playoffs, the Golden State Warriors, forming a uniquely dominant juggernaut in Oakland. All of Durant’s suitors, including the hometown Thunder, had been offering broadly identical contract terms, circumscribed by the salary cap and the league’s maximum-salary rules—leaving Durant to base his decision on other factors, such as Golden State’s loaded roster and the near-certainty that joining it would mean playing historically great basketball and winning at least one championship.
The salary cap spike was an anomaly, all but certain never to recur, and everybody knew it. Without it, a team as stacked as the Warriors couldn’t have come close to making a competitive offer for a free agent of Durant’s magnitude. (And that’s leaving aside that both the Warriors and Durant were themselves extremely rare anomalies in the history of the sport, by definition unlikely in the extreme even once, let alone more than once.) The simple passage of time would have sufficed to ensure nothing like the summer of 2016 ever happened again. Nevertheless, with the public and the media understandably recoiling from a new concentration of superstar talent that seemed to make (and then did make) a joke of the next two championship races, the owners seized the opportunity to leverage the “super-team” boogeyman in the ensuing round of bargaining, with themselves positioned as parity’s noble defenders.