How NBA award voting impacts player salaries: All-NBA, MVP honors affect supermax contract values

There’s nothing quite like NBA awards season.

After a grueling 82-game campaign, a select group of players are acknowledged for their body of work during the course of the regular season, with many getting the opportunity to accept their honors in front of their home fans during the playoffs.

MORE: NBA awards 2022: Complete list of winners for MVP, Coach, Rookie of the Year and more

From Most Valuable Player to Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA, honors are earned from what is achieved from October to April within a particular season, but because of stipulations in the NBA’s most recent collective bargaining agreement, these honors have bearing on a player’s future earning power during the life of their respective contracts.

Here is how the voters of end-of-season awards can impact the salary of an NBA player.

How NBA award voting impacts player salaries

It’s much more than a reputation thing.

As agreed upon in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2017, “Generally Recognized League Honors,” which include NBA MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, All-NBA and All-Star selections, can be included as incentives or kickers within a player’s contract.

With respect to end-of-season awards, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA selections have a direct impact on players’ abilities to earn a “supermax” contract, which is in reference to a player’s yearly salary taking up a specific percentage of the team’s salary cap.

NBA awards are voted upon by a panel of 100 members of the media. While these media members are voting to assess the performance of players over the course of the season, they also hold power over the players’ earning ability.

How NBA award voting impacts young players

Here’s a breakdown of how that works for young players:

  • First-round draft picks sign a rookie-scale contract commensurate to their position in the draft.
  • After three years under contract, those players become eligible to sign a contract extension that goes into effect during their fifth NBA season.
  • For players on rookie deals, a maximum contract is for five years and is worth 25 percent of the salary cap, but a supermax contract is for five years and is worth 30 percent of the salary cap.
  • In order to be eligible to maximize supermax earnings, a player must have met at least one of the following criteria within their first four NBA seasons:
    • Two All-NBA selections (first, second or third team)
    • Voted in twice as an All-Star starter
    • Win NBA MVP once

If a player has not met the above criteria during their first three seasons, their extensions are often reported as being worth “up to” the figure that represents 30 percent of the salary cap, acknowledging the possibility of a player meeting the criteria in Year 4. Because their contract does not go into effect until Year 5, a player can still maximize their earnings by meeting said criteria during their fourth season.

Two recent examples illustrate that dynamic perfectly.

Luka Doncic, who was the third overall pick in 2018, earned All-NBA First Team honors in his second and third NBA seasons, making him immediately supermax eligible going into Year 4. In 2021, Doncic signed a five-year extension worth roughly $207 million.

Jayson Tatum, the third overall pick in 2017, earned All-NBA Third Team honors for the first time in 2019-20, his third NBA season. Prior to his fourth season, Tatum signed a five-year extension worth at least $163 million. If Tatum were to earn All-NBA honors in 2020-21, his contract would increase in value to $195 million.

Despite averaging over 26.0 points and starting in the 2021 All-Star Game as a replacement, Tatum missed out on an All-NBA selection in 2021 and, in turn, missed out on roughly $32 million over the life of his contract extension.

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How NBA award voting impacts veterans

For veterans, bigger contract figures come into play.

Following those rookie-scale contracts and extensions, players with over seven years of service can become eligible to sign supermax deals worth up to 35 percent of the salary cap, provided they earn end-of-season honors such as All-NBA or MVP.

Here’s how their eligibility is explained in the CBA:

If the player has met at least one of the following criteria at the time his Contract is executed: (i) the player was named to the All-NBA first, second, or third team, or was named Defensive Player of the Year, in the immediately preceding Season or in two (2) Seasons during the immediately preceding three (3) Seasons; or (ii) the player was named NBA MVP during one of the immediately preceding three (3) Seasons

Simply put, a veteran is eligible for a contract that is worth 35 percent of the salary cap if one of the below criteria is true:

  • They earned an All-NBA selection the year before signing.
  • Were named Defensive Player of the Year the year before signing or won the honor twice in the previous three seasons.
  • Were named MVP in any of the three seasons prior to signing.

How many NBA players are currently on supermax deals?

Here are the nine NBA players currently on supermax deals:

Player Year signed Qualifying honors Contract
Giannis Antetokounmpo 2020-21 (8th season) 2x MVP (2019, 2020), 2020 DPOY, 2020 All-NBA First Team  5 years, $228.2 million
Stephen Curry 2021-22 (12th season) 2021 All-NBA First Team 4 years, $215.4 million
Luka Doncic 2021-22 (4th season) 2x All-NBA First Team (2020, 2021) 5 years, $212.3 million
Joel Embiid 2021-22 (8th season) 2021 All-NBA Second Team 4 years, $195.9 million
Rudy Gobert 2020-21 (8th season) 2x DPOY (2018, 2019), 2020 All-NBA Third Team 5 years, $205.0 million
James Harden 2017-18 (9th season) 2017 All-NBA First Team 4 years, $169.2 million
Damian Lillard 2019-20 (8th season) 2019 All-NBA Second Team 4 years, $176.3 million
John Wall 2017-18 (8th season) 2017 All-NBA Third Team 4 years, $171.1 million
Russell Westbrook 2017-18 (10th season) 2017 MVP, 2017 All-NBA First Team 5 years, $205.6 million

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