Currently, Hayward is right on the cusp of that status. Next season will be his eighth year, and he’s in the likely prime of his athletic career; if he continues on his current trajectory, he’ll be a strong candidate for a slot on an All-NBA team, if not for this past season than for the one starting this fall. If he does, he’ll be eligible for a super-max contract from Utah, as enticing an incentive as any to stay on his team.
That is, if he doesn’t leave this summer. Hayward’s contract technically doesn’t expire until the end of the 2017-2018 season, which begins in October, but he’s eligible to leave in July and test the market as a free agent if he so chooses. As of right now, there’s no special contract the Jazz can offer him, although they’ll certainly be playing up the sentimental value of staying in Utah and playing with the team’s other rising stars, who were already good enough to make the second round of the playoffs this year and have plenty of room to improve. If he leaves, though, the team may have no choice but to start rebuilding around other, younger players, a process that can take years.
Other players and teams are in similar predicaments. Paul George, the star small forward for the Indiana Pacers, could also be eligible for a super-max contract after next season; given his track record, he’s arguably more likely to make the cut than Hayward. But trade rumors involving George have been floating around for a while now, and there’s widespread speculation he wants out of Indianapolis this offseason, meaning he, too, may not be in town long enough to see if the new contract rules kick in for him. That means that an extension designed in part to keep superstars on the small-market teams that initially draft them may very well misfire when it comes to two of the first stars whom it could have affected, who may leave their teams right as the new rule is rolling out.
This isn’t the first time that the NBA has faced this particular dilemma; another mechanism in the previous CBA ran into a similar problem just last year. The “Derrick Rose Rule” (named for the youngest player to ever be named MVP) stipulates that a player can jump straight into a 30-percent max contract in his fifth year (two years earlier than normal) if he makes at least two All-NBA teams, starts at least two all-star games, or wins an MVP award. After being named to an All-NBA team in 2015, Anthony Davis, the star of the New Orleans Pelicans, fell short of reaching that threshold in 2016. This not only costs Davis millions—the Pelicans could’ve offered him a much bigger contract if he’d qualified for it—but also takes away a bargaining chip the team could theoretically have used to keep Davis in New Orleans.
Why does the CBA so favor superstar players? One possible explanation is that, when it comes time to negotiate with the league, the National Basketball Players Association, or NBPA, brings a higher wattage to the table than do other players unions. The player representatives in other leagues certainly aren’t scrubs—many have built up impressive résumés even beyond the major accomplishment of reaching the pros in the first place—but those for the NBPA are on a different level. Chris Paul, the union’s president, is considered one of the best point guards of all time; LeBron James, the vice president, will likely go down as one of the greatest players ever, period.