Today is the deadline for the couple hundred NBA reporters and broadcasters to submit their awards ballots. Some of their decisions—Steph Curry for MVP, Karl-Anthony Towns for Rookie of the Year—are quite easy, and others—Coach of the Year, All-Defensive Team—are not. But none is more interesting than the voting for the All-NBA Third Team, where these esteemed media members get to decide whether to award Anthony Davis tens of millions of dollars, or not.
Last summer, Davis signed a five-year max contract extension that kicks in next season. While the length of the contract is clear, its value isn’t, because rather than a set number, it is pegged to a percentage of the as-of-yet-unknown salary cap. But even more confusing, even that percentage is unknown.
As a player with fewer than six service years, the max salary for Davis is 25 percent of the salary cap. But as a first-round pick who completed his rookie contract and re-signed with his team, Davis is eligible for the “fifth Year 30% Max Salary,” a new wrinkle introduced in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement. Then-NBPA executive committee member Chris Paul pushed for the rule—colloquially known as the Derrick Rose Rule, because at the time it applied only to Rose—as an owner-palatable way to pay outstanding young players more money.
Per the Derrick Rose Rule, Anthony Davis’s max contract will be worth 30 percent of the salary cap if he achieves one of the following criteria during his first four seasons:
(i) the player is named twice to the All-NBA first, second, or third team; (ii) the player is voted in twice as an All-Star starter; or (iii) the player is designated once as NBA MVP (the “5th Year 30% Max Criteria”)
From the beginning, the Derrick Rose Rule has always been one of the stranger artifacts of the CBA. Players have long had various performance bonuses built into their contract, but they usually don’t account for such a large percentage of their money, and often come with stat- or playing-time-based criteria (like minimum games played) or are based upon achieving team success (making the playoffs, winning an NBA Championship). But the Derrick Rose Rule puts a huge bonus solely into the hands of dumbass fans (All-Star starter) and somewhat less dumb media members (All-NBA and MVP voting). In this case, it’s the difference between Davis making around $120 million, and Davis making around $145 million.
Already, we know Davis won’t trigger two of the ways to increase his salary. He was only voted an All-Star starter once (in 2015) in the past four seasons, and while in theory he could still be selected league MVP, it’s not going to happen. Davis made his first All-NBA team (the first team) last season, meaning he needs to make at least the All-NBA Third Team this year to get 30 percent of the salary cap.
Davis was often injured, playing in just 61 games this season, and his team stunk, finishing with the sixth worst record in the NBA. He’s positionally flexible, which helps his chances of making the All-NBA team, but per Win Shares, for instance, he was either the seventh-best center or the 13th-best forward this season. It’s a tough case to make.
Based upon the very small amount of ballots made public so far, it doesn’t look like Davis is going to do it. He isn’t on the ballots of Chris Broussard, Bill Simmons, Zach Lowe, Sam Smith, Chris Haynes, or Tim Bontemps (UPDATE: Bontemps’s ballot is just for funsies, as the Washington Post has a policy against voting on awards) though he is on Ken Berger’s.
But it is important to note that somewhere around 130 media members typically vote for the All-NBA team, and every single year crazy things happen. A large percentage of voters are beat writers—who don’t really have the time to watch teams other than the one they cover—and team broadcasters—who cast all manner of strange homer votes. People make absurd votes to be contrarian, or vote for players by mistake.
The bigger question, of course, is what media members are even doing voting for officially sanctioned league awards in the first place. The stodgiest media institutions—the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press—don’t participate. But as far as I am aware nowhere else has a similar policy, and the awards are voted on by newspapers, online outlets, TV stations, and even team employees, all making news instead of reporting on it. And far be it from Deadspin (of all places) to hew to traditional media ethics, but this seems like one they got right!
There are all sorts of bizarre situations here, and they can all be dissected when the teams are announced near the end of the playoffs, because every vote is made public. What will Pelicans beat writers and broadcasters do, knowing Davis will see how they voted? How much do the Pelicans actually want Davis to be named—they sent out the traditional swag promoting his candidacy—knowing it will severely hamstring their cap space? How will NBA employees, writers for team websites—maybe even Pelicans.com—vote?
I have talked to a number of awards voters over the last week, and while they acknowledged feeling they were in an awkward position, nobody wanted to go on the record about it. The NBA and National Basketball Players Association—who are already having preliminary CBA talks—declined to say whether the Rose Rule had come up in negotiations, and declined to make any comment at all. The Professional Basketball Writers Association (of which I am a member) had no official position on the matter, though president Josh Robbins—a Magic beat writer for the Orlando Sentinel—told me he personally believes that “the notion of a journalist directly impacting a newsmaker’s compensation is deeply troubling.”
When the media votes on valueless honors, it is a journalism school theoretical question about ethics. But here we have reporters not only determining somebody’s salary, but the immediate future payroll of one of the 30 teams in the league. Voters will have to vote their consciences, like they always have; it just happens to matter this time more than ever.