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Jayson Tatum: Too much money on the line for media voting to determine super-max eligibility

Celtics star Jayson Tatum

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 30: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics speaks with the media after the game against the San Antonio Spurs on April 30 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum missed out on $25,180,736 over four years because he didn’t make an All-NBA team last season ($32,600,060 if he opts into the fifth year of his contract extension).

That’s a consequence of the league’s super-max rules. Though contract terms are still subject to negotiation between teams and players, players are eligible for a higher max-salary tier only by making All-NBA or winning MVP or Defensive Player of the Year. So, significant power lies with award voters.

Tatum on “The Old Man & The Three":

I specifically remember one person saying, “I’m not a fan of his shot selection, so I just couldn’t put him on my All-NBA ballot.” And I was baffled.
The fact that somebody could have that thought and basically cost someone 30 million dollars – forget about me. Say the next rookie-extension guys that come in. I think that has to change. Because there’s no criteria set for the media, for the voters on who they should vote for. It’s like all opinion-based. There’s no “He should have to play this many games” or “They should be in the playoffs” or average this many points. It’s all like like, “Well, I like this guy a little more” or certain things like that. I think there’s just a little too much on the line for that.
There’s so much that bothered me with that whole situation. I think the narrative was, “Jayson didn’t make All-NBA. He loses 30 million.” And from that headline, nobody is going to feel bad for me. I still got 175 million. Nobody is going to feel bad. I don’t want anybody to feel bad about the money part. My lifestyle hasn’t changed. It’s not about that. I think, just as the results came out and I looked at how people voted, what went into the media members’, their process of voting, that was the frustrating part. The opinion of somebody or not holding one person accountable to the other.

Maybe teams should be free to pay one or two or three stars a higher max without players needing to qualify. Regular-season honors like All-NBA are not the best way to determine who deserves a higher salary.

But the super-max criteria exists precisely because so much money is on the line. The award standards protect teams from themselves, preventing “unworthy” players from getting too large of contracts. Teams sometimes feel they can’t tell a player no. So, a rule takes the choice away from teams.

The players approved this mechanism in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, because it also helps rank-and-file union members. Players get roughly half of league-wide revenue. The less stars like Tatum make, the more money left for other players.

Know who largely doesn’t like this setup? The media, who never asked for this responsibility. Owners and players decided themselves to use All-NBA voting for this purpose. Some media members were uncomfortable voting on awards tied to smaller bonuses (say, $1 million). The large sums on the line with the super max makes some voters downright queasy.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t think Tatum deserved to make All-NBA last season. I rated all six forwards who made it – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Julius Randle, LeBron James, Jimmy Butler and Paul George – and Zion Williamson ahead of him.

Tatum talks about being judged by unfairly high expectations. That’s a fair point. Voter fatigue exists and rewards surprise players at the expense of established stars like Tatum. But I thought All-NBA voters overrated Tatum last season.

In that interview, Tatum also incorrectly said only his votes at forward – not at guard – counted toward his total. His votes at every position all counted toward a single total score. However, Tatum could make an All-NBA team only at the position he got the most votes – forward, appropriately. That’s why Tatum fell short despite getting more total voting points than All-NBA third-team guard Kyrie Irving.

Maybe All-NBA should be positionless. But there’s no guarantee voters would’ve put Tatum in their top 15 if freed from positional limitations.

In many ways, it sounds like Tatum wanted whatever system would’ve put him on an All-NBA team and gotten him the super max. If voters chose him, we probably wouldn’t be hearing this griping.

But if Tatum isn’t just bitter about his own perceived snub and truly wants a better system for the next generation of players, he should take it up with the union. The setup could change in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.