The Atlantic

The NBA’s Latest Attempt to Promote Competition: $200-Million Contracts

The league’s efforts to create parity may not be enough to keep star players on small-market teams.
Source: Rick Bowmer / AP

What does it take to keep a basketball player from leaving his team? Some Utah Jazz fans are hoping a billboard will help. With the team’s season over, its  27-year-old star Gordon Hayward is eligible to enter free agency and likely to entertain enormous contract offers from several teams in July. In anticipation, some Salt Lake City residents have chipped in to emblazon his likeness and the slogan “STAYWARD” on a massive sign near the arena.

Ultimately, though, whether Hayward re-signs in Utah may hinge not on a billboard, but on the NBA’s latest attempt to keep its 30 teams competitive. Under a new provision called a “designated-player exception” in the National Basketball Association’s collective-bargaining agreement, the Jazz could offer Hayward roughly $70 million more over the next several years than any other team—but only if he’s named to an All-NBA team as one of the top six players at his position on Thursday.

This award-contingent possibility, also called a “super-max contract,” is partly intended to help small-market teams hold on to stars who might otherwise leave for more tantalizing destinations like Los Angeles, New York, and Miami. More importantly, though, it speaks to a fundamental question the NBA has been grappling with recently: In such a star-driven sport, is it possible to establish a level playing field? And even if it is, is it the league’s job to do so?

It’s clear why this topic is coming up right now. For each of the past six years, a team led by LeBron James has won the NBA’s eastern conference; his Cleveland Cavaliers need four more wins to make that seven. Preseason predictions that this year

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