Utah Jazz: Does Kevin Durant Injury Open Door For Gordon Hayward All-NBA Team and the DPE?

News of Kevin Durant’s knee injury opens up some questions about the best team in the league. As a result, the usually non-interesting subplot of All-NBA team selections is now a huge issue for the Utah Jazz as well.

Kevin Durant sprained his MCL Tuesday night and ignited the NBA news cycle. What does this mean for the Golden State Warriors? Do the San Antonio Spurs now end up with the top seed? Will KD be healthy for the playoffs?

These are the big question, but there’s another interesting subplot in this conversation. Something that KD surely doesn’t care about in the slightest, but could have a major effect on a team like the Utah Jazz.

Does his injury eliminate him from making an All-NBA team?

One of the bigger moves of the new CBA was to keep star players from leaving the teams that drafted them. They introduced something called designated player exemption (DPE) which would allow any team to offer a player meeting certain criteria 35 percent of the cap, even if that team is capped out.

That criteria as laid out by Tim Bontemps —

A player qualifies for the DPE,  which can be used either to give a player a contract extension or to sign him as a free agent, if he does one of the following:

1. He makes one of the three all-NBA teams or is named either defensive player of the year or most valuable player for this prior season.

2. He has made one of the three all-NBA teams or has been named the defensive player of the year in two of the prior three seasons or the league’s most valuable player in one of the three prior seasons.

And this crucial stipulation: He has to be either on the team that drafted him, or has to have been traded on his rookie deal to another team.

That means players like Stephen Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Gordon Hayward are eligible for this exception, while Kevin Durant is not.

Cousins and Westbrook are the only players who are already eligible for this exception next summer, when the Sacramento Kings and Oklahoma City Thunder, respectively, will be able to offer each five-year contract extensions. Paul George, meanwhile, would become eligible if he makes an all-NBA team this season, because he didn’t make it last season. Same with Wall and Hayward, among others.

Now the interesting part of the discussion happens if KD misses the rest of the season. Does 59 games out of 82 earn you an All-NBA spot?

And if it doesn’t, does that leave a spot for someone like Gordon Hayward? If so, it would make Hayward eligible for the DPE and would obviously have major ramifications on his status with the Jazz, as well as his financial future, as he prepares to opt out of his current deal this summer.

The same could be said for Paul George of the Pacers. As Bill Simmons recently pointed out while measuring trade value for George, the Pacers star isn’t among the top six forwards in the league. And exactly six forwards make the All-NBA teams.

Another separate discussion is that All-NBA still considers the center position so Rudy Gobert is in play here, and if he makes it twice or gets the Defensive Player of the Year award within three years of becoming a free agent he can qualify for the DPE as well. This could be huge for Utah in the years to come.

Back to Hayward and George. The locks to make the team as forwards are LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis. This leaves Durant, Hayward, George, Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love (46 games played), and Blake Griffin (39 games played, potentially will play 60) in play for the remaining spots.

I’m presuming DeMarcus Cousins is a center as he was picked to the All-NBA second team last year as a center.

If Love, KD and Griffin stay healthy, they take those spots. They may get them regardless depending on the voters. But for sake of this argument, let’s say that the missed games keep them from getting selected. In that case, Green, Butler, Hayward and George would be vying for one of three spots.

Green’s impact is special and not exactly quantifiable by statistics. Also team success matters, so both Green and Klay Thompson, along with Stephen Curry, will probably get selected. Butler is having an incredible season, is winning enough games for team success (or lack thereof) to not be a detracor and should get a spot.

That leaves G-Time and PG-13, and I think the choice there is an easy one.

Hayward has had a better season than George in almost every category this season, save rebounds and free throw percentage. Meanwhile, team success isn’t close — Hayward and the Jazz win running away.

So, should Durant, Love and Griffin not be recognized with All-NBA selections, Hayward takes a spot on the third team and earns himself a lot of money in the process.

Like Zach Lowe said, this makes the All-NBA voting process icky and weird. Nevertheless, it could work out in favor of both Hayward and the Jazz.

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