Why Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons can’t be teammates, explained

Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

Due to a CBA rule, the Brooklyn Nets can not acquire Donovan Mitchell without also moving Ben Simmons.

Kevin Durant is agreeing to move forward with the Brooklyn Nets after a very public trade request this summer, which turns the league’s focus to the next star available on the trade market: Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz.

We learned on Thursday that Mitchell has three preferred trade destinations: The Nets, Miami Heat, and New York Knicks. Also, Mitchell has not requested a trade, an important caveat to note that may keep trade talks from going very far. Things are not very urgent for the Jazz at this point.

The Knicks have the most flexibility to build a package based on what the Jazz want: Significantly talented young players and draft picks. Miami is somewhere in the middle, and the Nets are on the opposite end of the spectrum from NYK: They can’t trade for Mitchell unless they also get rid of Ben Simmons.

Wait, what?

Yes, you read that right. A CBA rule restricts the Nets from acquiring Mitchell unless they move Ben Simmons first or simultaneously. Here’s why.

The NBA’s current iteration of the collective bargaining agreement was designed to create as much parity as possible and keep wealthy, big-market teams from dominating the player acquisition market. The NBA was concerned about superteams becoming a pervasive part of the modern NBA game, and try as they might, they’ve mostly struggled to keep it from happening.

NBA CBA stipulates that Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons can not both be acquired via trade on the same roster

One of the CBA rules is that teams can not acquire more than one player on a designated rookie supermax contract. Teams can roster two of them, but they can not acquire both of them. According to CBA FAQ from Larry Coon:

"“There is a limit to the number of designated players a team can have on its roster at a time. A team can have up to two designated rookies (who received a longer rookie scale extension) and up to two designated veterans (who received higher than the 30% maximum salary) at any time.2 However, only one designated rookie may have been acquired from another team in a trade.”"

Both Simmons and Mitchell are on such deals, and since the Nets acquired Simmons via a trade last season, they are barred from rostering both Simmons and Mitchell, since the only way they could acquire Mitchell is via trade.

Has the CBA worked? The Finals of recent years have featured both the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, two smaller-market teams that built their teams around players they drafted like Devin Booker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. That’s exactly what the league wants.

Teams like the Nets have actually proven superteams aren’t all glitz and glam, struggling to make any noise despite rostering Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden simultaneously at one point.

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