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NBA free agency explained

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The start of NBA free agency is one of the most anticipated days on the calendar for NBA fans. This is because of the huge impact that one star acquisition can make to an NBA franchise. NBA rules can be quite complicated, so how does free agency work? and how does this affect the free agents?

A player becomes a free agent when they either reach end of their contract or an option year is declined. Option years can be either player options or team options. A lot of the top free agents each year are players that have declined their option year in order to try and get a longer term contract.

Free agency begins on 30th June at 6 pm ET, so that will be 11 pm in the UK. This is when the players can officially start negotiating with teams. After this time there is a free agency moratorium until 6th July at 12 pm ET. During the moratorium most free agents cannot be signed and either side can back out of an agreement at this stage. This allows the biggest free agents the chance to receive offers from all interested teams and gives them a lot of control over the future of these teams. (You can read more detail about the moratorium here).

Restricted vs Unrestricted free agents

NBA free agents are split into two groups, restricted and unrestricted. Unrestricted free agents tend to get the most attention because they are more likely to move team due to having complete freedom to sign for any team.

Players can only become restricted free agents if they are extended a qualifying offer by their team. Most restricted free agents are just coming off their rookie contracts. Restricted free agency allows teams to keep young players that they have developed by matching any offer sheet that the player signs with another team.


The main purpose of restricted free agency is to allow teams to keep their young stars for longer, which helps to keep the league more competitive as the talent is more evenly distributed. The current team will still have control of their player as long as they pay them market value.

How much money can a team offer?

The payrolls of NBA teams are heavily regulated in order to keep the league competitive. This is done through limits on individual players’ contracts and a salary cap which limits the total payroll of a team. Generally in order to sign a free agent a team would need enough space under the salary cap for the yearly salary of the player.

If a team does not have enough cap space then, in particular circumstances, they may use an exception that allows them to go over the salary cap. One of the most important cap exceptions is the bird exception that allows teams to re-sign their players even if they will be over the salary cap. More information about cap exceptions can be found here.

The cap on individual contracts will only apply to a few free agents each year. However, these free agents will get most of the attention as they are the few players that can single-handedly change the direction of a franchise. Generally, the maximum salary of a player with 6 or fewer years of NBA experience is 25% of the salary cap. This number increases depending on experience and individual awards won by the player.
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