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NBA waivers explained: How do they work?

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We often see players still under contract get waived by their teams during the season. But what does getting “waived” really mean? Let’s take a deeper dive into the NBA waivers explained.

NBA waivers explained

There are 15 roster spots for each team in the NBA. These teams need to maximize all of these roster spots with the right talent and pieces. Thus, if a player isn’t worth a roster spot anymore for whatever reason, the team can waive or release him.

While a player isn’t part of the roster anymore, the team is still responsible to pay whatever amount is guaranteed on his contract, unless another team picks it up.

How do waivers work in the NBA?

The NBA waivers are beneficial for both the team and the player. It allows the team to open up a roster spot and allows the player to get paid and play for another team.

Once a player is waived, he is released to the “waiver wire” or just “waivers” in short. All NBA teams are notified and have a chance to make a claim on the player within 48 hours. Teams are constantly eyeing the waivers to upgrade their roster.


If there are multiple teams that make a claim during the 48-hour period, then the team with the lowest spot in the latest NBA standings officially claims the player. This gives the chance for the bottom teams to improve their roster.

However, rebuilding teams usually don’t bother claiming players on the waiver wire since they want to develop their current talent. Furthermore, they intend to stay low in the standings so they have a greater lottery chance in the next year’s NBA Draft.

Contending teams are usually active in the waivers. After all, there are a lot of serviceable players that they can find there to give a boost to their championship aspirations.

What does it mean to be placed on waivers?

The NBA waiver rules state that the claiming team should be willing to pick up the waived player’s current contract and fulfil whatever amount of money is involved in the contract. Of course, they still have to abide by the NBA salary cap rules.

This is different from a buyout since buying out means that the two parties mutually agreed to negotiate a lower amount of money than owed and release the player from his contract. After a buyout, the player can immediately sign with any team he wishes—usually with a contender.


Read more: NBA buyouts explained

There’s no actual deadline when a team can waive a player in the regular season. However, any players claimed through waivers after March 1 will not be eligible in the team’s playoff roster.

How long does a player stay on waivers?

Players stay on the waiver wire for 48 hours. Other teams have a 48-hour period to make a claim on him.

According to the NBA waiver rules, if there are no teams that made a claim after the 48-hour waiver period, then the player becomes an unrestricted free agent. This means that he is no longer under contract and can sign with any team he chooses to.

Why do teams waive players?

Teams waive players if they decide that they aren’t in their plans anymore moving forward. This is true for players who either don’t crack the team’s rotation or those who are injured. Rather than just becoming a dead weight on the roster, they just opt to waive him instead.

Opening another roster spot is crucial for contending teams since they can acquire another serviceable role player. Meanwhile, other teams waive players just for the sake of clearing cap space.

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