AJ Neuharth-Keusch USA TODAY
Published 9:02 AM EDT Jun 27, 2019
The NBA’s annual free agency period is almost always chaotic, and it almost always has the potential to change the league’s landscape for years (i.e. Kevin Durant going to Golden State in 2016 or LeBron James going to Miami in 2010).
But the process isn’t always as simple as a star player taking his talents elsewhere. There are a lot of moving parts and rules in place.
We’re here to simplify it.
Below are answers to some frequently asked questions regarding free agency.
First of all, what’s free agency?
Every NBA player is under contract with a team, and those contracts eventually end. Players then become free agents, giving them the opportunity to sign a new contract with the same team or elsewhere.
When does it start?
Teams and players can begin negotiating deals on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET — six hours earlier than the previous start time of midnight on July 1. However, most players can’t officially sign a contract until noon on July 6, and most deals made up until that point are simply agreements (while deals don’t usually fall through, either side can back out). This is known as the moratorium period.
Example: Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers could agree to a deal Sunday evening, and Leonard would, for all intents and purposes, be a Clipper. It just wouldn’t become official for six more days.
What’s a player option?
It’s exactly what it sounds like. A lot of players have this built into their contract. In short, it lets the player decide whether he wants to stay with the same team for another year or become an unrestricted free agent.
Example: Durant signed a two-year deal with Golden State last summer, and the second year had a $31.5 million player option. Earlier this week, Durant declined that option, making him an unrestricted free agent. He also could have chosen to stay with the Warriors for another year before becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer.
What’s a team option?
You guessed it! It’s a team option. It gives a team the right to keep a player for another year. It’s not as common as a player option.
Example: The Orlando Magic just exercised their team option on Wes Iwundu, meaning he’s now signed through the 2019-20 season. The Phoenix Suns, on the other hand, just declined their team option on Jimmer Fredette, clearing the way for him to play somewhere else.
What’s the difference between a restricted and an unrestricted free agent?
An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any team. A restricted free agent can sign an offer sheet with any team, but the team that he’s under contract with can retain him by matching that offer.
Example: Leonard is an unrestricted free agent. If he signs a contract with the Clippers, he becomes a Clipper. There’s nothing that his current team, the Toronto Raptors, can do about it. Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon, however, is a restricted free agent. If he agrees to a deal with another team, the Bucks can choose to match that offer, keeping him in Milwaukee.
Why can some teams offer larger contracts than others?
The NBA’s salary cap is a whole ‘nother beast, but in short, it limits the amount of money teams can spend, which helps keep league-wide parity. There are a lot of exceptions, but depending on the amount of money owed to players under contract, some teams have more cap space than others.
Example: The New York Knicks have the space to sign two max-contract free agents this summer, while teams like the Washington Wizards and San Antonio Spurs have much less flexibility.
Wait, what’s a max contract?
Just like how teams can only spend a certain amount, players can only earn a certain amount. There are a lot of exceptions here as well, but the general idea is relatively simple: The amount of money a player can earn depends on how long he has been in the league.
Example: Kyrie Irving, who has eight years of NBA experience, can sign with a new team for more money than D’Angelo Russell, who has four years of experience.
What players are free agents this summer?
So glad you asked. Aside from the aforementioned Durant, Leonard, Russell, Irving and Brogdon, a handful of big-name players are set to hit the market, including All-Stars Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Vucevic and Khris Middleton.
Any other questions?
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