The NBA is a constantly shifting league. While teams used to be more set in stone, modern organizations always have to be on the lookout for the next best player and they can’t shy away from a good deal. That’s why free agency has become more important than ever before.
Once an afterthought, the time of the year is now critical for teams all around the league. There are many big moves each offseason, with higher and higher profile players moving to new organizations every year. It’s one of the things that makes the offseason so fun to watch.
A Seasonal Constant
As with all parts of the NBA, free agency is a strictly calculated process. It follows specific guidelines, which include a set start and end date. Such requirements need to be in place in order to give the league and offseason a specific rhythm and scheme.
The period kicks off on June 30th, though it shifted during Covid. That date officially starts the free agency season and allows players who are on the market to start negotiation with teams around the league. It also marks the official beginning of the NBA offseason.
Unlike other parts of the NBA year, there’s no official end to free agency. Players who aren’t signed will stay free agents throughout the season until they either get signed or decide to retire.
The start of the period is only significant in that players can become free agents when they used to be on a team. If they were a free agent the previous year, they stay one. However, those athletes can be signed at any time during the next season or beyond.
The Waiting Period
One of the ways the league monitors free agency is through what is known as the July moratorium. That refers to a set period of time where, while players are not allowed to sign any contracts or move to new teams, they can freely discuss deals with different franchises.
For example, a team might tell a player of an offer they have in mind, or a player might reach out to an organization to let them know they want to play there. Such negotiations are not allowed until June 30th, but it’s still one of the more important steps of free agency.
This period lasts from the last day of June and runs through the first few days of July. No trades of signings may take place during that period, but that doesn’t mean all contracts are off limits.
Teams can iron out rookie scale contracts, required tenders, and they can also give deals to restricted free agents already on their payroll. This is also the part of free agency where minimum salary and two-way contract deals take place.
Nothing is binding during the moratorium period. Even so, most deals that are talked about during the timeframe do come to fruition. Some players back out, but it’s a rare occurrence. Once the real free agency kicks in, they have a chance to sign with anyone they like.
Types of Agents
Once the first day of free agency starts and the moratorium ends, players can move around and find a new team depending on their individual situation. All free agents are not created equal. The athletes fall into one of two larger categories: unrestricted and restricted.
As the name suggests, unrestricted free agents can do whatever they want. They have nothing holding them back, no contracts to worry about, and can sign anywhere or whatever deal they wish. Most bigger names are unrestricted, which makes the market extremely volatile.
On the other hand, free agents can be restricted. That means they are beholden to their team before any other. While they can talk to different organizations and get deals to feel out the market, their current franchise always gets a chance to match the offer within three days.
If no offer is made in that time, or the team simply does not want to keep the player, they then get to walk away. However, if the team wants to keep their player for whatever reason, then all they have to do is put up the money and they get to retain the rights.
The way a player becomes a restricted free agent is their organization submits a qualifying offer to them between the last game of the NBA Finals and June 29th. Any offers made before or after those dates are not binding. They can still resign, but they are technically unrestricted.
NBA free agency is one of the most exciting parts of the sport. The regular season and playoffs are the main focus, but teams bringing in new big name players is always a fun process.
Most organizations look completely different once the offseason ends. That’s one of the aspects that makes the NBA so unique.