It may not seem like it at times, but NBA players are under similar job rules to those of me or you.
Can a player be fired from the NBA? Yes, an NBA player can be fired by the team that they are contracted to for a variety of reasons. A team can terminate the contract of a player at any time, however taking this action may come with consequences for the team regarding finances and salary cap. A player having their contract terminated for conduct reasons would usually result in a league wide ban, either for a set time or permanently depending on the reasons.
Chris Washburn was banned from the NBA for life in 1989 after failing 3 drugs tests in 3 years.
The question above is a little vague. Any player can be fired at any time, but NBA players do not work for the NBA. A player can be fired from the NBA team that they work for at any time, it just comes with consequences. The only time where you may consider a player fired from the NBA is if they are banned or suspended, long term from the league.
Due to the success of the NBA Players Association, NBA contracts feature guaranteed money, so the team has a minimum amount they have to pay the player if they want to release them before the end of the contract. Sometimes this is the full remaining contract value, but sometimes teams and players can agree on a contract buyout, where the player may forgo a portion of the money owed to them.
In the NBA what is a contract buyout?
A contract buyout occurs between an NBA player and team that want to part ways. However, releasing players from a contract can be costly. Players will surrender a certain amount of the remaining contract in order for the team to release the player from the contract.
Markieff Morris is a good example of an NBA player who recently had their contract bought out. A handy veteran role player, he was with the Detroit Pistons in the 2019-20 season. But the Pistons were clearly in a rebuilding phase, looking to give more minutes to youngsters, while Morris was looking for a winning team.
So the player and team agreed to a contract buyout that allowed Morris to look to join a competitive team, signing with the Los Angeles Lakers where he would become an NBA champion, eight months after leaving the Pistons.
Why would an NBA player be fired?
There are a few different reasons why a team would be looking to release a player from their contract, whether that is tactical reasons or due to violating team or NBA regulations.
1. Contract Buyout
Contract buyouts are one of the most common ways we see players released from their contracts. It is still technically firing, as it is an agreement between team and player about the player leaving. Although you may not necessarily consider it a firing because the player does usually get some say in the buyout.
The difference between a contract buyout and waiving a player is that if you buy out a contract, it usually means you do not have to give the player all of the guaranteed money he is owed. Instead, players and teams will negotiate an amount that will allow the player to leave the team.
This offseason saw a very big contract buyout, with the Houston Rockets buying out the remaining contract of John Wall, with Wall agreeing to give $6.5 million of the contract back to the team.
2. A team Waives a player
A player being waived is probably something you hear quite a lot in the NBA, particularly in the offseason. When a player is waived, they are released from their contract with the team, however, the team has to pay the player the guaranteed money owed from the contract.
After a player is waived by a team, they will go into a 48-hour waiver period where other NBA teams can try to claim the player’s contract from the team that just waived the player. If no team claims the player then they go into unrestricted free agency, where teams can try to negotiate a new contract with the player.
This offseason, we have seen a few notable players waived. Eric Bledsoe was waived by the Portland Trail Blazers this offseason, doing it through the stretch provision which allows the team to stretch out the remaining payments of the contract beyond the expiry of the contract. Danilo Gallinari, Taj Gibson and Trevor Ariza were some of the notable players waived this offseason.
3. Being banned or suspended from the NBA
One of the rarer ways that a player is fired from the NBA is if they are banned due to disciplinary reasons. It is very rare that we see a player banned from the NBA, but we do still see it happen for a few reasons. NBA players can be banned from the league due to things like; point shaving, substance abuse or racism.
In terms of NBA players being banned from the league, there have been two recent examples of players who have been permanently banned however, the league allows players to apply for reinstatement from a permanent ban if the ban is due to violating the NBAs anti-drug policy. O.J. Mayo and Jalen Harris are the two recent examples of players permanently banned.
O.J. Mayo was the third overall pick in 2008 but struggled in his career. While with the Milwaukee Bucks, Mayo was permanently banned from the NBA due to violating the league’s drug policy, having violated it in 2010 as well. Although he was eligible for reinstatement in 2018, Mayo has not been in the league since his ban.
Jalen Harris is the most recent player banned from the NBA after Harris violated the terms of the anti-drug program, but he is eligible for reinstatement.
Back in the 1950s, there was a group of players permanently banned from the NBA due to being involved in the point-shaving in college which is a type of match-fixing. Eight players were permanently banned for the scandal and these eight have not been reinstated to the league.
When a player is banned from the NBA, their contract is terminated and the amount they are paid is usually hotly contested.