NBA Free Agency has become such an anticipated highlight of the NBA calendar that it dominates storylines even while the games are still being played. NBA contracts are complex beasts, with trigger clauses and deadlines built in to attempt to smooth the playing field for all teams.
When do NBA contracts expire? The very technical answer to the question of when NBA contracts expire is June 30th each year. This is when the ‘Free Agency Moratorium’ begins. This is the annual negotiation period from July 1st to 6th in which teams may not sign free agents. From 6pm (ET) on June 30, teams may negotiate deals with free agents. This could be considered the official expiration of that player’s NBA contract. However, those players cannot officially sign a new contract until 12:01pm (ET) on July 6.
This isn’t the whole story though. While this is the standardized time for an NBA contract to expire and a free agent to be able to negotiate with other teams, there are several nuances that may come into play that alter this date.
What is restricted Free Agency in the NBA?
Restricted Free Agency is actually a pretty simple concept. It means a player is free to talk to other teams about signing with them, as any free agent would be. However the team they have previously held their contract with reserves the right to match any contract offer they receive and retain their services.
It is a way of a player ensuring he is being offered fair market value, while the team who has been developing them retains rights on their services if they match the years and salary offered by another franchise.
Restricted free agency only exists in the following situations:
• Following the fourth year of rookie “scale” contracts for former first-round Draft picks.
• For all veteran free agents who have been in the NBA for three seasons or less. The exception to this rule is a first-round Draft pick following his second or third season if his team doesn’t exercise its option to extend his rookie-scale contract for the following season. These players then become unrestricted free agents.
• A player coming off a two-way contract was on an NBA active or inactive roster for at least 15 days in the season beforehand.
The most common application of restricted free agency is when first round draft picks finish their 4th year. Their team may wish to retain their services, but don’t want to over offer years or salary and so allow the player to explore free agency. This could obviously backfire and end up costing them more or upsetting the player. So it is not always exercised.
In order for an NBA player to enter restricted free agency, his team must submit a qualifying offer to the player between the day after the last game of the NBA Finals and June 29. If they fail to meet this deadline, then the player becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent and can sign with whoever he likes.
For restricted free agents their NBA contract technically expires on June 29th.
What is a qualifying Offer?
A qualifying offer is a basic one-year guaranteed deal, which becomes a regular contract if the player decides to sign it. It is used to ensure that teams cannot gain the right of first refusal allowed through Restricted Free Agency without first offering a contract themselves.
Qualifying offers expire on Oct. 1, if an extension is not agreed. The extension of a qualifying offer cannot go past March 1. If a qualifying offer is neither withdrawn nor accepted by the agreed date, the player becomes a restricted free agent and is free to negotiate a new contract with any of the 30 NBA teams.
What is an NBA Offer Sheet?
Once a Restricted Free Agent reaches an agreement with another team, they sign an Offer Sheet. This must be for a minimum of 2 years and the details of which are passed to the team that holds the players RFA contract. An offer sheet expires after 2 days of being received by the team, if they do not match it then the RFA is free to join his new team on the terms agreed in the Offer Sheet.
What is Unrestricted Free Agency?
The alternative to Restricted Free Agency is Unrestricted Free Agency. This applies in all cases not outlined in the RFA details above. Once a player’s contract has expired, from June 30th that year they are free to negotiate contracts with any of the 30 NBA teams. However they cannot sign a contract with anyone until 12:01pm ET on June 6th.
Player Option Vs Team Option?
Some NBA contracts when negotiated have the final year as either a team option or player option. If it is a team option, the team reserves the right to pick up the final year. If it is a player option then the player reserves the right to pick up the final year of the contract. If neither option applies or is picked up by the team or player, then the player will enter Unrestricted Free Agency from June 30th that year.