The NBA free agency period begins tonight at 11:01 p.m. CT (12:01 a.m. ET). Russell Westbrook will officially be eligible to sign his “super max” extension, but what about everything else? There are a number of questions about what the Thunder can do, should do, and will do, but understanding the Thunder’s finances — along with functional knowledge of the terminology involved — is paramount in keeping up with the unhinged madness bound to take place across the league.
To assist in helping Thunder fans get up to speed, I put together an infographic that lays out the basics of where Oklahoma City currently stands financially. While everyone wants big, splashy moves — the reality is that landing a second superstar will be a tall order for GM Sam Presti. Along with the infographic, you’ll find basic terminology and links to internal & external resources that will be helpful reference material as things unfold.
Let’s dive in.
Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA): An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any team, though some unrestricted free agents have options on their existing contracts that, if exercised, may impact their choices. (NBA.com)
Restricted Free Agent (RFA): A restricted free agent can sign an offer sheet with any team, but the player’s original team can retain him by matching the terms of that offer. (NBA.com)
Bird Rights: This exception allows teams to exceed the cap in order to re-sign their own free agents, up to the player’s maximum salary. Teams are said to have “Bird rights” to players who qualify. To qualify for this exception a player essentially must play for three seasons without clearing waivers or changing teams as a free agent. (CBA FAQ)
Non-Bird Rights: Non-Bird rights are earned when a player spends just a single season with his team after having signed as a free agent or being claimed off waivers… Teams are permitted to sign their own free agents using the Non-Bird exception for a salary starting at 120% of the player’s previous salary, 120% of the minimum salary, or the amount of a qualifying offer (if the player is a restricted free agent), whichever is greater. (Hoops Rumors)
Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception: The taxpayer mid-level exception is available to teams above the luxury tax apron, and it works similarly with 4.5 percent raises each season after a fixed starting salary, but one major difference to the non-taxpayer version is that players can only be signed up to three years. (HoopsHype)
Non Tax-Payer Mid-Level Exception: The largest mid-level exception available to teams is the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which is available to teams that are under the luxury tax apron, which is always $4 million above the luxury tax line. Players can be signed up to four years with 4.5 percent annual raises each season. (HoopsHype)
Bi-Annual Mid-Level Exception: This exception is available only to teams that are below the “apron” (i.e., not paying luxury tax, or less than $4 million above the tax line). This determination is made after the exception is used, so a team below the apron cannot use this exception if doing so takes them above the apron. It cannot be used if the team has already used the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception or the Room Mid-Level exception. (CBA FAQ)
Below is a collection of some cap-related content from Thunder cap extraordinaire Jon Hamm, as well as a few external resources.
Salary Cap Q&A: Make the Thunder Great Again: “Rather than bore you with a number and CBA terminology-laden article that would put you to sleep faster than a Golden State playoff game, allow me to present a Q&A. Here are a few general questions I keep getting.”
Explaining the Thunder’s Approach to 2017 Free Agency: “As many try to stress over and over: free agency isn’t going to be the magic elixir for this Thunder team. Sure, it will try to get in the game. But if it can’t, it will go back to the two things it has long relied upon: developing from within and trades.”
Down to Dunk Podcast: Offseason CBA Prep with Jon Hamm: For those that would rather listen than read, this particular episode was extremely helpful in explaining the ins-and-outs of what the Thunder are dealing with financially entering the free agency period.
The madness will begin when the clock strikes midnight on the east coast, so hopefully some of the content gathered here will be useful for those trying to keep up. We’ll be keeping track of all things Thunder, and will update you as things (hopefully) begin to happen.