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Free Agents Ineligible To Sign With Specific Teams

Among the myriad rules in the NBA's collective bargaining agreement is a stipulation that says teams that trade players can't claim those players off waivers or re-sign them until the earlier of the following two dates:

  • One year after the trade was completed.
  • July 1st after the player's contract ends.

In some cases, this rule is simple to apply to practical cases. For instance, the Nets traded Mehmet Okur's expiring contract to Portland last March at the trade deadline, and the Blazers waived Okur shortly thereafter. Because Okur's deal was set to expire at season's end, he was ineligible to re-sign with the Nets during last season, but regained that ability as of July 1st, when his contract expired.

Other cases are trickier, however. For example, Derek Fisher was traded to the Rockets by the Lakers last March 15th, and was bought out by the Rockets shortly thereafter. Fisher had a player option on his contract for 2012/13, which raises the question: When exactly is his contract considered to be "over"? In his CBA FAQ, salary cap expert Larry Coon provides an answer:

  • For contracts with options or ETOs, the end date of the contract is interpreted as the June 30th before an option year, and the June 30th after an ETO year.

Fisher's option wasn't an ETO, so the June 30th before his option year should be considered the "end" of his contract, making him eligible to sign with the Lakers beginning in July, right? Well, not quite.

As confirmed by Coon, Fisher's player option for 2012/13 actually was exercised when he worked out his buyout with the Rockets, allowing the team to split his buyout amount in half between the 2011/12 and '12/13 seasons. That means Fisher is still on the Rockets' books for this season, and his contract isn't considered to be over until next June 30th. As such, the earliest date he can re-sign with the Lakers is March 15th, 2013, a year after the trade.

Since players acquired in trades generally aren't waived immediately, this situation doesn't arise all that often. And many of the players who found themselves in such a position have since signed with other teams — for instance, Josh Harrellson was ineligible to rejoin the Knicks after being waived by the Rockets, but ended up signing with the Heat.

By my count, the eight players listed below, plus Fisher, comprise the group of NBA free agents who are currently ineligible to sign with a specific team, but feel free to contact us if there are any I've missed.

Note: Players who were waived via the amnesty clause are also ineligible to re-sign with their old teams until the amnestied contract expires.

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