We're a little more than three-quarters of the way through the NBA season, and it's exactly three weeks after the trade deadline, so for the most part, player roles are clearly defined. For soon-to-be free agents, their coach's decision to either start them or bring them off the bench has a significant, if indirect, effect on their next contracts. For restricted free agents, that decision can have a direct effect.
The NBA's collective barganing agreement defines a "starter criteria" that determines the amount of the qualifying offer teams must extend to retain the ability to match offers for their restricted free agents. Any player set to hit restricted free agency who starts at least 41 games or plays 2,000 or more minutes in the final season of his contract meets the criteria. Players may also meet the criteria by averaging those figures over the final two seasons of their contract. Since there were only 66 games in last year's lockout-shortened season, the starter criteria figures were prorated accordingly — so, 33 games started or 1,610 minutes played.
For players drafted in the first round, the size of the QO is determined by the player's draft position. Second-rounders get a QO worth 125% of the their previous salary, or their minimum salary plus $200K, whichever is greater.
But, if a player meets the starter criteria, those figures can go up. Players drafted No. 10 through No. 30 can get a QO equivalent to that of the No. 9 pick in their draft class by meeting the starter criteria. Second-rounders and undrafted players can get a QO equal to the No. 21 pick in their draft class by doing so.
Lottery picks can actually lose money on their qualifying offers if they fail to meet the starter criteria. Anyone drafted No. 1 through No. 14 will see his QO reduced to the level of the No. 15 pick in his draft class if he falls short of the starter criteria.
Usually, restricted free agents don't sign their QOs; they're merely placeholders or starting points for negotiations. But, there's been a rise in the number of players taking their QOs of late, and Brandon Jennings has threatened to do just that to get to unrestricted free agency sooner. Jennings, picked No. 10 in the 2009 draft, has met the starter criteria, but will only get a slight bump in his QO, to $4.531MM from $4.33MM, for doing so.
Most of the soon-to-be restricted free agents have either achieved the starter criteria or appear unlikely to do so. The only one on the fence is Byron Mullens. He's unlikely to get to 2,000 minutes this season, but he needs just one more start to qualify. Unfortunately for Mullens, Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap removed him from the starting lineup this past weekend, a decision that could prove costly for Mullens, the 24th overall pick in 2009, if he remains a reserve. He's due a $3.294MM QO as of now, but he could get the $4.531MM that Jennings is in line for with just one more start.
Here are the players up for restricted free agency in the offseason who've already met the starter criteria:
- Darren Collison
- Brandon Jennings
- Jeff Teague
- Tyreke Evans
- Gerald Henderson
- Nikola Pekovic
- Tiago Splitter
All players set to hit restricted free agency are denoted with an "(R)" on our list of 2013/14 NBA free agents.
Larry Coon's Salary Cap FAQ was used in the creation of this post.