Players and teams have to meet certain criteria to earn Bird rights and Early Bird rights, but Non-Bird rights are something of a given. They apply to players who’ve spent a single season or less with their teams, as long as they end the season on an NBA roster.
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 or 120% of the minimum salary, or the amount of a qualifying offer (if the player is a restricted free agent), whichever is greater. Contracts can be for up to four years, with 4.5% annual raises. The cap hold for a Non-Bird player is 120% of his previous salary.
The salary limitations that apply to Non-Bird rights are more severe than those pertaining to Bird rights or Early Bird rights, so in many cases, the Non-Bird exception isn’t enough to retain a well-regarded free agent. For instance, the Mavs have Non-Bird rights with Devin Harris, who signed a one-year, minimum salary contract with the team in the summer of 2013 after playing with the Hawks in 2012/13. Dallas can only use Non-Bird rights to sign him for 120% of what he made in 2013/14. The guard nearly signed a three-year, $9MM contract in 2013 with the Mavs before a toe injury scuttled the deal, so it’s reasonable to suspect that Harris is in line for a heftier raise than his Non-Bird rights can provide. That would force the Mavs to use another exception or cap room if they’re to re-sign him, which could prove tricky, given the team’s plans to use cap space to attract marquee free agents.
Non-Bird rights might not be of help to the Mavs and Harris, but there are cases in which the exception proves useful. Jermaine O’Neal signed a one-year, $2MM deal with the Warriors in the summer of 2013 after finishing up 2012/13 with the Suns. Golden State can offer up to $2.4MM for 2014/15, 120% of his 2013/14 salary. That gives the Warriors an advantage over other teams for a still-valuable backup who’ll probably command more than the minimum salary.
Note: This is a Hoops Rumors Glossary entry. Our glossary posts will explain specific rules relating to trades, free agency, or other aspects of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ was used in the creation of this post.
Earlier versions of this post, written by Luke Adams, appeared on April 20th, 2012 and April 26, 2013.