NBA Roster Limits

During NBA regular seasons, teams aren't permitted to carry more than 15 players on their rosters, except in rare instances. Generally, when a club with 15 players on its roster acquires a new player, it must waive someone to clear a spot.

In the offseason, however, teams are permitted to carry up to 20 players on their rosters. One club taking advantage of that extra flexibility this summer, as it did a year ago, is the Houston Rockets — last offseason, even after Houston hit the 20-man limit, the club continued to pursue free agents. This time around, the Rockets have 19 players lined up for training camp, and continue to be linked to additional targets.

Many of the Rockets' players are on partially guaranteed or non-guaranteed deals, making it virtually certain that most of those extra bodies will simply be waived before the regular season begins, so that the team can reduce its roster to the in-season limit of 15 players. However, Houston (or any other team) is allowed to carry more than 15 guaranteed contracts until the season starts, if it so chooses.

For instance, when the Suns sent Caron Butler to the Bucks in exchange for Ishmael Smith and Viacheslav Kravtsov, it increased Phoenix's total guaranteed contracts to 17. Since then, the team has released Michael Beasley, but at least one player with a guaranteed deal will have to be traded or waived before the season begins. In all likelihood, the Suns will have to release a player, then continue paying the player's full-season salary, given the guaranteed nature of his contract.

Before the season opens, teams like the Rockets and Suns, who are carrying more than 15 players, will be required to make cuts. However, other clubs may have to worry about meeting the roster minimum, rather than getting below the maximum.

The fewest number of players an NBA team can have on its roster during the regular season is 13, a figure exceeded by all the league's clubs at the moment. Still, not every team is carrying 13 or more guaranteed contracts. Several teams have 12 players on guaranteed contracts, while the Sixers, Bulls, Cavaliers, and Lakers only have 11. That means players with partially guaranteed or non-guaranteed contracts on those clubs have a decent chance of obtaining roster spots, as their teams attempt to reach the 13-player regular-season minimum.

A few more notes on NBA roster sizes:

  • In the lockout-shortened 2011/12 season, NBA teams were allowed to have 13 active players, rather than 12 active players with at least one on the inactive list. This change became permanent starting in 2012/13.
  • Teams are permitted to carry just 11 active players or zero inactive players for no more than two weeks at a time. A team can also temporarily place up to four players on its inactive list (for a total roster of 16 players) with league approval in the event of a hardship. The injury-riddled Timberwolves took advantage of this opportunity last season.
  • Players assigned to a D-League affiliate are automatically placed on their NBA team's inactive list.

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.

This post was initially published on September 10th, 2012.

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