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 can also claim Non-Bird rights on Early Bird free agents if they renounce them. The primary utility in doing so would be so that the team could sign the free agent to a one-year contract, a move that’s not permitted via Early Bird rights.
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 greatest. 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, unless the previous salary was the minimum. In that case, the cap hold is equivalent to the two-year veteran’s minimum salary, which in 2015/16 is $947,276.
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 Pacers have Non-Bird rights with Rodney Stuckey, who signed a one-year, minimum salary contract with the team in the summer of 2014 after having spent several years with the Pistons. Indiana can only use Non-Bird rights to sign him for 120% of the 2015/16 minimum salary without dipping into cap space or another exception. Stuckey was the third-leading per-game scorer for the Pacers this season, so it’s reasonable to suspect that he’s in line for a heftier raise than his Non-Bird rights can provide.
Non-Bird rights might not be of help to the Pacers and Stuckey, but there are cases in which the exception proves useful. Josh Smith signed a $2.077MM deal for the rest of the season to join the Rockets in December after the Pistons waived him. Houston can offer up to $2,492,400 for 2015/16, 120% of his 2014/15 salary, without using cap space or another exception. Smith will already be raking in more than $5MM from his stretched Pistons contract and he and the Rockets have mutual interest in a new deal. A Non-Bird signing would probably come in below market value for Smith, but the forward would still see a healthy NBA income and allow the Rockets to preserve other mechanisms for adding players in their quest for a title.
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 appeared on April 20th, 2012, April 26, 2013 and June 16th, 2014.