Waiver claims aren’t particularly common in the NBA. During the 2015/16 league year, for instance, only seven players were claimed off waivers. However, October is one time when things are a little more active on waivers, as teams cut camp invitees from their rosters and other clubs have a chance to snatch up a potentially appealing contract without having to negotiate with the player. Three of 2015/16’s seven waiver claims occurred in October, and this year we’ve already seen one played claimed, as the Pistons nabbed Beno Udrih after he was cut by the Heat.
Not every team can claim any waived player. In fact, there are only a few instances when teams can claim a player who is earning more than the minimum salary. A club must either have enough cap room to accommodate the player’s salary, or a trade exception (or disabled player exception) large enough to fit the player’s salary.
For a team like the Pistons then, the only reason they were able to claim Udrih was because he was on a minimum salary contract. Teams can use the minimum salary exception to claim a player who is on a one- or two-year minimum salary contract. But if Udrih had been making $2MM, Detroit wouldn’t have been able to submit a claim.
With that in mind, here’s the list of teams able to afford to claim a player making more than the minimum:
Teams with cap room:
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Denver Nuggets
- Brooklyn Nets
- Utah Jazz
- Phoenix Suns
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Indiana Pacers
- Notes: The Lakers are also under the cap, but only by about $530K, which is less than the minimum salary. The Celtics, meanwhile, will have about $1.1MM in cap room as of the start of the regular season, since the cap holds for their unsigned first-round picks come off the books.
Teams with traded player exceptions:
- Cleveland Cavaliers ($9,638,554 and three other TPEs)
- Milwaukee Bucks ($1,733,880 and one other TPE)
- Charlotte Hornets ($1,666,470)
- Los Angeles Clippers: ($1,209,600)
For a player like R.J. Hunter, who is currently on waivers with a salary worth about $1.2MM, the 11 teams listed above are the only ones that can currently place a claim. The rest of the NBA’s teams could submit a claim for a minimum-salary player, but don’t have the cap room or cap exception necessary to accommodate, for instance, Archie Goodwin‘s $2MM+ salary. Neither do the Bucks, Hornets, and Clippers, whose trade exceptions are too small.
When taking into account which teams might place a claim on a waiver player, it’s also worth noting that waiver priority is determined by record — the worst teams get first dibs on each waived player. Since the 2016/17 regular season hasn’t started yet, waiver order is currently determined by last year’s record. That will change on December 1, at which point this year’s standings will determine the order.
For now, that means the waiver priority order for the 11 teams listed above looks like this:
- Philadelphia 76ers (10-72)
- Brooklyn Nets (21-61)
- Phoenix Suns (23-59)
- Minnesota Timberwolves (29-53)
- Milwaukee Bucks / Denver Nuggets (33-49)
- (Coin flip determines priority)
- Utah Jazz (40-42)
- Indiana Pacers (45-37)
- Charlotte Hornets (48-34)
- Los Angeles Clippers (53-29)
- Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)
So if the Sixers and Nets both had interest in Goodwin and submitted claims, Brooklyn would be out of luck, since Philadelphia is the only team with a higher waiver priority. For minimum salary claims, the rest of the league’s 30 teams would slot into that waiver order based on last year’s record. In the full waiver order, the Pistons would have the 19th priority, meaning the 18 teams ahead of them didn’t make a claim for Udrih.
As noted above, waiver claims aren’t particularly common, but it’s possible we’ll see a couple more waiver moves this week, so the rules above are worth keeping in mind.