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 a player who has spent a single season or less with his team, as long as he finishes 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 eligible to sign their own free agents using the Non-Bird exception for a salary starting at 120% of the player’s previous salary, 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 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 2018/19 will be $1,499,698.
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 Heat had Non-Bird rights for James Johnson and Dion Waiters this past summer, since those players had signed one-year deals with Miami in 2016.
The Heat technically would have been able to use Non-Bird rights to go over the cap to sign Johnson and Waiters, but because their 2016/17 salaries were only about $4MM and $3MM, respectively, the club’s ability to offer raises using the Non-Bird exception was extremely limited — 120% of Johnson’s previous salary was just $4.8MM, which wouldn’t have been a competitive offer. In order to get up to the $14MM and $11MM respective starting salaries that Johnson and Waiters received on their new contracts, Miami had to use cap space.
Holding Non-Bird rights on their top free agents didn’t help the Heat, but there are cases in which the exception proves useful. Nene, for example, signed a three-year, $10.95MM deal with the Rockets this offseason using his Non-Bird rights. Nene had initially signed a one-year, $2,898,000 contract with Houston in 2016, so the Non-Bird exception allowed the team to give him 120% of that amount ($3,477,600) in the first year of his new contract, without having to dip into the mid-level or bi-annual exception.
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 were published in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 by Luke Adams and Chuck Myron.