The rules governing the number of players an NBA team can carry on its roster vary depending on the time of year. During the regular season, teams aren’t allowed 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 though, teams are permitted to carry up to 20 players on their rosters.
The NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement has complicated roster counts to some extent by introducing two-way contracts, which allow each team to carry two extra players. Someone on a two-way deal is essentially a G League player, but can spend up to 45 teams with his NBA team, and can’t be poached by a rival NBA club, as we explain in our FAQ.
During the regular season, two-way players don’t count toward the 15-man limit, meaning teams can essentially have 17 players under contract. However, two-way players do count toward the 20-man limit in the offseason. If a club is carrying 20 players on standard NBA contracts in August, it can’t sign a player to a two-way deal without waiving someone.
[RELATED: 2017/18 NBA Roster Counts]
A team ravaged by injuries can sometimes get an extra spot on its regular-season roster via a hardship exception. The NBA can grant this exception when a team has at least four players who have missed three consecutive games and will continue to miss time. Just this week, the Suns were granted an injury exception because Brandon Knight, Alan Williams, Davon Reed, and Devin Booker are all sidelined. Phoenix signed Isaiah Canaan, and now temporarily has a 16-man roster. When one of those players – most likely Booker – is ready to return, the Suns will have to get back to the 15-man limit by waiving Canaan or another player.
A club is also permitted to add a 16th man to its regular season roster if it has a player on the suspended list. A player who is suspended by his team for four or more games may be placed on the suspended list following the third game of his ban, while a player suspended by the NBA for six or more games can be placed on the suspended list following the fifth game of his ban. Teams can’t make use of the suspended list for shorter suspensions.
For instance, Knicks center Joakim Noah received a 20-game suspension from the NBA back in March. He served eight games last season, meaning New York was able to place him on the suspended list to open the 2017/18 campaign. That allowed the Knicks to carry a 16th player for their first 12 games of the season before Noah returned, at which point the team waived Mindaugas Kuzminskas to get back down to 15 players.
The fewest number of players an NBA team can have on its roster during the regular season is 14, not counting two-way players. Still, a team can dip to 13 or even 12 for a limited time, under special circumstances — in those instances, the team must get back up to 14 players within two weeks.
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 and 2013 by Luke Adams.