Hoops Rumors Glossary: Minimum Salary Exception

The minimum salary exception is something of a last resort for capped-out teams looking to add players, as well as for players seeking NBA contracts, but it’s one of the most commonly used cap exceptions.

As its name suggests, the minimum salary exception allows an over-the-cap team to sign a player to a minimum-salary deal. A contract signed using the minimum salary exception can be a one- or two-year deal, but can’t cover more than two seasons.

Teams can use the exception multiple times in a league year, giving clubs that have used all of their cap room and other exceptions an avenue to fill out their rosters. The exception also accommodates teams’ acquisitions of minimum-salary players via trade, as players signed via the minimum salary exception don’t count as incoming salary for salary-matching purposes.

Players are entitled to varying minimum salaries based on how long they’ve been in the NBA. In 2022/23, a player with no prior NBA experience is eligible for a $1,017,781 minimum salary, while a player with 10 or more years of experience is eligible for $2,905,851.

[RELATED: NBA Minimum Salaries For 2022/23]

During the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, the minimum salary is adjusted each season to reflect the year-to-year salary cap change. If the cap increases by 5%, so will minimum salaries. If the cap doesn’t change from one season to the next, neither will minimum salaries.

There’s a wide disparity between the minimum salary for rookies and for long-tenured players, with a minimum-salary veteran of 10+ seasons earning nearly three times as much as a rookie making the minimum next season. The NBA doesn’t want those pricier deals to discourage clubs from signing veterans, however, so the league reimburses teams for a portion of a minimum-salary player’s cost if he has three or more years of experience, as long as the contract is a one-year deal.

For example, when the Nuggets signed 14-year veteran DeAndre Jordan to a one-year pact for 2022/23 using the minimum salary exception, he locked in a salary of $2,905,851, but the team’s cap hit is just $1,836,090, equivalent to the minimum salary for a player with two years of NBA experience. The league will reimburse the Nuggets for the difference between Jordan’s salary and cap hit ($1,069,761).

Most salary cap exceptions can only be used once each season. For instance, when a team uses its full mid-level exception to sign one or more players, the club can no longer use that exception until the following season. Unlike the mid-level and other cap exceptions though, the minimum salary exception can be used any number of times in a single season.

The Suns, for example, have used the minimum salary exception to sign Bismack Biyombo, Damion Lee, Josh Okogie this season. They also used it to acquire Jock Landale in a trade, since he was entering the second year of a two-year, minimum-salary contract he signed in 2021.

While many exceptions begin to prorate on January 10, the minimum salary exception prorates from the first day of the regular season. If a season is 174 days long and a player signs a minimum-salary deal after 25 days have passed, he would only be paid for 149 days.

An extreme example of a prorated minimum salary occurred when the Nets converted Kessler Edwards to a minimum-salary contract on the final day of the 2022/23 season. Last year’s rookie minimum was $925,258, so Edwards received 1/174th of that amount: $5,318.

When a veteran player signs a one-year contract using the minimum salary exception midway through a season, his cap hit is prorated in the same way that his salary is.

For instance, when Goran Dragic signed with the Nets on February 22, 2022, there were 48 days left in the ’21/22 season. He earned a rest-of-season salary of $728,742 (48/174ths of his full-season minimum of $2,641,691), while his cap hit was $460,464 (48/174ths of $1,669,178, the minimum salary for a player with two years of experience).

Finally, it’s worth noting that the minimum salary exception can be used to claim a player off waivers in the same way that it can be used to trade for a player. However, in both cases, a minimum-salary player can’t be acquired in a trade using the minimum salary exception if his contract is for more than two years or if his salary exceeded the minimum in any previous year of the contract.

For example, when the Thunder waived Isaiah Roby in early July, he was earning a minimum salary for 2022/23 ($1,930,681). But Roby was entering the fourth year of his contract and had earned more than the minimum in his first season of that deal ($1.5MM in ’19/20) — both of those factors made him ineligible to be claimed using the minimum salary exception, so the Spurs had to use cap room to place a claim on him.

Here are a few more notes on the minimum salary exception:

  • Players signed using the minimum salary exception are eligible for trade bonuses, but not incentive bonuses. A minimum-salary player with a trade bonus cannot be acquired in a trade using the minimum salary exception unless he waives that bonus.
  • When a minimum-salary player is traded during the season, any reimbursement from the NBA is split between his two teams. It’s prorated based on the number of days he spends with each club.
  • If a minimum-salary player with a non-guaranteed salary is waived before he exceeds the minimum for a two-year veteran, his team won’t be reimbursed for any portion of his salary.
  • Virtually every 10-day contract is for the minimum salary — often the minimum salary exception is the only way for clubs to accommodate any 10-day deals. The NBA also reimburses teams for a portion of the 10-day minimum salary for veterans with three or more years of experience.

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 and the Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

Earlier versions of this post were published in previous years by Luke Adams and Chuck Myron.

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