Hoops Rumors Glossary: Hardship Exception

Most “exceptions” available to an NBA team in a given league year – such as the mid-level, bi-annual, or minimum-salary exception – give that club some additional spending flexibility to continue adding players once its team salary has reached or exceeded the cap.

The hardship exception doesn’t fall into that category — it’s not related to the salary cap. Instead of granting a team extra spending power, a hardship exception gives the team the ability to temporarily carry one or more extra players on its standard roster.

A team qualifies for a hardship exception when it meets all of the following criteria:

  1. It has at least four players unavailable due to injury or illness.
  2. All four of those players have missed at least three consecutive games.
  3. All four of those players are expected to remain sidelined for at least two more weeks.

If a team meets those criteria, the NBA will grant a hardship exception, which gives the club the ability to sign a free agent to a 10-day contract even if its 15-man roster is already full.

Typically, the annual period for 10-day signings doesn’t open until January 5, but a team that qualifies for a hardship exception can sign a player to a 10-day contract prior to that date. When the player’s 10-day contract expires, he can be re-signed to another 10-day deal as long as the team still meets the criteria for a hardship exception.

While the rules for standard 10-day contracts prohibit a player from signing more than two 10-day deals with the same team in a given season, that limit doesn’t apply to players signings 10-day contracts via hardship rules. During the 2021/22 season, for example, Drew Eubanks signed five 10-day deals with the Trail Blazers.

A team can qualify for multiple hardship exceptions simultaneously if it has more than four players who meet the hardship criteria. For instance, a team with five injured players who have missed three or more games and will remain out for at least two more weeks could be granted two extra roster spots via the hardship provision. A team with six players who fit that bill could be granted three extra roster spots, and so on.

The Grizzlies were the first team this season to request and receive a hardship exception, and since they had five injured players who met the hardship criteria (Steven Adams, Brandon Clarke, Luke Kennard, Marcus Smart, and Jake LaRavia), they were granted two additional roster spots. They used their hardship exceptions to sign Jaylen Nowell and Shaquille Harrison to 10-day deals and have since re-signed Nowell.

Here are a few more rules related to the hardship exception:

  • Only players unavailable due to injury or illness can be counted toward a team’s sidelined players for hardship purposes. A player who is unavailable for other reasons (e.g. a personal absence, a suspension, etc.) would not qualify.
    • Note: For instance, if the Grizzlies only had three injured players, they wouldn’t be able to count suspended guard Ja Morant as a fourth unavailable player in order to qualify for a hardship exception. However, they were able to move him to the suspended list five games into his ban, temporarily opening up an extra roster spot that way.
  • If one of the four injured players is ready to return earlier than anticipated and a team that used a hardship exception no longer meets the criteria, that team must reduce its roster count to 15 players. In this scenario, most clubs would simply terminate the 10-day contract signed by their hardship addition, but a team could also keep that player and waive someone else instead.
  • If a player signs a hardship contract with fewer than 10 days left in the season, its expiry date is considered to be the last day of the regular season. The team wouldn’t hold any form of Bird rights on that player.
  • Only a team with a full 15-man roster can qualify for a hardship 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. Information from Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ and ESPN’s Bobby Marks was used in the creation of this post.

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