Minimum Salary Players Who Can’t Be Acquired Using Minimum Salary Exception

As we explain in our glossary entry, the NBA’s minimum salary exception doesn’t just allow over-the-cap teams to sign players to minimum salary contracts. It also allows clubs to trade for players earning the minimum without having to send out any matching salary.

However, not every player earning the minimum can be acquired using the minimum salary exception. Essentially, any contract that couldn’t have been signed using the minimum salary exception also can’t be acquired using the exception.

For instance, since the exception only allows teams to sign players to one- or two-year contracts, similar rules apply in trades. A team can’t use the minimum salary exception to acquire a player on a three- or four-year contract, even if he’s earning the minimum. If a player signs a two-year contract that exceeds the minimum in year one and is worth the minimum in year two, he’s ineligible to be acquired using the minimum salary exception.

What does that mean in practical terms? Let’s use Grizzlies big man Xavier Tillman as an example, since his name has surfaced in some trade rumors in recent months.

Tillman is earning $1,930,681 this season, which is his minimum salary based on the contract he signed in 2020. Since he’s currently in the fourth season of a four-year contract though, a team acquiring him can’t absorb his salary using the minimum salary exception. That team, assuming it’s over the cap, would either have to own a trade exception big enough to take on Tillman’s $1,930,681 salary or send out a player to match it.

If Tillman were on a one- or two-year minimum salary contract, he could be traded straight up for, say, a draft pick without his new team requiring a trade exception or an outgoing salary. That’s the case for a trade candidate like Bucks point guard Cameron Payne, who is on a one-year minimum deal.

This rule shouldn’t be a major impediment for any transactions this season, since many teams have trade exceptions available and those that don’t should have at least one expendable minimum salary player to send out for matching purposes.

Still, it’s worth keeping tabs on the minimum salary players like Tillman who fit this bill, since it could affect how certain deals are constructed at this season’s deadline.

Here’s the list of players earning the minimum salary who can’t be acquired using the minimum salary exception in 2023/24:

Atlanta Hawks

Boston Celtics

Charlotte Hornets

Cleveland Cavaliers

Dallas Mavericks

Denver Nuggets

Golden State Warriors

Los Angeles Clippers

Los Angeles Lakers

Memphis Grizzlies

Miami Heat

Milwaukee Bucks

Minnesota Timberwolves

New Orleans Pelicans

New York Knicks

Oklahoma City Thunder

Philadelphia 76ers

Phoenix Suns

Portland Trail Blazers

San Antonio Spurs

Utah Jazz

Washington Wizards

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