Each year when July rolls around, a ton of NBA free agents sign new contracts and teams around the league consummate trades. However, on a few occasions, these two forms of transactions are combined into something called a sign-and-trade deal. Sign-and-trades occur when a team re-signs its own free agent, only to immediately send him to another team in exchange for players, draft picks, and/or cash.
In order for a sign-and-trade deal to be completed, the following criteria must be met:
- A free agent must be signed-and-traded by the team with whom he finished the season. For instance, the Sixers could sign-and-trade Jimmy Butler this offseason, but another team couldn’t sign Butler and immediately move him.
- If the free agent is restricted, he can’t be signed-and-traded after he signs an offer sheet with a rival team.
- A team acquiring a player via sign-and-trade cannot be over the tax apron after the deal, and can’t have used the taxpayer mid-level exception.
- A free agent can’t be signed-and-traded once the regular season is underway.
- A free agent can’t be signed using the mid-level exception or any exception that doesn’t allow for a three-year contract.
- A player receiving a Designated Veteran contract can’t be signed-and-traded.
Sign-and-trade contracts can be worth any amount up to the player’s maximum salary (with 5% annual raises), and must be for either three or four years. However, only the first year of the deal has to be fully guaranteed.
If a sign-and-trade contract includes a signing bonus, either team can agree to pay it, though if the signing team pays it, it counts toward that club’s limit for cash included in trades for that league year. As for trade bonuses, they would kick in upon any subsequent trades rather than as part of the sign-and-trade transaction itself.
Under some previous Collective Bargaining Agreements, there was more incentive for players to work out sign-and-trade deals, since the contract restrictions weren’t as strict. For example, when Kevin Durant hits free agency this summer, he’d be eligible for a five-year contract worth up to a projected $221.27MM if he re-signs with the Warriors, but only four years and approximately $164MM with another team.
Prior to 2011’s CBA agreement, Durant could have received that five-year deal if Golden State had signed-and-traded him. But if the Dubs sign-and-trade KD this summer, he’d only be eligible for that four-year, $164MM max.
Under the current CBA, there’s less incentive for teams and players to participate in sign-and-trades. Generally, if a player wants to change teams, it makes more sense for him to sign with the new team outright, rather than making that club give up assets to complete the acquisition. Even the player’s old team may prefer to simply let the free agent walk and claim the resulting cap space, rather than taking back unwanted assets in a sign-and-trade.
There are other roadblocks as well. A team acquiring a player via sign-and-trade subsequently becomes hard-capped for the rest of that league year. Plus, a signed-and-traded player’s salary may be viewed differently than it would be in a standard trade for salary-matching purposes, which can compromise a team’s ability to meet those salary-matching requirements.
If a potential suitor is over the cap and under the tax, and wants to sign a player for more than the mid-level amount, then a sign-and-trade could make sense, particularly if that team can offer the free agent’s prior team something of value. But these transactions are becoming less frequent than they once were.
Since the summer of 2015, only four players have been involved in sign-and-trade deals: Kyle O’Quinn (2015), Troy Daniels (2016), Matthew Dellavedova (2016), and Danilo Gallinari (2017). No sign-and-trades were completed during the 2018/19 league year.
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.
An earlier version of this post was published in 2013 by Luke Adams.