As we explain in a glossary entry, a player who is eligible for restricted free agency at the end of a given season can have the value of his qualifying offer adjusted depending on whether or not he meets the “starter criteria.”
A player is considered to have met the starter criteria if he plays at least 2,000 minutes or starts 41 games in the season before he reaches free agency. A player can also meet the criteria if he averages either of those marks in the two seasons prior to his restricted free agency.
If a top-14 pick doesn’t meet the starter criteria, he has the value of his qualifying offer adjusted downward and receives a QO equal to the amount the 15th overall pick would get if he signed for 120% of the rookie scale.
A player drafted at No. 10 or later can increase the value of his qualifying offer by meeting the starter criteria.
Players drafted between 10th and 30th who meet the starter criteria receive a QO equal to the amount the ninth overall pick would receive if he signed for 120% of the rookie scale, while second-round picks or undrafted free agents who meet the criteria receive a QO equal to the amount the 21st overall pick would receive if he signed for 100% of the rookie scale.
In simplified terms, here’s how those rules will apply in 2022/23:
- A top-14 pick who falls short of the starter criteria will have a qualifying offer worth $7,744,600.
- A player picked between No. 10 and No. 30 who meets the starter criteria will have a qualifying offer worth $8,486,620.
- A second-round pick or undrafted free agent who meets the starter criteria will have a qualifying offer worth $5,216,324.
A qualifying offer is essentially a one-year contract offer that functions as a placeholder if the player doesn’t accept it. If a player is considered a good bet to sign a lucrative long-term contract, a slight adjustment to his qualifying offer generally has no material impact on his free agency.
However, a change in a qualifying offer can sometimes be a difference maker. The best recent example of this came in 2020, when then-Bulls guard Kris Dunn met the starter criteria, ensuring that his qualifying offer would be worth $7,091,457 instead of $4,642,800.
The Bulls opted not to extend that $7MM+ QO, making him an unrestricted free agent, and he ended up signing a two-year, $10MM contract with Atlanta. If Dunn hadn’t met the starter criteria, it’s possible Chicago would’ve been more comfortable issuing a $4.6MM qualifying offer, which would’ve significantly changed the way Dunn’s free agency played out.
So far in 2022/23, three players have met the starter criteria:
- P.J. Washington, Hornets (60 starts)
- Tre Jones, Spurs (52 starts)
- Ayo Dosunmu, Bulls (49 starts)
Washington was the 12th overall pick in 2019 and will therefore have his qualifying offer bumped up to $8,486,620.
As second-round picks in 2020 and 2021, respectively, Jones and Dosunmu will now have QOs worth $5,216,324.
Here are some more players eligible for restricted free agency this summer whose qualifying offers can – or will – be impacted by the starter criteria:
- Coby White, Bulls (top-14 pick)
- Jaxson Hayes, Pelicans (top-14 pick)
- Rui Hachimura, Lakers (top-14 pick)
- Cameron Johnson, Nets (top-14 pick)
- Romeo Langford, Spurs (top-14 pick)
- Matisse Thybulle, Trail Blazers (No. 20 pick)
- Grant Williams, Celtics (No. 22 pick)
- Herbert Jones, Pelicans (second-round pick) *
- Kenyon Martin Jr., Rockets (second-round pick) *
- Naji Marshall, Pelicans (UDFA) *
(* Player has a team option for 2023/24)
White, Hayes, Hachimura, and Langford have no realistic path to meeting the starter criteria this season, so if their teams want to make them restricted free agents this summer, the qualifying offer cost will be $7,744,600. Johnson could join them in that group, though he has started 20 games so far this season and Brooklyn still has 23 contests left, so he still has a shot to make 41 starts as long as he stays healthy and the Nets don’t move him to the bench.
Thybulle and Williams are the only two non-lottery first-round picks who will be RFA-eligible later this year and still have a chance to meet the starter criteria, bumping their QOs to $8,486,620.
It’s probably a long shot for Thybulle, who has made 59 starts since the beginning of 2021/22 — the Trail Blazers only have 23 games remaining, so Thybulle would have to start every single one of them to get to 82 total starts (an average of 41) over the last two seasons.
Williams has a clearer path to get there. He has logged 1,651 minutes so far this season, averaging 27.5 per game. The Celtics play 21 more times this season and Williams would have to play 349 more minutes (16.6 per night) to reach the 2,000-minute threshold. That seems likely as long as he stays off the injured list.
Jones, Martin, and Marshall belong in a different group. All three players have team options on their contracts for 2023/24, so their clubs could simply exercise those options and not have to worry about restricted free agency this year. That’s absolutely what will happen in Jones’ case, since he’ll still be RFA-eligible in 2024.
Martin and Marshall, however, would be on track for unrestricted free agency in 2024 if their team options for next season are picked up — the Rockets and Pelicans could decide to decline this options this summer and negotiate with their players as restricted free agents instead, giving them more control over the process. Houston took this route last summer with Jae’Sean Tate.
With that in mind, it’s worth keeping an eye on whether Martin and/or Marshall will reach the starter criteria and bump their potential QOs to $5,216,324 (from approximately $2.3MM). Martin, who has been in the Rockets’ starting five since mid-January, would need to start 15 of the team’s last 23 games to get there. It’s a more difficult path for Marshall, who would need to average 29.6 minutes per game in the Pelicans’ final 21 contests to get to 2,000 minutes on the season.