NBA trade deadline explained
A closer look at the history of the trade deadline, how the salary cap impacts trades and more.
From NBA.com Staff
- Free agency explained
- Every deal made at the NBA deadline since 1987
- CBA 101: Highlights of the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) [PDF]
When Is It?
In 2017, the NBA announced future deadlines would move from the Thursday after the NBA All-Star Game to the Thursday 10 days before the All-Star Game.
In the 2020-21 season, the All-Star Game was held March 7 in Atlanta and the 2021 trade deadline is on March 25 at 3 p.m. ET.
A Brief History of the Trade Deadline
Trade deadline extended, from January 1 to midnight January 20
Trade deadline extended to February 10
No trades or sales among NBA teams are permitted after midnight, February 1
Trade deadline changed from February 1 to February 15
Trade deadline changed to 9 p.m. ET on the 16th Thursday of the season
Trade deadline changed to 6 p.m. ET on the 17th Thursday of the season
Trade deadline time changed to 3 p.m. ET
Trade deadline moved from Thursday after the NBA All-Star Game to Thursday 10 days prior to the All-Star Game
Trades and the Salary Cap
Editor’s note: Settle in, because this one is complicated.
For one year following the date of the trade of a player contract to another team, a team may replace that traded player with one or more players acquired by assignment. There are rules pertaining to non-simultaneous and simultaneous trades, which are as follows:
• For a “non-taxpaying” team, a traded player may be simultaneously (i.e., in the same transaction) replaced by one or more players acquired by assignment whose salaries in the aggregate do not exceed the greater of (i) the lesser of (A) 175% of the salaries of the players being traded plus $100,000, or (B) the salaries of the players being traded plus $5 million, or (ii) 125% of the salaries of the players being traded plus $100,000.
• For a “taxpaying” team, a traded player may be simultaneously replaced by one or more players acquired by assignment whose salaries in the aggregate do not exceed 125% of the salaries of the players being traded plus $100,000.
• A traded player may be replaced in a non-simultaneous transaction by one or more players acquired by assignment whose salaries in the aggregate do not exceed 100% of the salary of the player being traded, plus $100,000.
• A team below the Salary Cap may simultaneously acquire one or more players by assignment whose post-trade salaries, in the aggregate, do not exceed an amount equal to the team’s salary cap room plus $100,000.
• In certain circumstances in connection with sign-and-trade transactions, the player traded will not generate the Traded Player Exception amounts described above. Specifically, if a team that is over the Salary Cap enters into a sign-and-trade contract with a Bird or Early Bird free agent using the Bird or Early Bird Exception, and the salary in the first year of the contract is in excess of 120% of the player’s salary in the prior season, then for purposes of calculating the assignor team’s Traded Player Exception, the player’s salary will be deemed equal to the greater of the salary for the last season of his prior contract or 50% of the first year salary under the sign-and-trade contract.
• For contracts entered into or extended beginning with the 2017-18 season (but in the case of extensions, only with respect to the extended term):
(i) in circumstances where a player’s salary protection is less than full, Traded Player Exceptions arising from the trade of such contracts will be calculated based upon the amount of the player’s protected salary in the applicable season (rather than the sum of the player’s protected and unprotected salary);
(ii) with respect to trades conducted following the last day of a regular season, Traded Player Exceptions will be limited to the amount of the player’s protected salary for the following Salary Cap Year (rather than the current Salary Cap Year).
MORE ON EXCEPTIONS
Exceptions cannot be added together to sign or acquire a player, except that a team may aggregate two or more Traded Player Exceptions for the purpose of acquiring — in the same transaction — one or more replacement players. Teams that are trading two more more players may elect to apply the exception separately to each of the players it is trading (or where permitted by the CBA) to aggregate the salaries of multiple players it is trading and then apply the exception.
Additional Trade Rules
Teams are prohibited from signing a free agent pursuant to an agreement that the player will later be traded to another team unless the free agent being signed is the team’s own free agent.
In addition, these “sign-and-trades” are permitted only if:
(i) the contract is for three or four years,
(ii) the first year of the contract is fully guaranteed,
(iii) the contract is entered into prior to the first day of the regular season,
(iv) the player finished the prior season on the signing team’s roster.
NOTE: The maximum annual salary increase for a sign-and-trade is 5% of the salary in the first year of the contract.
After a sign-and-trade deal, the signing team will be “hard-capped” at the total of the then-current Salary Cap Year plus the Tax Apron Amount.
• Max Length: 3 years
(including year(s) remaining in the original term)
• Max First-Year Salary: 105% of the salary in the last year of the original term.
• Max Annual Increase: 5% of the salary in the first year of the extended term.
If a player signs a contract extension for a longer period, a higher amount, or higher annual increases than would be permitted for an extension-and-trade, then the team is prohibited from trading the player for a period of six months following the date of the extension.
If a team acquires a player in a trade, then for a period of six months following the date of the trade, the team is prohibited from signing the player to a contract extension for a longer period, higher amount, or higher annual increases than would have been permitted for an extension-and-trade.
For the 2018-19 Salary Cap Year, teams could send or receive up to an aggregate $5.243 million, in trades. Cash sent is not netted against cash received, and vice-versa. This maximum annual cash limit in trades increases or decreases annually at the same rate as the Salary Cap.
A player who signs a one-year contract — excluding any option year — and who will be a Bird or Early Bird free agent at the end of the contract cannot be traded without the player’s consent.
If the player consents and is traded, he will lose whatever “Bird” rights he has acquired (i.e., he will be considered to have moved to the new team as a free agent.)
WAITING PERIOD FOR NEW CONTRACTS
A draft rookie who signs a standard NBA player contract or any player who signs a Two-Way Contract may not be traded until 30 days following the date on which he signed his contract.
A free agent who signs a standard NBA player contract (or a player who signs, or is converted to, a standard NBA player contract while under a Two-Way Contract) cannot be traded for three months following the date the contract is signed or until December 15 of the Salary Cap Year in which the contract is signed, whichever is later.
For sign-and-trade transactions, the foregoing rule does not apply to the initial trade but rather applies if the contract is traded a second time.
In addition, if a team’s Team Salary is over the Salary Cap immediately after it enters into a new contract with a Bird or Early Bird free agent using the Bird or Early Bird Exception and the salary in the first year of the contract is in excess of 120% of the player’s salary in the prior season, then the foregoing rule shall not apply and instead the player cannot be traded for three months following the date the contract is signed or until January 15 of the Salary Cap Year in which the contract is signed, whichever is later.
If a team trades a player and the player is subsequently waived by the new team, the prior team will not be permitted to claim the player off of waivers or sign the player to a new contract until the earlier of:
(i) one year from the date the trade was completed,
(ii) the July 1 following the last season of the player’s contract*
*excluding any unexercised option years
Prior to 2018, the trade deadline was held on the Thursday after the NBA All-Star Game.
Cousins, who had been eligible for a supermax extension at the time, was averaging 27.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. He and Omri Casspi were dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and a pair of Draft picks. The Pelicans and Kings both played Feb. 23, giving the five players three days to land in their new homes.
The deal’s timing presented a logistical minefield for the players, their teammates, coaches and the various behind-the-scenes staffers coordinating the transition. Burbling trade rumors regarding Cousins also shaded the questioning during the NBA’s All-Star weekend as well.
Per the official release:
“With the new placement of the trade deadline, teams will be able to settle their rosters before the All-Star break and avoid the disruptions that result from players joining new teams just as practices and games are beginning to resume following the All-Star break.”
When the trade deadline date change was announced in July of 2017, as part of the annual Board of Governors meeting in July, Commissioner Adam Silver further explained the reasoning for the shift.
“The motivation for moving the trade deadline before All-Star was the sense that it was more unsettling to have a player traded right after the All-Star break,” Silver said at the 2017 NBA Summer League. “That All-Star break would’ve been an opportunity for the player to move himself, his family, get their family readjusted, and get adjusted to the new team, when they would have that four- or five-day period to do that. There was really no magic to it — it was something we had discussed for several years.”
As for the potential roster complications stemming from a cross-conference trade involving a (potential) All-Star taking place prior to the game itself, Silver added:
“We talked about it with the owners and decided rather than having a hard-and-fast rule, let’s make the decision at the time. It hasn’t happened very often. It’s something that has come up before and we’ll deal with it when it happens.”