NBA Salary Cap Notes

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What is a cap hold?

A cap hold is the amount of space a free agent counts towards a team’s cap. These “cap holds” factor in when a team signs free agents. If they didn’t exist, a team could use their cap space to sign other free agents until the space was gone, and then re-sign their own free agents using the Bird exception. A cap hold cannot exceed the maximum contract offer that player can receive on the open market (as defined by years of experience – indicated in the table above by MAX followed by the years of experience). The cap hold disappears if the team renounces their own free agent, that free agent signs with a new team, or re-signs with the same team.


A free agent does not become restricted until the team issues a qualifying offer. If a player’s option on a first-round rookie scale contract is declined (DF), the most the team can pay is the amount of the declined option (without using a larger exception or cap room). Should a player allow for their Bird Rights to be waived during the season in trade (WB), the most the team can pay is 120% of their prior salary (without using a larger exception or cap room).

Qualifying offers do not count towards the total team salary for that season and are informational only.

Unsigned first-round picks (UF) are not guaranteed until signed but their salary counts against the cap during the offseason. A typical UF gets a bump of 120% upon signing.

Players with at least three years of experience who are signed to a one-year, vet-min contract are only charged $854,389 to the cap and tax. Actual salary amount, which applies to trades is listed under notes.

“Camp invites” can put a team over the hard cap but the math must be resolved by opening night.

—- Special thanks to Larry Coon (@LarryCoon). His NBA FAQ is a must read for NBA fans interested in understanding the collective bargaining agreement.

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