What is it?
In its most basic form, free agency is the NBA’s mechanism by which players who have fulfilled the obligations of their current contract can move to a new team and receive a new contract. If the player is completely free to sign with another team, it is called being an “unrestricted free agent.” If a player’s current team can match any offer another team makes, it is called being a “restricted free agent.”
It was not always this way – a while back teams could essentially hold onto a player as long as they wanted, preventing them from finding a new team. As a result of the expansion of players’ rights, free agency was instituted in order to give them more freedom.
When is it?
Teams can begin talking, but only talking, with free agents at 12.01am Eastern Time on July 1st (so 9.01pm June 30th for the Best Coast). At this time players may also verbally agree to sign with a team. However, contracts cannot be officially signed until July 10th, since this is the date that the salary cap is officially determined after a league-wide audit. The league is very strict about preventing teams from talking with players before this time – just this year Atlanta, Houston, and one other team were fined for minor breaches of this rule.
Why does it matter for players?
For big name players, or players who just had a great season, it often means that they will receive a pay raise. This is especially pronounced if their current team does not have much salary cap space and thus could not afford to give them a big payday. The player can pack their bags, and take his talents to the highest bidder for his services. It is also a way in which a player can leave a team that he did not feel was a good fit for him. For everyday players, free agency is simply how they find work after their current contract has run its course.
Why does it matter for teams?
There are three main ways for teams to acquire players – the draft, free agency, and trades (waivers aren’t worth mentioning). Trades are tricky to pull off, and in this day and age, blockbuster trades involving big names are rarer and rarer. Regarding the draft, if your team does not have a top pick, finding star power can be difficult. Free agency is the most transparent of these three methods: everyone knows who is available and how good they are. Thus there are no true surprises – teams can pursue whoever they want and make their best sales pitch in an attempt to get the player to join their team. Free agency is also a crucial way for teams to obtain role players and round out their rosters.
What does it mean for the Blazers?
Traditionally, Portland has not been a prime destination for high-profile free agents. Instead, the Blazers have often used free agency to build depth and to complement pieces already on the team.