How an NBA front office handles free agency, step by step


You get the news once the big deals are made, but how does free agency play out for NBA front offices?

Here's a step-by-step guide to the full schedule, from July 1 to the final training camp invites.

The (rough) order

1. Salary cap officially set: Evening of June 30

2. NBA free-agency moratorium begins: 12:01 a.m. ET, July 1

  • Teams begin to discuss parameters but no verbal agreements

3. Initial contact with free agents: 12:01 a.m. ET, July 1

4. Visits with free agents

  • Meeting with front office, coaching staff and/or own players

  • Big focus will be the on-court product

  • Minimal focus on off-court bonuses; the city/market, etc.

5. First wave of free agents make verbal agreements

  • Teams verbally agree to trades to clear cap space (e.g., Celtics; if needed)

  • Sign own free agents (overpaid, high market)

  • Non-Bird free agents who are overpaid and sign with another team (e.g., Timofey Mozgov in 2016; market is set again)

  • Full midlevel (or taxpayer midlevel) exceptions for teams without cap space

  • Offer sheets with restricted free agents

6. Second wave of free agents sign

7. Third wave of free agents sign

  • Own restricted free agents on rookie contracts

  • Full, partial and taxpayer midlevel exceptions

  • Free-agency bargains who sign for below-market deals (e.g., Al-Farouq Aminu in 2015; market is set again)

Note: The moratorium ends and free agents can sign contracts on July 6 at noon ET. Restricted free-agent qualifying offers can be withdrawn on July 13 (without the player's consent).

8. Fourth wave of free agents sign

  • Rotation players who settle for the room exception (e.g., Zaza Pachulia in 2016)

  • Minimum contracts

  • Contracts for second-round draft picks

  • Partially guaranteed contracts

9. Fifth wave of free agents sign

  • Restricted free agents on rookie contracts

  • Rotation players who settle for room exception

  • Minimum contracts

  • Partially guaranteed contracts (based off summer league)

10. Sixth wave of free agents sign

  • The last of restricted free agents on rookie contracts

  • Minimum contracts

  • Partially guaranteed contracts

  • Non-guaranteed contracts

A 12-phase timeline of free agency roster composition

  • Phase 1: Trades to clear additional cap space (if needed)

  • Phase 2: Renouncing of current players (if needed)

  • Phase 3: First-round picks signed

  • Phase 4: Free agents signed (non-Bird unrestricted)

  • Phase 5: Free agents signed (own unrestricted with high cap hold)

  • Phase 6: Free agents signed (full midlevel or tax midlevel for teams without cap space)

  • Phase 7: Trades (clear cap space or take players in with room)

  • Phase 8: Free agents signed (own unrestricted or restricted free agents with low cap holds)

  • Phase 9: Second-round picks signed (either with cap space or exceptions)

  • Phase 10: Free agents signed: Room midlevel exception

  • Phase 11: Free agents signed: Minimum players

  • Phase 12: Free agents signed: Partial guarantees/camp invites

How trade season fits into free agency

  1. Teams without room clearing cap space to sign one high-level player

  2. Teams needing to clear room to re-sign their own free agents

  3. Teams looking to clear room to sign two high-level players

  4. Teams that struck out in free agency looking to trade for roster help

  5. Tax teams looking to trade players to reduce tax bill

Don't forget: Player-development plan

Teams are still constructing their rosters when summer league goes down in July, but the wild transaction season is still an important time for internal growth for franchises.

  • Set summer league rosters

  • Host rookie/free-agent minicamp

  • One-on-one visits with players

  • Veteran players meet in Las Vegas for workouts

  • Orlando Summer League: July 1-6

  • Utah Summer League: July 3, 5, 6

  • Las Vegas Summer League: July 7-17

Jack Benoitbobby, marks, espn