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Welcome to part 2 of the CBA walkthrough. In this iteration, the focus will be on Bird Rights. This term was originally introduced in a prior post that was a introduction to the walkthrough. However, that was a very general look at the concept, so this post will attempt to shed more light on this. As always, much of the credit for reporting this information is attributed to Larry Coon and his CBA FAQ website. If you would like to view the details of the CBA in more complete terms, be sure to check out his website here.



Now, on to business.

Painting the Picture

You may think that loyalty is dead within the National Basketball Association. While the concept of staying true to ones prior commitment has certainly lost its prevalence in todays game, there is still an incentive for players to remain with the team that drafted them, or the team they most recently signed a deal with. In todays game, The power of Bird Rights is so great that in almost every instance, it keeps a player coming off a rookie scale contract with their team for another four or five years. The ability for a young player to secure a raise worth up to 30% of the current salary cap is just too much to turn down. Think about this: If you're a recent college graduate that worked part-time at your school bookstore for $10 per hour, what's going to happen if that same entity needs your services and comes at you offering a steady $70,000 per year? It may not be the ideal place for you to work, but considering the student loans hanging over your head and other expenses that will arise post-graduation, you would never really think about turning it down. Same goes for 4th year players like Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns. It was never reported that they were considering hitting the open market to evaluate their options. Once the money hits, it's a done deal just about every time.

Of course, things don't always go this smoothly during a players' initial contract. Let's look at Marquese Chriss of the Houston Rockets. 

When you are a high 1st round pick, your money is basically guaranteed your first two years in the league. Once you reach year three, the team then has the choice to either pick up, or decline your option for years three and four. For Chriss, he was fortunate enough to have his third year option picked up, but it was not picked up for year four, which is next season. All this to say, bird rights are an amazing tool, but it does not have to be exercised for every player. It really depends on that players development and the teams' particular financial situation. Basically, the power of Bird Rights becomes more vital the better the player is because more teams will be craving his services if he somehow makes it to free agency.

Why are Bird Rights Necessary

Bird rights give a player's incumbent team the additional resources required to retain said player against outside bidders that may covet the player's services. It only makes sense to reward teams that find a player that fits their system and development timelines perfectly. If all players were thrown onto the open market after the expiration of their rookie deals, it would all out chaos amongst all 30 teams. There has to be a system in place that rewards front offices and scouting teams for doing their jobs and mining talent through the draft, or else what would be the point of having a draft in the first place? Not all franchises are awarded the chance to chase primetime players in free agency, so there has to be a viable alternative give small markets, or places that might not be an attractive destination a chance to build their core off talent. Think of Blake Griffin and the Clippers for example. In the two years leading up to the Clippers selecting Griffin 1st overall in the 2009 draft, the team won 52 games combined. Since Griffin basically missed the entire 2009-2010 season with a knee injury, the Clippers only won 29 games. It was an extremely tough three year stretch for the franchise. They wouldn't have had a very good chance of attracting a tier 1 free agent to join that team, since the roster was so bad and recent results were dismal. The Clippers rightly choose Blake ten years ago to reverse their fortunes and he did just that. NBA superstar Chris Paul saw enough potential in Griffin to join the roster not long after and the rest is history. Full Bird Rights allowed Los Angeles the ability to go far beyond what any other team could attempt to offer in order to pry him away. Of course, he sticked around for quite awhile longer after signing a maximum 5 year, $94.5 million rookie scale extension in 2012. As we now know, the Griffin/Paul duo ushered in a new age of competitiveness for the team and they had more success over that period than any other time in franchise history.

Are there Different Types of Bird Rights?

Glad you asked! There certainly are. Not all rights are created equal. To keep things as simple as possible here, we will divide Bird Rights into three separate categories. Each type has varying levels of power as far as the maximum or minimum number of years a team can sign a player for, and how much money they can offer. Here are the three main designations:

  1. Non-Bird Rights

  • Awarded after player has been on roster for one season

  • Minimum one year contract offer

  • Maximum four year contract offer

  • Can only offer up to 125% of previous salary

    2. Early Bird Rights

  • Awarded after player has been on roster for two seasons

  • Minimum two year contract offer

  • Maximum four year contract offer

  • Can only offer up to 175% of previous salary

    3. Full Bird Rights

  • Awarded after player has been on roster for three seasons

  • Minimum one year contract offer

  • Maximum five year contract offer

  • Can offer full NBA maximum* salary

It was smart for the NBA to separate Bird Rights into distinct variations with clear cut differences. It prevents teams from going "half in" on a player and reaping all of the benefits. It's tough to say you've believed in a player his whole career, but he has only played for you one season. In that instance, you would only have access to non-bird rights, which are pretty weak, especially if you are attempting to retain a star caliber player. Cousins and the Warriors are a good example of this situation. The Warriors can only offer a raise of 125% of his current salary (less than $10 million), which is sure to be outbid on the unrestricted market. Furthermore, the Warriors will certainly have one of the highest payrolls in the league next season. They are already at $120 million and only eight players under contract so far. They might win a championship with his services, but in the long run, they probably won't have the ability to keep him around.

Back in 2017, Rudy Gay declined his $14.3 million player option with the Kings and the Spurs signed him for two years and $14.2 million. 2018-2019 was a player option, which he ended up declining as well. Last Summer, he signed a 1 year deal worth $10 million. He ended up with two separate contracts, but since he completed two full season with the Spurs without playing for another team in between, San Antonio has early bird rights and that should be enough to keep him, if he is still interested in playing for them. 

Bird Rights in Regards to the Salary Cap

One other massive benefit of having Bird Rights on a player is the ability to circumvent the salary cap. Teams can go over the cap to resign players with these rights. Please don't misunderstand, all of the salary still goes towards the books, but there is no cutoff in regards to the salary cap. If a team is at a payroll of $99 million and cap number is $109 million, it's no problem if they want to sign a guy that commands a salary of $20 million for year one. It just puts them closer to the luxury tax. (For more information on the luxury tax, view CBA breakdown post #1.) This advantage is one reason teams prefer to use cap space on rotation players then go over the cap to hang onto players with bird rights, if possible.

So that is a basic rundown of the nuances of this key term you may see thrown around quite a bit, especially around the free agent period. It is a massively important tool in the back pocket of each and every team across the NBA. Without it, we would see even more roster turnover and it would be even to retain players that stick with one team for multiple years.