Everything you need to know about NBA free agency in 2020

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November 17th, 2020

NBA free agency is only three days away, and the league has already experienced a major shakeup.

Just this week, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Chris Paul to Phoenix, while James Harden turned down a historic $50 million per year extension in Houston because he wants to compete elsewhere — ideally in Brooklyn, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Paul and Harden aren’t the only players who are sure to sport a new uniform Dec. 22, the official start of the upcoming 72-game NBA season.

While 2020 free agency won’t see splash signings of superstars like Kawhi Leonard, Durant, Irving, and Jimmy Butler, who all found new teams last season, there are still plenty of intriguing players available for pickup.  

Let's break down everything you need to know about 2020 free agency, including the start date, salary cap, free agency terminology, and the top free agents on the market.

When is 2020 NBA free agency?

Free agency will begin at 6 p.m. ET on Friday, Nov. 20. From that point forward, teams are allowed to contact free agents or free agents’ representatives.

Players are permitted to sign contracts starting Sunday, Nov. 22, at 12:01 p.m. ET.

Training camps will begin soon after, on Dec. 1.

What is the 2020-2021 salary cap?

The 2020-2021 salary cap will be set at $109.1 million, with a luxury tax of $132.6 million. Neither figure changed from last season, a year that saw a significant drop in revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The typical 10% escrow withheld from players, in case the league doesn’t meet revenue projections, will remain. However, if there is a need to reduce player salaries by more than 10%, losses will be spread out across the upcoming season and the following two. Players cannot have more than 20% of their salary withheld in a single season.  

What is a restricted free agent?

A restricted free agent (RFA) may sign an offer sheet with any team, but the player’s original team can retain him by matching the terms of the offer.

The original team has the “right of first refusal.”

RFAs in 2020 include Brandon Ingram (New Orleans), Bogdan Bogdanovic (Sacramento), Kris Dunn (Chicago), and Brad Wanamaker (Boston).

What is an unrestricted free agent?

An unrestricted free agent (UFA) is free to sign with any team he chooses.

In 2020, Paul Millsap (Denver), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland), Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers), and Marc Gasol (Toronto) are among a long list of UFAs available.

What is a team option?

A team option gives a player’s original team the right to keep that player for an additional year. For example, if a player has a three-year contract with a team option for a fourth season, his team can exercise the option to extend his contract through a fourth season.

If the team does not exercise the option, the player’s contract will end after the third season.

A team cannot revoke the option once it is exercised.

What is a player option?

A player option gives a player the opportunity to decide whether he will stay on his current team for an additional year or become an unrestricted free agent.

For example, if a player has a three-year contract with an option for a fourth season, the player can exercise the option to extend his contract through the fourth season. If the player does not exercise the option, the contract will end after the third season. 

Like the team option above, once a player option is exercised, it cannot be revoked.

On Tuesday, Andre Drummond decided to forgo free agency and exercise his $28.7 million player option to remain with Cleveland next season.

Sacramento Kings guard Jabari Parker also picked up his $6.5 million player option to stay in Sacramento.  

What is an early termination option?

An early termination option gives a player the ability to end a contract. A player cannot exercise this option before the end of the fourth year of a contract.

If the player does not pick up the ETO, he will remain with his team. If he exercises the option, the player will become an unrestricted free agent.

What is a sign-and-trade deal?

A sign-and-trade deal is a type of transaction allowed by the collective bargaining agreement and most often employed by teams over the salary cap. In a sign-and-trade deal, one team will sign an unrestricted free agent to a new contract, then immediately trade him to another team, of the player’s choosing.

This is usually done so that a player can obtain a higher salary or a lengthier contract than salary cap rules would normally allow for his new team to provide.

On Tuesday, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Bogdanovic will head to Milwaukee via a sign-and-trade deal. The Bucks will send Donte Divincenzo, Ersan Ilyasova, and D.J. Wilson to Sacramento in exchange for Bogdanovic and Justin James.

Who are the top free agents on the market?

Anthony Davis (UFA)

On Sunday, league sources confirmed Davis declined to pick up the final year of his contract, worth $28.7 million, and entered free agency

However, the Lakers forward is expected to remain in Los Angeles, where he just won a championship. He reportedly declined his player option so he can pull in a longer-term contract and reenter free agency as a 10-year veteran, with the potential to ink a max contract.

Brandon Ingram (RFA)

Ingram was part of a mega-trade that brought Davis to Los Angeles and sent Ingram packing for New Orleans. The move was fruitful for Ingram, who led the Pelicans in scoring (23.8 points per game) and earned the NBA's Most Improved Player award last season.

Ingram is a restricted free agent and will likely receive a huge contract offer to stay in New Orleans.

Paul Millsap (UFA)

The veteran Nuggets forward just finished up a three-year contract in Denver and has drawn interest from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Gordon Hayward (PO)

The Celtics forward has until 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday to decide whether he will exercise his $34.2 million player option for next season.

Should he enter free agency, the Pacers and Knicks are reportedly among the teams interested in him.

Fred VanVleet (UFA)

The undrafted shooting guard out of Wichita State was a key part of Toronto's title run in 2019 and had a career year last season.

VanVleet is seeking a huge payday in his first experience with free agency. The Knicks or the Pistons could be interested in VanVleet, if the Raptors don't extend a maximum contract to keep their star player.

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