What Are Bird Rights and How Do NBA Teams Use Them?

Over nearly the last four decades, the NBA has operated using the Bird Rights to help teams retain players. The regulation is named after former Boston Celtics great Larry Bird‘s as it directly correlates to the Hall of Famer‘s free agency. As NBA players signed last offseason are becoming eligible to move, here is what Bird Rights are and how they operate.

Larry Bird remains forever associated with Bird Rights

Over the last three-plus decades, the NBA has operated using the Bird Rights.

The rule’s implementation came directly correlated with former Celtics’ great Larry Bird’s trip in free agency in 1983. The league chose to coincide it with the introduction of the salary cap because one of the game’s biggest stars heading into the open market.

Beyond that, the rule has no association with Bird as his name became forever linked due to the situations coinciding. The Celtics legend isn’t too fond of his association with the regulation as it keeps his name in the newswire.

“I know a few years ago I was hoping they’d take that out of the last Collective Bargaining Agreement because you’re sitting at home sometimes and you hear your name and you’re like, ‘What are they talking about now?’ and it’s always the Bird Exception or the Bird Rule,” Bird said via The Associated Press.

The Celtics’ all-time great may not be happy with his association with the rule, but it served a unique purpose.

What are Bird Rights and how do NBA teams use them?

The regulation allows teams to spend over the salary cap limit to keep their talent. The NBA has put forth three different types of the option: Full Bird Rights, Early Bird Rights, and Non-Bird Rights. The first applies to a player having spent three years with the same team without leaving in free agency. It allows an organization to offer a max salary between 25% to 35% of the salary cap.

The second is a designation placed on a player that has spent two years with a team without departing in free agency. Depending on which is higher, teams can present up to 175% of the previous salary or 104.5% of the average league salary.

The final form of Bird Rights is put on players who have spent a single year with the franchise. The option permits a team to spend up to 120% of the previous salary. A proposed contract that holds any of these options can reach up to a maximum of five years. Meanwhile, any other team can only put forth a four-year deal.

The nature of the regulation is to help franchises keep their talent with lucrative deals that no opposing team can offer. In other words, it’s an added financial incentive for players to stay with a given organization.

NBA Teams sparingly use Bird Rights to retain players


Larry Bird Earned High Praise From the Flamboyant Wilt Chamberlain: ‘He Was the Correct Type of Basketball Player’

Although the NBA has implemented Bird Rights options, it’s not a regulation used frequently with players.

An example featured the Portland Trail Blazers inking Anfernee Simons to a four-year, $10.1 million deal that runs through the 2021-22 campaign. Due to using Simons’ Bird Rights, he won’t be eligible to move until March 2022. Last offseason, the Miami Heat made Duncan Robinson a restricted free agent and used their Bird RIghts to ink him to a five-year, $90 million deal.

The Toronto Raptors ventured the same route with Gary Trent Jr. to a three-year, $51.8 million deal in early August to retain him despite the limited salary-cap space. There may only be a few instances each offseason where Bird Rights are used; it’s a tool that front offices certainly utilize when applicable.

Contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.

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