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In the National Basketball Association (NBA), a sign-and-trade deal agreement is a type of transaction allowed by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) wherein one franchise/team signs an unrestricted free agent player to a new contract, only to then immediately trade him to another team (of the player's choosing). This is typically done to enable the player to obtain a higher salary and/or greater number of years on their contract than NBA salary cap rules ordinarily allow the destination team, itself, to provide the player.[1]

Benefits and functionEdit

The sign-and-trade helps NBA teams capitalize on financial assets that they would otherwise lose—with nothing gained in return—if a player became a free agent. It is a factor in the departing player's increased salary and extended contract. It helps the team gaining the player, by enabling it to offer a better/more economically competitive contract to the player, than otherwise would be allowed under league rules. Often, circumstances arise wherein a team—knowing that one of its players is planning on pursuing (unrestricted) free agency in the coming off-season—knows that another NBA team is sure to sign him. The unrestricted free agency status prevents the team from stopping or financially benefiting from a new deal the player may sign with any other team(s); so, the player could sign with another team, leaving the original team with neither money nor a replacement (i.e., a player traded from the acquiring team, to them) player, in exchange. However, because the original team starts out as the player's current contract holder, the team can offer the player more money per year than any other team, and, can sign the player to a longer-lasting contract—per the league's CBA. Therefore, it is in the player's economic best interests to get the richest/longest deal possible by re-signing with the current team, then be traded to the new team—which, under NBA rules, will be obligated to honor the newly signed contract's terms—rather than pursue outright free agency, alone. The player's original team will receive players, cash, and/or (future) draft picks in return for the departing player, depending on the terms of the trade.


Under terms of the current CBA, sign-and-trades come with many significant restrictions. Transactions under this rule require all of the following to be true:[2]

  • The player must re-sign with his former team.
  • Additionally, the player must have been on the team's roster at the end of the immediately previous season.
  • While restricted free agents can be the subject of sign-and-trades, this is not allowed if that player has signed an offer sheet with another team.
  • The team receiving the player cannot have a payroll that exceeds the so-called "apron"—a designated level above the NBA luxury tax threshold—after the trade. A team with a payroll above the apron can only receive a player in a sign-and-trade if the transaction drops that team's payroll below the apron.
  • The receiving team cannot have used the so-called "taxpayer mid-level exception", a salary cap exception allowing teams subject to the luxury tax limited room to sign players, in that season.
  • The regular season has not yet started.
  • The player must receive a contract of at least 3 years (not including any option years), with 4 years as the longest allowed contract term. In turn, this means that he cannot be signed using a salary cap exception that does not allow the team to offer a 3-year contract.

Additionally, once a team receives a player in a sign-and-trade, the apron becomes a hard salary cap for that season.


Sign-and-trades are considered to be "atomic transactions". Under NBA rules, if the acquiring team voids the trade, then the new contract signed with the initial team is voided as well. This prevents the initial team from being 'stuck' with a player they either do not want and/or cannot afford to keep under the terms of the signed contract. The player is also protected from being contractually obligated to a new team that they may no longer want to work for. Such an event happened in 2005, when small forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim was acquired by the New Jersey Nets in a sign-and-trade with the Portland Trail Blazers. The trade was subsequently canceled by the Nets, when a physical exam detected scar tissue (which increases the odds of future injury) in Abdur-Rahim's knee. As a result of the cancellation, Abdur-Rahim once again became a free agent; his new contract with the Trail Blazers (who had his "Bird rights") was voided, and he later signed with the Sacramento Kings.[3]


  1. ^ Stein, Marc (May 12, 2011). "Sources: NBA delayed hard cap in offer". Archived from the original on May 12, 2011.
  2. ^ Coon, Larry (June 29, 2019). "92: Can a free agent be signed and immediately traded?". NBA Salary Cap FAQ. Retrieved August 10, 2019.
  3. ^ "Nets Back Away From Trade for Abdur-Rahim". Los Angeles Times. August 10, 2005.