Rodney Hood has made a good impression since coming to the Portland Trail Blazers from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a mid-season, trade deadline deal. Averaging 10 points on 66.7% shooting from the field, 50.0% from the arc will open eyes! Already Blazers fans have designs on keeping Hood beyond his current contract, which expires this summer. That brings us to our Blazer’s Edge Mailbag question of the day.
Long time. Just a quick question. What did it mean for Rodney Hood when it was reported that he had to forfeit his Bird rights when he was traded to the Blazers.
How does that affect the Blazers ability to re-sign him this summer if they want to?
A full explanation of Bird Rights, or more properly, the “Larry Bird Exception” can be found at Larry Coon’s amazing site NBA Salary Cap FAQ. It’s the Bible for 99% of us amateur media capologists...one of the four sites you should have bookmarked if you follow the NBA seriously.
Why Bird Rights?
In brief, the NBA operates under a “soft cap”. The salary cap line is clearly defined, universal for all 30 franchises. It’s permeable, though. The Collective Bargaining Agreement provides for several exceptions, allowing a team to exceed the cap line under certain conditions.
The Larry Bird exception was embedded into the foundation of the system. The Boston Celtics dynasty was rolling strong in the mid-1980’s when the salary cap was first being instituted. Had the league implemented a hard cap, with no exceptions, Boston wouldn’t have been able to fit franchise superstar Bird underneath it when his contract came up. Almost everybody viewed the possibility of Bird suiting up in Utah as undesirable. The exception was designed to allow teams to keep incumbent players and pay them fairly.
What are They?
The Bird Exception states that, as long as a player’s contract meets certain criteria, the team he’s currently signed with can offer him a contract up to the maximum even if that contract would cause them to exceed the salary cap line. The other 29 teams do not have that advantage. If they want to make an offer to that player, they must have corresponding space under the cap (or employ other exceptions).
Not every player’s contract qualifies for Bird Rights. Without getting into minutiae, a player needs to play for three straight years without getting waived or changing teams as a free agent in order to qualify.
When Do They Apply?
In most circumstances, Bird Rights transfer with a player when he is traded. If the Warriors trade Kevin Durant to the Blazers for Meyers Leonard, Golden State will be able to re-sign Meyers regardless of cap status, and Portland Durant. Otherwise trades would become problematic as teams acquiring players couldn’t keep them long.
A player can lose Bird Rights under certain circumstances. This is where Hood comes in. He’s just completing the end of his rookie-scale contract. Last summer, he signed a one-year Qualifying Offer, meaning instead of extending his contract, he agreed to play for a set salary for a single year to terminate his rookie deal. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent this July, free to go anywhere he wishes.
If Hood had remained with the Cavaliers, they would have retained his Bird Rights. But if a player on a Qualifying Offer is traded during that year, the Bird Rights disappear. That’s what happened when Hood moved from Cleveland to Portland.
Technically, the Blazers did not “renounce” Hood’s Bird Rights. Those rights did not transfer with him to Portland. No choice the Blazers made would change that one way or the other.
The upshot is, the Blazers may not make an offer to Hood in July if that offer would leave them above the salary cap when he accepted.
- The salary cap is projected to be around $109 million
- The Blazers are already on the hook for approximately $128 million in salaries next year
Unless something drastic changes, Portland won’t be able to offer Hood a conventional contract. In order to do so, they’d have to get under the salary cap far enough to make room for it. If he wants $8 million per year, they’d need to drop to $101 million. That would entail trading Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard for nothing (for example). That’s not likely.
The Blazers could use other cap exceptions to make Hood an offer. It’s worth noting that other teams have those same exceptions to use, so Portland’s offer to Hood would have no competitive advantage over those of other franchises. If they had Bird Rights, they wouldn’t have to worry about that. They could just offer whatever they pleased.
In short, it’s not impossible for Portland to retain Hood, but he’d have to like the franchise enough to ink a low-level exception contract. They’d have to like him enough to incur luxury tax penalties as well. That’s a high bar, but it’s the only way he’s staying at this point.
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