NBA Free Agency explained: Imagine if Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo could join any club in the world... that's what LeBron James and others are free to do

James tops a list of stellar free agents that have NBA fans holding their breath

Imagine a world where transfer deals don’t exist, where the only way a player can move club is by being swapped for another player or by waiting until his contract has reached its end.


Imagine a world where Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were free agents and were open to negotiate with any team in football.

That’s what’s happening in NBA free agency right now.

The world’s best player, LeBron James, and a bona fide superstar in Carmelo Anthony are just two of almost 150 players without contracts in the NBA – every team in the league, if they can afford it, are open to make an offer to James, Anthony and the rest.

They are doing just that.

LeBron James is a once in a generation player who will make any team he decides to join an instant contender for the title. The best player since Michael Jordan (with some arguing he’s as good), James is easily in the top 10 players of all time, despite only being 29-years-old. NBA Free Agency in numbers NBA Free Agency in numbers

Cristiano Ronaldo wouldn’t be able to lift Crystal Palace from 11 in the Premier League to the title, but James will make any team, no matter their record from recent seasons, a team capable of winning the Larry O’Brien trophy every year until he retires.

Where he lands in the next few days (or weeks) will have massive implications across the league. Four years ago, ‘The Decision’ brought James to Miami, where he and the Heat have reached the Finals every year since, winning twice.

Several teams are leaving other stars in limbo as they chase James one last time. He’s that important. But away from James there are a number of other players who will be getting big deals or who could become the final pieces in a puzzle to win a championship.

How does Free Agency work?

NBA players who have reached the end of the contract with their previous team are able, in theory, to negotiate with all 30 teams in the league. Each team has a salary cap, set at $63.2m this season, which they will be penalised if they exceed. Within that cap individual players can earn as much or as little as they are worth (James will likely command in excess of $20m) but as a whole a team’s squad, or roster, must not go over that value. In addition there is a minimum salary cap, $56.6m that teams have to go above. Carmelo Anthony is the second best player available in free agency this summer Carmelo Anthony is the second best player available in free agency this summer

Unrestricted/Restricted free agents

If a player is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) he is allowed to sign with any team he wishes. If a player is a restricted free agent (RFA) his current team can match any offer given by another team – if said team decides to match the offer sheet the player has to sign with his current team.

Contract clauses

LeBron James ‘opted-out’ of the last year of his Miami Heat contract to become a free agent – he had a ‘player option’ that allowed him to do so after four years. Teams typically add this risky clause when trying to entice a player to sign. Teams can also add a ‘team option’ to contracts if they are unsure how a player might perform and don’t want to give an individual a longer contract.

Bird rights

Named after Boston Celtics great Larry Bird, if a player has been at a team for more than three years without being signed or traded, that team is able to offer more money than other teams – this was brought in to incentivise players to stay with the franchises that drafted them, rather than heading to bigger/better teams. Free agent Luol Deng has offers from plenty of NBA teams Team GB star Luol Deng is also on the radar of plenty of teams

Top free agents left on the market

LeBron James (small forward, UFA)

The world’s best player – could remain with the Heat or make a sensational return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Expect a decision very soon.

Carmelo Anthony (small forward, UFA)

Elite level scorer and perennial All-Star who is being chased by a number of franchises. Will instantly improve any team on the offensive end

Chris Bosh (power forward/centre, UFA)

James’ No 2 for the Heat, Bosh already has an $88m offer from the Houston Rockets on the table but is waiting for James to make his move

Pau Gasol (power forward/centre, UFA)

Kobe Bryant’s favourite player might be ageing but still has plenty to offer a number of teams, still a has great vision and basketball IQ.

Luol Deng (small forward, UFA)

The Team GB star suffered from injury last season but has suitors in Chicago, Dallas and Miami. A guarantee to leave it all on the floor every night.

Lance Stephenson (shooting guard, UFA)

A very inconsistent player but the high-energy guard led the league in triple-doubles last season. Just don't mention ear-blowing.

Dwyane Wade (shooting guard, UFA)

Still a superstar name but his skills, along with his knees, are forever deteriorating. His decline is part of the reason James may want out of Miami.

Eric Bledsoe (point guard, RFA)

Only played 43 games for the Phoenix Suns last season because of injury but showed he was more than good enough to be a starter in the NBA.

Ray Allen (shooting guard, UFA)

The best three-point shooter ever, 38, is getting old and struggled in the NBA Finals, but could be key in snaring James to a particular team. Though he is considering retirement.

Greg Monroe (power forward/centre, UFA)

Performed well on a poor Pistons side but the three-headed frontcourt experiment of Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith didn't work.

Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum