The NBA’s biggest priority at the moment is figuring out whether they can resume their season and crown a 2020 champion. However, the NBA’s shifting schedule has a wide-ranging impact that creates some unintended consequences.
For example, when the NBA schedule is altered, certain deadlines in players’ contracts must be adjusted as well. While NBA contracts will certainly be updated to account for the league’s new schedule, many agents who represent overseas players are concerned that international teams won’t be so understanding and flexible when it comes to modifying contract language.
Some overseas players have an NBA-buyout clause in their contract (also known as an NBA-out) that allows them to leave their international team if they get an offer from an NBA franchise. Some NBA-outs are monetary buyouts, but many of these buyouts give players a certain date in which they are allowed to test the free-agent market and secure an NBA offer.
“Every year, there are a number of overseas players who exercise their buyout clause to sign with an NBA team, and the deadline for those buyout clauses is normally between July 10 and July 20,” one international agent said. “That way, it’s during the free-agency period and the player has the option of participating in Summer League beforehand to see if an NBA team is going to offer him a guaranteed deal or a two-way contract.”
If the NBA is able to resume the season (as is being discussed), the league’s free agency period likely wouldn’t start until September or October. If overseas teams refuse to adjust their contracts, a player with an NBA-buyout deadline in July wouldn’t be able to sign with an NBA team this offseason. The earliest that they’d be able to exercise their buyout clause and sign with an NBA team would be July of 2021.
“We’re in limbo because the dates no longer match the NBA’s schedule,” one agent said. “It seems like the NBA doesn’t understand that moving free agency by several months will prevent most overseas players from coming over to the NBA because their contract only allows them to exercise their buyout clause in July.”
Also, some NBA-buyout clauses “are based on a certain number of days after the team’s last game,” according to another agent. These could present some unique challenges as well.
Some agents are hopeful that logic will prevail and the involved parties will be able to adjust the contract language without any trouble.
“FIBA released some overarching guidelines and one of them is that they expect teams and players to engage in what they call ‘good-faith negotiations’ on these kinds of topics,” one agent said. “They’re basically encouraging teams and players to compromise and figure these things out. They don’t want to have to resolve a thousand disputes like this. Let’s say a player had an NBA buyout set for July 15, which is 15 days after the start of free agency. The logical argument is that the new buyout date should still be 15 days after the start of free agency. So, if NBA free agency begins on October 1, the new buyout date should be October 15. The hope is that a lot of these situations can be sorted out logically.”
However, some agents believe that certain overseas teams will try to take advantage of this situation and use this loophole to keep their best players under contract internationally for one more season.
Euroleague officials recently canceled their 2019-20 season and the league is reportedly planning to start the 2020-21 season on October 1. Well, if the NBA’s free-agency period doesn’t start until late September or early October, that puts Euroleague teams in a very difficult position. While it’s easy to say that moving a player’s NBA-buyout clause to October 15 is a logical compromise, that means the Euroleague team would be losing one of their best players after the start of the season (when it’s extremely difficult to replace that player). This is why certain Euroleague teams may put up a fight when it comes to moving the buyout deadline.
There’s also some concern that FIBA won’t get involved in these disputes since teams that refuse to change this deadline are technically honoring the contract and not breaking any rules.
“FIBA has the Basketball Arbitral Tribunal, which is their court for disputes,” one international agent said. “But in this case, you can’t go to FIBA’s court to ask them to change the date of the buyout because it’s not like the team is doing anything wrong (such as not permitting players to exercise the clause). The team can just refuse to change the buyout date and say, ‘Well, it’s not our fault!’ I can see overseas teams taking advantage of this.”
Even if FIBA does want to get involved, several agents pointed out that it would likely be very difficult for them to resolve these disputes since there are many different leagues (in many different countries) under the FIBA umbrella. They would have to handle each of these disagreements on a case-by-case basis, which is much easier said than done.
So, what does this mean for the NBA? Each year, there are a number of players who sign with NBA teams after playing overseas the previous year (recent examples include Shane Larkin, Malcolm Delaney, Brad Wanamaker and Nicolo Melli among others). This year, certain NBA-ready players who would otherwise make that leap may not be able to exercise their NBA-out. That means some significant free agents may be off the market.
It could also mean that the summer of 2021 features more overseas talent than usual since it would essentially have two offseasons’ worth of free agents who are looking to exercise their NBA-out.
“The NBA is focused on so many other things right now, so I think this just slipped their mind,” one international agent said. “But this could have a big impact on teams that are targeting overseas players.”
For players who have a monetary buyout (and no specific deadline), their overseas team could still be put in a tough position due to the NBA’s altered schedule. If an NBA team is willing to pay the buyout and sign the player during free agency in, say, October, the overseas team would be losing their star midseason.
Some international draft prospects have buyouts too, so NBA teams will need to do their due diligence and figure out the details of each prospect’s buyout clause (such as what it would cost to buy them out and whether there’s a deadline to do so).
One other hurdle for NBA hopefuls who played overseas last season: Several NBA agents believe there won’t be a 2020 Summer League and that’s where these players typically showcase their development in hopes of earning a guaranteed contract or a two-way deal. However, that may not be a possibility this year.
Multiple agents said they believe the event will be cancelled because it would be a logistical nightmare given the circumstances. Also, there’s too much risk to justify a series of exhibition games. As one agent put it: “The downside is way greater than the upside.”
Even if the NBA did find a way to have a 2020 Summer League, it couldn’t start until September or October. By then, many overseas leagues would have already wrapped up their free-agency period, meaning most fringe players would’ve already signed with a team overseas and wouldn’t be able to participate in Summer League.
“If Summer League isn’t until September or October, everyone would just skip it and take a guaranteed deal with an overseas team instead,” one agent said. “Who is going to jeopardize a guaranteed deal for the entire season just to play in the Summer League for two weeks?”