Understanding Bird Rights: What they mean and how they impact the Celtics’ future

(Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff)

One of the most complicated parts of the NBA for fans is the ins and outs of team building during the offseason. There are complex rules about what a team can and can’t do with certain players, how much a team can offer a free agent, what happens when a team goes into the luxury tax and much more.

I write a lot about the particulars of these rules, but one of the common requests I’ve received at BSJ is to simplify an explanation of these tricky CBA rules and terms and how they apply to the Celtics. Over the upcoming month, we will take a weekly look at some of the common phrases and rules I used that are involved in the collective bargaining agreement and try to make them easier to understand so it’s easier to break down the options the Celtics or another team has with their players in any offseason.

We begin today with a common phrase that you’ll hear countless times in NBA free agency and has a huge impact on any team’s offseason. Bird Rights?

What are Bird Rights?

Technically, Bird Rights are a salary cap exception that was named originally after Larry Bird back in the 1980s once free agency was introduced. The purpose is to allow teams to exceed the salary cap in order to re-sign their own free agents, up to the player’s maximum salary. This was a loophole introduced essentially to allow players to be retained more easily by their current teams.

How does a team get Bird Rights on a player?

A player must play for three straight years with the same team except for one crucial exception: a player who qualifies for Bird Rights has those rights traded with him as part of a trade. This is why the Celtics have Bird Rights on a player like Kyrie Irving this summer even though he played for just two years in Boston. Since he had played for six straight years in Cleveland, he had Bird Rights and those rights carried over as part of the deal.

What kind of contract can a player be offered when they have Bird Rights with a team

Anywhere from one to five years with annual raises up to eight percent in each year of the contract. Said player can be paid up to the maximum salary for their level of experience.

Why are Bird Rights so important?