What Does It Mean to Waive a Player in Basketball?

In the NBA, there are 30 teams in the league, and the organization has restricted each one to a total of 15 spots on its roster. Each team also has salary caps that prevent them from hoarding all the best players.

Thus, NBA teams need to optimally utilize their limited roster spots to win games. They do this by filling them with the most skilled players they can get their hands on.

If a team fills its roster with one or more players who prove to be a bad fit, does this mean that the team is stuck with the said players? 

Not necessarily. As this article explains, teams have the option of waiving players. Thus, if you've ever asked the question, "what does it mean to waive a player in basketball?" Read on to find out.

What Do Basketball Player Waivers Entail? 

In basketball, when a team waives a player, the team has released or dropped the player from its roster.

A basketball team starts off by asking the NBA commissioner to waive the player in question. The NBA commissioner then informs the other basketball teams of the waived player's availability for acquisition. 

Afterward, any interested teams can vie for the opportunity to add the said player to their team roster during a 48-hour period called the Waiver Wire.


If the waived player has a guaranteed contract with the team, the player will remain on the team's payroll pending the expiry of their contract but usually until another team picks the player up.

Basketball player waivers are a severe matter. The reason is that once the team has made such a request of the NBA commissioner, it cannot be taken back.

Reasons Why a Basketball Team May Waive a Player

A basketball team may decide to waive a player for many reasons. However, player waivers are usually a strategic consideration that has to do with the team's roster space.

A team may decide, for example, that a player no longer deserves to take up a spot on their roster. This decision might be due to poor performance on the player's part.


In other cases, the financial obligations of a player's contract may be so cumbersome that it takes up too much of the team's salary cap.

Waiving the player, therefore, frees up much-needed space on the roster. This action leaves the door open for a player or two acquisitions much later in the season.

On the other hand, a player performing well may still be waived by their team. This action could occur if the team wants to widen the gap between the number of players on the team's payroll and the team's salary cap.

By doing so, they would have the opportunity to acquire better-performing players later on without worrying about exceeding the team's salary cap (in comparison to other teams' salary caps).

The bottom line is that player waivers happen because roster space is integral to a basketball team's ability to acquire players who may improve its chances of attaining championship status.

Remember, the system only allows the teams a maximum of 15 spots on their roster, so they must make every available spot count. 

How Waivers Work in Basketball

When a basketball team waives a player, the player enters a 48-hour holding pattern called the Waiver Wire. During the waiver wire, a waived player becomes available to play for other teams interested in claiming the player.

So, what happens in a situation where a new team successfully claims a waived player during the waiver wire? And the waived player's contract with his former team had not expired when they first waived him?

The new team will inherit the contractual obligations owed by the old one to the waived player (including amounts owed as salary). That's how waivers work.

On the other hand, what happens if any other team does not claim a player during the waiver wire? The team who waived them will have to keep paying them their salary for the duration of the player's contract with the team.

In some instances, a team may want to dispose of an awful contract no matter what. The team may request amnesty on the player's waiver to do this.

This move will effectively allow the team to remove the player's contract from its salary cap regardless of whether another team picks the player up during the waiver wire or not.

The team will, of course, still have to pay the player his salary, but its cap space will be freer as a result of the amnesty. Please note that a team can only have the amnesty waived on only one of its players.

When Player Waivers Typically Occur

A team can waive a player at any point in an NBA season. However, if the team puts in the waiver request after the 1st of March, any team that claims the player after that point will acquire a player that is not eligible to play in that season's playoffs.

As such, the team will have to wait until the next season before adding the player to its roster.

How Other Basketball Teams Claim Waived Players

When players enter the waiver wire, they essentially become "up for grabs" by other teams. This rule means that multiple teams may signify interest in claiming the waived player simultaneously.

The waiver wire is also open to professional basketball teams that aren't part of the NBA. However, the NBA gives priority to its teams.

If more than one team is competing to get a waived player, he will go to the team with the lowest winning percentage. This is possible if the waived player's salary won't result in the winning team exceeding its salary cap.

The Fate of a Waived Player Who Is Not Claimed During a Waiver Wire

A player who enters the waiver wire is said to have cleared waivers if no other teams claim him. A player who has cleared waivers enters unrestricted free agency.

Hence, they can sign with any team of their choice without worrying about the Right of First Refusal of their former team.

The Right of First Refusal applies to restricted free agencies. It allows the former team of a waived player to match the offer made by the new team that wants to sign him if the old team desires to retain the waived player for whatever reason.


So, what does it mean to waive a player in basketball? As this article explains, when a team waives a player, the said player has been dropped from the team's roster.

Most basketball teams in the NBA have restrictions placed on the size of their roster (15 spots) and payroll (via a salary cap). Thus, any space they have available will be crucial to signing on new players with the potential to make the team a championship contender.

In a nutshell, player waivers are an integral part of how teams in the NBA function.

Joshua Bast

My name is Joshua Bast and I have been playing basketball ever since I was 7 years old. I love the game play, I love the feeling whenever I score a basket, but what made me fell in love was the camaraderie with my team mates. This blog is dedicated to help any up-and-coming basketball players maximize their potential.

Joshua Bast