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The NBA’s hardship exception, explained: How rule helps teams dealing with COVID-19, injury issues



The Bulls have been dealing with a limited roster lately.

In addition to sophomore Patrick Williams being out indefinitely with a wrist injury, the Bulls are facing a COVID-19 outbreak as Coby White, Matt Thomas, Derrick Jones Jr., Javonte Green and DeMar DeRozan are each currently in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

MORE: NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, explained

With six players sidelined, the Bulls have added two players in Alfonzo McKinnie and Stanley Johnson via the league’s hardship exception.

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What is the NBA’s hardship exception?

Here’s how the hardship exception is explained in the NBA’s Constitution and By-Laws:

In the event that the application of the provisions of these By-Laws pertaining to Player Lists and replacement of Players shall, in any particular case, cause extreme hardship, such provisions, upon application by the Member claiming hardship, may be waived or modified, and special rules may be invoked for the Member claiming such hardship; provided, however, that such provisions may only be waived or modified by the affirmative vote of a majority of the entire Board of Governors (the Governor representing the Member claiming hardship not voting). Notwithstanding the foregoing, in the event that a Member has three (3) Players on its Active List and/or Inactive List who are unable to perform playing services due to injury or illness and such Member has an additional Player who becomes unable to perform playing services due to injury or illness, it may substitute a Player in his stead after the following has occurred:

  • (a) each of the three (3) injured or ill Players and the additional injured or ill Player has missed a minimum of three (3) consecutive games due to injury or illness; and
  • (b) the Commissioner’s Office has determined, through an independent physician, if necessary, that at the time the replacement Player is signed, each of the three (3) injured or ill Players on the Member’s Active and/or Inactive List, and the additional injured or ill Player, will continue to be unable to perform playing services due to injury or illness.

The Commissioner, in his sole discretion, may permit a Member to replace additional injured or ill Players on that Member’s Active List or Inactive List. 

In simpler terms, the hardship exemption is a temporary roster spot that allows teams to exceed the 15-man roster limit in times of need (multiple players being out because of injury or illness). Temporary is the keyword. As explained by cap expert Danny Leroux, “When one of the four players can return to action, the 15-player roster limit comes back into effect and the team must comply with it immediately.”

How NBA teams have used the hardship exception

In the case of the Bulls, with Williams, White, Thomas, Jones, Green and DeRozan out for an extended period of time, they have been allowed to sign McKinnie and Johnson without having to cut or waive anyone on their roster.

The team announced that it has signed McKinnie and Johnson to 10-day contracts.

Earlier this month, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the Nuggets, who are also dealing with a limited roster, were set to sign Davon Reed via the hardship exception. On Dec. 14, the Nuggets announced that they had signed Reed to a 10-day contract. 



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