I have a question related to how non-US/CAN players may join a NBA team. I understand that getting drafted should be usually preferred from the players' perspective, as you have a guaranteed salary in case you are actually signed. However, one could also sign at a NBA team as a free agent.

My question is the following: Luka Doncic entered the NBA this year as the one of the first draft picks. Arguably, as a EuroLeague MVP, he is more certain to become a top player than most other players at his age. Could he instead have negotiated with other NBA teams and just sign there? This way, he may have not ended up with a lottery team.There must have been a team with salary space willing to pay him above rookie salary. Are there any rules preventing this?

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Yes. As with everything else, it's all down to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the agreement between the players and the league/teams. The details are covered by the fantastic NBA Salary Cap FAQ:

An international player who is at least 19 but younger than 22 also can become draft eligible by declaring himself an early entry player. An international player who is older than 22 or was not selected in the draft in the same calendar year as his 22nd birthday is considered a rookie free agent.

As Dončić is 19, his only option if he wanted to play in the NBA before he was 22 was to declare himself an early entry player and enter the draft; an "early entry player" here is the same status as college underclassmen declaring themselves for the draft that gives them the ability to go back to college if they withdraw from the draft by a certain date - although this is somewhat irrelevant in Dončić's case as he wouldn't be able to play college basketball due to having played professional basketball in Europe.

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