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Let’s brush up on the NBL’s import and salary cap rules ahead of the 2023-24 season

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NBL imports, Bryce Cotton, Jaylen Adams

Basketball broadcaster Jo Healy explains, in simple terms, some of the league’s rules and regulations around NBL imports, the salary cap implications and how other talent programs fit into the equation.

There have been many star imports in the NBL over the years; the likes of Mark Davis, Leroy Loggins and Ricky Grace had instrumental impacts on the league.

And more recently, we’ve seen sensations like Bryce Cotton, Jaylen Adams and NBA champion Ian Clark.

Also read our Next Stars Guide ahead of the new NBL season

NBL imports: FAQs ahead of the new season

What exactly is an import? 

Imports are international players who are recruited to strengthen a team’s roster. Traditionally, they’re borderline NBA level players or players who fill a specific role that a team needs. Throughout the years they have mainly been American players, but there have been exceptions with guys from Europe, Canada and South American.

Bryace Cotton, NBL imports, perth wildcats
One of the best NBL imports we’ve ever seen: Perth Wildcats’ sensation Bryce Cotton

How many NBL imports can each franchise have each season?

Each roster is limited to three NBL imports at any given time.

These spots are usually filled for the entire season, although occasionally a team may hold out for a specific player. If an import is injured for an extended period or their contract is terminated for other reasons, clubs are able to bring in a replacement.

What is the salary cap for the upcoming NBL season?

$1,820,245.40*

*While there is a salary cap for the NBL, there is no limit to what teams can spend. If they go over the salary cap, though, they’re required to pay a luxury tax.

NBL imports 2023-24, jaylen adams, sydney kings
After a season in Serbia, 2021-22 NBL MVP Jaylen Adams returns to the Sydney Kings, who are chasing a three-peat | NBL imports 2023-24

How do NBL imports fit into the salary cap?

Imports fall under the salary cap as normal, but some of their salary can be excluded from the club’s spending. It’s a similar deal with marquee players – Australian or New Zealand stars – who are usually among the highest earners in the league, like NBL imports.

Teams have up to four spots for marquees and imports. Part of the marquee salary is exempt from the cap; for example, a player might be signed for $500,000 but only the first $200,000 will be included in the cap.

How does the Next Stars program impact NBL import rules?

The NBL Next Stars program is an exception to how NBL imports fit in. It allows teams to bring in top level, NBA Draft caliber talents without spending one of its import spots or filling space the salary cap. In fact, the NBL is actually responsible for paying their Next Stars salaries.

As we’ve written about recently, the program has been a huge success since it began in 2018/19 and has seen the likes of Lamelo Ball, Josh Giddey and Ousmane Dieng taken as lottery picks in the NBA Draft.

NBL Next Stars
AJ Johnson (right) is looking to follow in the footsteps of the likes of LaMelo Ball and Josh Giddey in the upcoming NBL season.

What about Special Restricted Players?

Other international players can feature in the NBL if they fall under the Special Restricted Player rule. The SRP rule is specifically designed for the league to tap into Asian markets. The initiative allows clubs to sign players from a number of Asian countries who are exempt from the salary cap, alleviating financial pressure on clubs.

Conclusion

A number of the above initiatives and regulations have been put in place by the NBL to maximise star power down under and give franchises affordable ways to round out their rosters with immense talent. The league is now also undoubtedly a feasible alternative to the college system for emerging talents eyeing off the NBA Draft.

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