Knicks’ ability to re-sign both Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak hinges on arbitrator’s ruling on Bird rights
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -- We may be 15 days away from the NBA Draft and 17 days from the start of free agency, but Wednesday figures to be a big one for the New York Knicks and their offseason.
That’s because an arbitrator will hear arguments from the league and the NBPA on the state of free-agent rights for waived players. The union says those players—specifically, the L.A. Clippers’ Chauncey Billups, the Portland Trail Blazers’ J.J. Hickson and the Knicks duo of Steve Novak and Jeremy Lin—should have their Bird rights transferred to their new teams. That would allow those teams to re-sign the players without using salary-cap exceptions.
NBA commissioner David Stern expressed confidence that the league’s position will be upheld, and that the decision will come before July 1, the start of free agency. “I’m guessing there has to be a decision before the period of free agency,” Stern said. “I’m only guessing now. You know how those lawyers can be. But I think it’s going to be relatively fast, and we’re anticipating that the ruling is in favor of the view espoused not just by the league but by the clear language of the (collective bargaining) agreement.”
When he announced the request for arbitration, union executive director Billy Hunter said in a statement, “Bird and Early Bird rights are among the most valuable rights that players have under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. These rights simply cannot be extinguished in the absence of an affirmative decision by a player to select a team through free agency. We will ask the arbitrator to resolve this dispute on an expedited basis and prior to the commencement of free agency.”
That will be important for Billups, of course, who would like to re-sign with the Clippers after tearing his Achilles tendon early this season. But Billups turns 36 in September, and coming off the injury, he won’t be looking at a very big contract this summer.
Hickson is a tough case to figure in free agency. He averaged 4.7 points on 37.0 percent shooting with the Sacramento Kings, but was picked up by Portland after he was waived. He averaged 15.1 points on 54.3 percent shooting in 19 games with the Blazers.
But the real drama in the case is with the Knicks, because both Novak and, obviously, Lin, have earned serious raises after this past season. Lin averaged 14.6 points and 6.2 assists before suffering a knee injury, and became an international sensation with his incredible February “Linsanity” stretch. Novak averaged 8.8 points, and led the league in 3-point shooting at 47.2 percent.
If the arbitrator sides with the NBA and does not grant these players their Bird rights, the Knicks will be limited to their $5 million mid-level exception to re-sign the two. With Lin figuring to take up most of that money, the Knicks would likely lose Novak. If the union wins the case, the Knicks can sign both freely.