Today the NBA players association learned that it had won its arbitration hearing against the league concerning Early Bird Rights. This decision was a huge coup for the NBPA, especially many people felt that the players had not shot to win the case. The following statement was released by the representatives for the players after the announcement:
“Arbitrator Kenneth Dam today affirmed the National Basketball Players Association’s position that players claimed off waivers retain their valuable “Bird” and “Early Bird” rights when they become free agents. As a result of the arbitrator’s decision, Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak of the New York Knicks will enter the 2012-13 free agency period with “Early Bird” rights, and Chauncey Billups of the Los Angeles Clippers and J.J. Hickson of the Portland Trailblazers will enter the 2012-13 free agency period with full “Bird” rights. Future players claimed off waivers will likewise benefit from today’s ruling.
“Bird and Early Bird rights are the lynchpin of our Soft Cap system, and we’re pleased that Professor Dam recognized that a player does not forfeit these important rights unless he makes an affirmative decision to sign with a new team as a free agent,” NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter said. “Players fought hard for a Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows maximum flexibility for free agent players while also permitting teams to retain their core free agents, and today’s decision affirms both of these important principles.”
The NBA will appeal the ruling. As many have said, this decision was the Knicks biggest win in June in more than 10 years. Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak can now be resigned for up to $5 million dollars. There was an assumption that the Knicks would now be able to go out and sign free agents using the full $5.5 million mid-level exception if the players won this case, and that is true to an extent. The Knicks will now be able to sign Lin and Novak for up to $5 million dollars without committing the mid-level to either. Whatever money is then left over they will be able to use to sign free agents.
Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated’s The Point Forward Blog, wrote a rough breakdown of the Knicks financial situation for the 2012 season:
“The Knicks have $59.4 million committed to six players next season: Anthony, Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Toney Douglas, Renaldo Balkman and Iman Shumpert.
That contract for Lin increases the payroll to $64.4 million. Tack on the full $5 million mid-level exception for Free Agent X, and the bill comes to $69.4 million for just eight players. As you can see, the math is getting tight. In this scenario, the Knicks have $4.6 million until they hit the new “hard cap” level, and they still have four roster spots to fill. And we haven’t even dealt with Novak or shooting guards J.R. Smith (who has a $2.5 million player option) and Landry Fields (a restricted free agent).
But wait! The CBA allows teams to disregard that hard cap $4 million above the tax line, provided they follow certain conditions. Among them: offering only a smaller version of the mid-level exception rather than the whole thing. Teams can offer that “mini” mid-level, worth about $3 million per year, and spend as much as they’d like.”
There are two ways to look at this. One is that if Smith does not exercise his player option and if the Knicks can make salary dump trades for Douglas and Balkman and they sign and trade Fields they will have more money to work with. This would allow them to use the full MLE to go after a Steve Nash, Jason Kidd or Ray Allen and still re-sign Lin and Novak. The other way this would work out is the Knicks sign Lin and Novak and then use the Bi-Annual exception as well as the Mid-level up to 3 million dollars a year to go after players like Raymond Felton or Lamar Odom. Either way, the Knicks are in a better place than they were yesterday. It’s going to be interesting to see how creative Glen Grunwald and company will get.