In a surprise ruling today, New York Knicks Jeremy Lin, who emerged as a valuable cog in their franchise last season, secured Bird and early Bird rights in a hearing between the NBA Players’ Association and the league.
The decision was made by arbitrator Kenneth Dam, who affirmed that players claimed off waivers are able to retain their valuable Bird and early Bird rights when they become free agents. Other affected by the ruling are the Knicks’ Steve Novak, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chauncy Bilups and the Portland Trail Blazers’ J.J. Hickson.
The NBA said it would appeal the ruling.
All four players were waived this season and claimed by other teams. They will become free agents July 1.
In addition, future players claimed off waivers will likewise benefit from Friday’s ruling.
Lin and Novak wll enter the 2012-13 free agency period with early Bird rights, meaning that they can be re-signed for 175 percent of their salary the previous season or the NBA average salary, whichever is greater.
Billups and Hickson will have Bird rights, meaning they can be re-signed up to the maximum salary.
“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 in a statement released by the players’ union. “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 ruling is especially huge for the Knicks. They can now retain Lin, Novak and Landry Fields at up to $5 million each and then sign an additional player at $3 million or less with their mid-level exception. The Knicks will likely be in the market for a seasoned veteran point guard. The ruling is one step toward creating enough space to go after a player such Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Andre Miller or Raymond Felton.
The Knicks could also retain J.R. Smith if he accepts his player option of $2.5 million. He has until June 26 to decide if he wants to opt in or out. Beyond that, the Knicks will only have veteran’s minimum contracts of $1.4 million to spend to fill out the rest of their roster.