Don’t Expect Wednesday Union Victory

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Tomorrow, Wednesday the 13th of June, the Knicks will know whether or not Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak will be granted with Early Bird rights. If so, the Knicks would be able to re-sign each player without using a cap exception, such as the Mid-Level Exception or the Bi-Annual Exception. The NBA Players Union has challenged the league’s stance that Bird Rights, as well as Early Bird Rights, are lost when a player is waived. This court ruling also will affect other teams in the league, such as the Clippers (with Chauncey Billups) and the Portland Trail Blazers (with JJ Hickson). Here is how Howard Beck of the New York Times explained the Union’s stance:

In the union’s view, Bird rights should expire only when a player clears waivers, because he is a free agent at that point who can choose a new team and sign a new contract.

The union contends that the entire rationale for allowing Bird rights to transfer was to protect players who changed teams against their will, a principle that could apply to both trades and waiver claims. (The section of the uniform player contract that deals with waiver claims, in fact, cross references the rules governing trades.)

I do not believe that the Union is going to win this claim. The NBA’s legal representation feels confident that the rule as stated is pretty cut and dry, and I tend to agree. Here is the explanation from the CBA expert Larry Coon on both Bird Rights and Early Bird Rights, as they pertain to the wavier process.

On Bird Rights – “To qualify for this exception a player essentially must play for three seasons without being waived or changing teams as a free agent”

On Early Bird Rights – “To qualify for this exception the player must play for two seasons without being waived or changing teams as a free agent”

I do not necessarily disagree with the claim of the Union, in that I would be okay with the rule being altered to grant Bird Rights to players that have been waived. However, the Union did agree to this set of rules when this latest Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified. I believe the rule is very clear, as it pertains to waived players. I’m not a lawyer, but I do not see any glaring rationale to suggest that the arbitrator would rule in favor of the Union. Obviously strange things can happen in the legal world, but I do not see the Union winning this case.

What does that mean for the Knicks?

For starters, you can kiss any Steve Nash hopes goodbye. Not that the Knicks were ever going to get Nash, but a Union loss in this case would force New York to use most, if not all, of its Mid-Level Exception to re-sign Jeremy Lin. The Knicks would likely lose Steve Novak, unless both he and the Knicks came to terms on the Bi-Annual exception of $1.9 million. There is a possibility that the momentum generated by Novak during the regular season was put to a screeching halt by both Miami’s defense and the Knicks first round playoff departure. However, I believe somebody will offer the league’s best 3 point shooter more than $1.9 million and steal him away from the Knicks. In the event of a Union loss, the Knicks would only be able to offer Lin and Novak 120% raises without using any cap exceptions.

If the Union were to win the arbitration case, the Knicks would be able to retain both Lin and Novak for a league average salary (about $5.3 million) without using any cap exceptions. This would allow them to use both their Mid-Level Exception and Bi-Annual Exception to fill some of their many other needs.

The Knicks really do need this ruling to be in the favor of the Union. Having the ability to retain Lin and Novak without using any cap exceptions would be huge. I don’t see the Union winning this case, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. I mean, didn’t some judges rule that Timothy Bradley beat Manny Pacquiao over the weekend? Casey Anthony trial? You never know with arbitrators and judges. Maybe there is some loophole in the CBA that nobody in the media knows about. Who knows? I think if there was some weird loophole, we would have heard about it. Doesn’t mean it isn’t there, but all signs are pointing towards a loss for the Players Union.

Follow Taylor Armosino on twitter @tarmosino

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