NEW YORK — The NBA announced this afternoon it will appeal an arbitrator’s ruling that granted full “Bird rights” to players claimed off waivers, including Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak of the New York Knicks.
In an unexpected victory for the players’ union and the Knicks, arbitrator Kenneth Dam ruled that a player’s Bird rights travel with him when his contract is claimed off waivers. The Knicks acquired Lin and Novak in that manner, and they will now have the right to match any offer those two restricted free agents receive after July 1 — while also preserving their mid-level exception to make a run at a veteran floor general such as Jason Kidd or Steve Nash.
The ruling also applies to J.J. Hickson of the Portland Trail Blazers and Chauncey Billups of the Los Angeles Clippers, who will be unrestricted free agents.
In all cases, those players’ current teams will be allowed to exceed the salary cap in order to retain them.
It was not immediately clear how the NBA would proceed with its appeal, with the free agency season set to begin July 1.
“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.”
From a May 14 story on the case from Howard Beck of the New York Times: “The union contends that a player claimed on waivers should retain all contractual benefits, as he does when he is traded. The league disagrees, citing a specific clause in the labor agreement that indicates Bird rights are lost when a player is waived, even if another team claims him. Although the Bird rules — named for the former Celtics star Larry Bird — have been in place for years, this specific dispute had not arisen. For one, N.B.A. players are rarely claimed off waivers. And most waived players are not valuable enough for a team to invoke their Bird rights to keep them. That changed in rather dramatic fashion this season when Lin and Novak — who were both playing on minimum contracts — had breakout seasons for the Knicks after being claimed on waivers in December. Both could receive lucrative multiyear offers this summer. If Lin and Novak are determined to have so-called early-Bird rights, the Knicks could pay each one a starting salary up to the league average, about $5.3 million. Without those rights, the Knicks could offer only small raises, unless they used a cap exception, the midlevel ($5 million) or the biannual ($1.9 million).