Now that the NBA said it will appeal last week's ruling that gave players claimed off waivers Bird and early Bird rights this offseason and beyond (in this case, Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak), here's what's next that affects the Knicks:
First of all, the league has to file with the system arbitrator for the appeal to be official. As of right now, that hasn't happened, and they have 10 days (starting from Saturday) to do so (July 2 is the last day). Until then, Lin and Novak still have early Bird rights, although Novak's status would be unclear even if the ruling does stand (see below). As soon as the league files, both players lose their recently-acquired early Bird rights, and it remains that way until the appeals panel sustains the system arbitrator's decision -- if that happens.
Regarding Novak: The union’s press release that was distributed on June 22 when the decision was made may have jumped the gun. It said Novak will have early Bird rights, but arbitrator Kenneth Dam's decision merely said that "players who change teams pursuant to the waiver process are entitled to rely on Bird and early Bird rights that they are otherwise entitled to."
However, Novak wouldn't be otherwise entitled to early Bird rights, because a player on a one-year contract with Bird or early Bird rights who is traded enters free agency as a non-Bird free agent. The ruling expanded the definition of "traded" to include "waived and claimed," and Novak signed a one-year contract with the Spurs before the start of the 2011-12 season. As for Lin, he didn't start the season with a one-year deal.
On Tuesday, the league and players' union will meet to discuss setting up an appeals panel in David Stern’s attempt to overturn Dam’s decision. While it's possible for the appeals panel to hear the arguments and render a decision in an expedited manner, the process will probably take longer. They have to come up with a briefing schedule, and per the rules, the league can have 15 to 25 days to put together its written brief. Following that, they have to schedule oral arguments, which can come within five to 10 days. Then the written decision can happen within 30 days of the oral arguments.
In other words, it's not a quick process. But it will likely not drag on too far past the midway point of July. That's the mindset of the players' union, which strongly believes it will still win the case.
"We don't think any such appeal has merit, and we are confident that the decision will stand and these players will benefit from it, whether it's through an expedited appeal process or a negotiated resolution," said Ron Klempner, Deputy General Counsel of the NBPA.
If the league loses, that would be especially huge for the Knicks. They could 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 would be one step toward creating enough space to go after a player such as Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Andre Miller or former Knick Raymond Felton. Nash, Kidd, and Felton have all expressed interest in joining the Knicks.
It's important to note that Lin is a restricted free agent, so he's more likely to remain a Knick because the team can match any offer of up to $5 million per season. But Novak and every other unrestricted free agent can sign with whichever team they want starting July 1, including the Knicks. They don't have to wait until the appeals decision is made. Both players have already said they would like to return to New York, so it's safe to say that they won't rush their signing until they know what the Knicks can really offer.
What is certain is that the Knicks can retain J.R. Smith if he accepts his player option of around $2.5 million. He has until June 26 to decide if he wants to opt in. He can also decide not to and still re-sign at 120 percent of his previous year's salary using a non-Bird exception (around $2.8 million). The Knicks could also use their mid-level exception on him, but that's highly unlikely.
Beyond Smith, the Knicks will have veterans' minimum contracts of just $1.4 million to spend to fill out the rest of their roster.
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