This afternoon, arbitrator Kenneth Dam ruled in favor of the NBA Players Union, and granted Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak their Early Bird Rights. Howard Beck of the New York Times first broke the story.
The decision was a surprising and unexpected one; many felt that the NBPA had little shot of winning the case. However, the Knicks aren’t in the clear yet, as the NBA has announced it will appeal the decision. Details are still emerging as to what the next plan of action will be, but in the meantime, the decision is still in favor of the Players Union.
If the decision doesn’t get reversed (it so will, because it’s the Knicks and it’s David Stern and that’s just what happens), then this is great news for the Knicks. By earning Early Bird Rights to Lin and Novak, the Knicks can re-sign both of them without having to dip into their mid-level or biannual exceptions. Lin and Novak have both expressed great interest in returning to the Knicks, but were hesitant to hint at a definite return since money was a concern.
Likewise, if the decision holds (we’ll operate under the assumption that it will, for now), this could directly impact J.R. Smith’s decision to opt in or out of the final year of his contract. The MLE gives the Knicks about five million dollars to sign another player, so Smith may choose to opt out in hopes that the Knicks would give him a larger portion of the MLE. Likewise, the biannual exception could be used to lure a veteran who’s unwilling to settle for the vet.’s minimum.
This year’s free agent class is full of point guards, and if the Knicks are indeed able to keep their MLE while re-signing Jeremy Lin, then they could have plenty of options. Steve Nash may still out-price the Knicks, but other options could be Raymond Felton, Kirk Hinrich, Jason Kidd, or Ramon Sessions.
The Knicks’ frontcourt could use help too, but with Josh Harrellson and Jared Jeffries likely in the fold, the Knicks might not want to commit money to a backup big, because Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler all command so much playing time. Whatever position the Knicks draft could be an indicator as to what types of players they’ll target in free agency.
However, another obstacle remains regardless of how the NBA’s appeal goes. CBA expert Larry Coon noted on Twitter that giving a contract of over three million dollars to a free agent will put the Knicks in the hard cap for the season. One of the CBA revisions during the lockout has made the tax punishments extra severe for teams who exceed the salary cap. Then again, we are also talking about James Dolan’s money, and he tends to not care very much about what he spends on the Knicks.
Perhaps if the Knicks wanted to sign a player to the full MLE and avoid paying the hard cap, they could try to move Toney Douglas or Jerome Jordan for another pick. However, if they were to move into the first round, that pick would also count against their cap for a similar amount of money, so it may not make much of a difference.
There are questions and opportunities abound on this decision and what remains in the Knicks’ future, but as Howard Beck noted: this isn’t over yet.