In a rather unlikely ruling, an arbitrator ruled in favor of Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak, Chauncey Billups and J.J. Hickson, giving all four players early Bird Rights to their respective teams after a hearing between the Player’s Association and the league.
For the Knicks, this decision was monumental. It allows the Knicks to sign Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak and Landry Fields to a maximum $5 million-per-year contract, all while perserving the team’s $3 million-per-year Mid Level Exception. If the league had ruled against the Bird Rights, the Knicks would not have been able to go over their salary cap to keep all three, leaving at least one player on the outside of their off-season plans looking in, and likely eliminating their Mid Level Exception all together.
Now, however, the Knicks have the ability to not only keep their young core together, they can add a veteran for above the league minimum ($1.4 million) and sure up the team’s depth.
While public perception views how the decision enables the team new flexibility with their efforts to re-sign Jeremy Lin, this ruling all but saves Steve Novak’s job in New York. If the team was put in a position where they had to choose between these three players, Novak was going to be the odd man out.
The Knicks picked Novak up off waivers before the start of the shortened 2011-12 season at a salary of $854k. He easily outperformed that contract, averaging career-highs in minutes (18.9) and points (8.8) playing exclusively off the New York bench. A career43.6% shooter from three-point land, Novak posted an NBA-best 47.2% last season, hitting several crucial baskets along the way.
The hard truth about Novak is that he is worth more than the vet minimum, but not as much as the $5 million ceiling he has. Instead, he was a player that could get near the Mid Level, a luxury the Knicks weren’t going to have before today due to the funds that would have to tie up in a Lin contract. Novak was likely going to walk as a free agent, right until the arbitrator released his surprise ruling.
Look, Steve Novak and his championship belt will not be the Knicks sixth man next season. Novak is a top eight rotational player with one elite skill (drilling 3s). He’s a very valuable piece, and a necessary piece for any team that dreams of making deep runs in the playoffs. He does give away a bit on defense, which is why it becomes hard to play him in certain crunch time situations. However, he is a player that thrived under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden and definietly morphed into a fan favorite over time. The team will still have holes they need to fill when or if they bring back Novak, but having him as a viable option again makes their off-season plans a little bit more clear.
Now, the question becomes…what do the Knicks do with the Mid Level Exception?
That decision could determine the type of success the team has next year.