If the New York Knicks plan on being competitive next season, all eyes should be on the Players’ Association’s arbitration hearing that is seeking restoration of the Bird rights to free agents Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak.
If the ruling from the arbitrator comes favors the Knicks, it could be a very productive offseason in the Big Apple, especially as it relates to point guard Jeremy Lin. However, if it doesn't, the Knicks will be in big trouble.
For the time being, the Knicks must put all of their trust in the Player's Union Executive Director Billy Hunter.
Hunter issued a statement Tuesday night (via the New York Post):
“Bird and Early Bird rights are among the most valuable rights that players have under the [collective bargaining agreement]. These rights simply cannot be extinguished in the absence of an affirmative decision by a player to select a team through free agency. We will ask the arbitrator to resolve this dispute on an expedited basis.’’
The union is trying to make a case that Novak and Lin should be treated the same as players who are traded. Traded players keep their Bird rights.
If Lin and Novak have their Bird rights restored, Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald will have won the lottery. It would allow him to re-sign both players without using their $5 million mid-level exception.
If that's the case, Grunwald could use that MLE to try and sign a veteran point guard, possibly even Steve Nash.
However if their Bird rights aren't restored, here's the dilemma the Knicks will face.
With the new CBA, there is now a non-taxpayer MLE of $3 million or less or the taxpayer MLE of $5 million.
The trick is that if the Knicks spend more than $3 million of its mid-level exception, they will be faced with a hard cap for the remainder of the season. It becomes very hard to put a winner on the floor when dealing with a hard cap.
Since the Knicks are over the cap, they can't spend more than what is now called the apron ($70-74 million). If they get into the taxpayer's MLE and are forced to become hard-capped, the Knicks won't be able to make any moves (trades, signings, etc.) that put them a penny over the hard-cap, which is something Grunwald must stay away from.
So it would be ideal for Lin to sign for $3 million or less, but that’s doubtful, especially since other teams will offer more simply based on what he can do for attendance.
Lin is unlike a guy such as Landry Fields, who the Knicks have his Early Bird rights. Without Lin's Bird rights, New York will be forced to use the MLE to sign him, which presents an issue given what it could do to the team financially down the road.
That makes this arbritrator's decision, likely in June, the single most important decision for the future of the franchise.
A favorable ruling allows the Knicks to not only re-sign Lin and Novak, but also allows them to use the MLE and bi-annual exception ($1.98 million) to add key pieces to the team.
If it's a non-favorable ruling for the Knicks and they are forced to spend more than $3 million to retain Lin, not only will they be hard-capped for the season, but they won't be able to re-sign Novak, won't have either exception to use and will be forced to sign as many as four players using the veteran minimum.
That doesn't bode well for the future of Knicks basketball.