The New York Knicks were greeted with some unbelievably good news yesterday when it was announced that the NBPA had won their early-Bird rights arbitration hearing.
The ruling means that two of last year's break-out players for the Knicks—Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak—will be able to return without the mid-level exception having to be used on them, which is critical if the Knicks want to bolster the roster even further this offseason.
Also, since the Knicks' current salary level of $57.2 million (being paid to only six players) is under the luxury tax level, they will be able to use the bi-annual exception in free agency, and won't have their mid-level exception reduced from $5 million to $3 million.
In addition to a late-second round pick in a very deep NBA Draft, Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald now has a little more flexibility at his disposal to sign some difference-makers to come off the bench for the Knicks.
Rumours have already begun regarding whom exactly the exceptions will be used on, and I'm going to take you through some of the players who could make the biggest difference to the team if signed for the 2012-13 season.
As a future hall-of-famer who's still very much at the top of his game, Steve Nash could provide a huge boost to the Knicks, whether he starts or comes off the bench behind Jeremy Lin.
The 38-year-old is still one of the best passers in the NBA and could help out a lot in improving chemistry on the offensive side of the floor.
His relationship with Amar'e Stoudemire could also be influential in getting the $100 million man back to the form that the Knicks signed him for, and a reuniting of the two could reproduce the pick-and-roll combo that was so lethal only a few years ago.
Nash has recently said that he'd "definitely consider" joining the Knicks this offseason, and the latest news about the arbitration hearing may be the trigger that gets a deal done between the two sides.
Though he may be showing his age a little more than the aforementioned Steve Nash, Jason Kidd is still a productive point guard in today's NBA.
Much like Nash, Kidd has come out and said that joining the Knicks could be a possibility this offseason, and they'd have much less competition for his signature than they would for Nash's.
The Knicks' primary rivals for Kidd—if they choose to pursue him—will be the Brooklyn Nets, as Kidd may want to play a part in the relocation of the franchise he was once such a big part of.
The Chicago Bulls may also look at Kidd as a short-term replacement for Derrick Rose, but for me, Kidd would fit a lot better in New York mentoring Jeremy Lin, something he seems very interested in doing.
With rumors of the Mavericks pursuing Dallas-native Deron Williams, Kidd will almost definitely be in a new uniform next season, the only question left is which one?
According to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, Ray Allen already has the New York Knicks atop his list of potential suitors this offseason, along with the rival Miami Heat.
With the team in desperate need of some outside shooting, the NBA's all-time greater three-point shooter would not be a bad choice at all to spend the mid-level exception on.
And now that the Knicks have that mid-level exception, they'll be able to offer Allen just as much as the Miami Heat or LA Clippers, taking money out of the equation when it comes to Allen making his decision.
Since the Heat are a team he's grown to hate over the past two seasons, Allen will probably be choosing between the Knicks and Clippers, based primarily on who he thinks is closest to a title right now.
The fall of Lamar Odom was almost as shocking as the rise of Jeremy Lin last season, but there's still a chance that the former Sixth Man of the Year could bounce back if put in the right situation next year.
Most agree that a return to the LA Lakers would be that right situation, but since he can't re-sign with the Lakers until December 11th, he may be forced to move elsewhere.
First and foremost, though, the Mavericks will look to trade the forward, but if and when that fails, he will likely be bought out and made an unrestricted free agent.
Odom is reportedly already in contract discussions with the LA Clippers, but if he keeps his options open beyond that, the Knicks may still have a chance.
Odom would be more than comfortable playing in his home city of New York, and the 33-year-old could be interested in suiting up for the team he followed as a child.
Jamal Crawford flirted with the idea of returning to New York last season, but now that he's opted out of his contract with the Portland Trail Blazers, he'll be given that opportunity once again this year.
The Knicks would likely only pursue Crawford if J.R. Smith declines his player option, as the players are almost identical in what they bring to the team.
That said, it is essential that the Knicks have scoring from someone off the bench, and with J.R. gone they'd have no one who can create their own shot.
Crawford is also a slightly better playmaker than Smith, and considering how often coach Mike Woodson used Smith as a ball handler last season, that's a trait that could come in handy.
Considering how close Crawford was to returning to the Knicks last season, despite their lack of cap room, the mid-level exception should be enough to persuade him to come back if he's wanted.
When it's all said and done, Jason Terry will go down in history as a Dallas Maverick, but that doesn't mean he can't end his career elsewhere.
As an unrestricted free agent in a year that the Mavs are trying to save up cap space for Dwight Howard or Deron Williams, there's a good chance he could be set free to sign elsewhere.
The Knicks are a team that could really use his shooting and general offensive presence, especially whilst Iman Shumpert is out injured.
Terry has said already that he only wants to sign a multi-year deal, but since he's still one of the league's elite bench players and a perennial Sixth Man of the Year award candidate, it may be wise for the Knicks to offer him just that.
New York will be able to give to him a four-year, $20 million deal in total, but would probably prefer to cut the length down to two or three years if possible.
If the Knicks whiff on Steve Nash or Jason Kidd—or if they simply don't want them—Andre Miller could be a nice back-up plan to play behind Jeremy Lin.
After being traded to the Denver Nuggets from the Portland Trail Blazers, Miller had an unbelievably good season in his new role as a bench player, recording 6.7 assists per game in only 27.4 minutes.
Miller would be a steadying presence for the Knicks, and if Jeremy Lin were to get injured again this season, he'd be much more suited to starting than Baron Davis and Mike Bibby were this past season.
The difference between earning $7.8 million in 2011-12 to around $5 million next season won't hurt Miller too much, and at 36 years of age, he's probably expecting a salary drop-off some time soon.
The final point guard the Knicks could realistically sign with the MLE is Raymond Felton, who really has fallen off since playing with the Knicks in 2010-11.
Felton turned up to Portland overweight last season, played poorly and was influential in the breakdown of the team, but there's a chance he could still be successful if he returns to New York.
The only time Felton has looked like the player we expected coming out of UNC was during the first half of the season he spent in New York, as he and Amar'e Stoudemire really dominated the NBA for a while there.
If the Knicks could get that Raymond Felton back, they should jump on him with the mid-level exception. The problem is that there's no promise that that's the player they'll get.
It would make more sense to try and convince the point guard to sign for the bi-annual exception instead, as there won't be too many teams around the league willing to offer him any more after last year's disaster.
Though Andrei Kirilenko is expected to join Mikhail Prokhorov's Brooklyn Nets if he returns to the NBA next season, the Knicks would be wise to try and convince him instead that Manhattan is the place to be.
The Russian was back in his home country playing for CSKA Moscow last year after signing with them during the lockout, but now that it's over, he may be making a comeback in the States.
Kirilenko's return may be a question mark right now, but it's definitely something Glen Grunwald should consider, because AK-47 can bring a lot of good things to this team.
The Knicks are looking for some three-point shooting and offense off the bench but that doesn't necessarily mean that they need another guard.
Antawn Jamison provides both of those things but could instead be used as a back-up to star forwards Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
Considering the former's injury history, the Knicks are also in need of an effective replacement for him who could start or play big minutes if need be.
Jamison would be reducing his 2011-12 salary by two-thirds by signing for the mid-level exception, but it's something he may be willing to do in his pursuit of an NBA championship.
Sixers centre Spencer Hawes was pretty impressive in the first round of this year's playoffs, even if he only seemed to step up once Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah went down with injury for the opposing Bulls.
If signed, Hawes would provide some size and rebounding off the bench, something which was sorely missed with Steve Novak and Jared Jeffries as the primary back-up bigs.
Hawes' solid shooting touch essentially makes him a more developed version of Josh Harrellson, which could be useful in its own right.
With so many bigger names available out there with the mid-level exception, the Knicks probably won't pick up Hawes, but he could be a very useful bench player if they do.
Though Boris Diaw would fit the bi-annual exception more than the mid-level exception, he'd be a very interesting pick-up as one of the NBA's most underrated power forwards.
Diaw brings a little bit of everything—shooting, rebounding, passing and more, and could be a good fit on any team, not least of which being the New York Knicks.
The San Antonio Spurs will probably look to keep the Frenchman, as he was a starter and a key part of the team this past season. But if the Knicks offer him a little more, he may be convinced to come to New York instead.