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Arbitrator: Knicks Lin & Novak can use their “Bird” rights

By Art Stevens

Free Agency in the National Basketball Association is about a week away. Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak of the New York Knickerbockers are expected to be in demand if they should become free agents. Lin is a restricted free agent. However, the Knicks would probably match any offer made for him.

On Friday, a decision was made by arbitrator Kenneth Dam in which he ruled that both Lin and Novak will retain their “Bird” rights when both become free agents on July 1st. If this ruling holds up, it means that the Knicks would have the opportunity to re-sign both players without using exceptions. The money saved at that point could then be used to purchase other free agents. This could open a dialogue with some veteran point guards, such as Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, as well as others. Nash and Kidd have already expressed at least some interest in playing in New York.

This, however, will not come easily as the NBA is appealing the decision. The collective bargaining agreement says that for a player to have “Early Bird” rights, he cannot be waived or sign with another team. Lin and Novak were waived last season and eventually signed with other teams, and that is the basis of the appeal, which NBA Commissioner David Stern fully expects to go his way.

The Player’s Union attitude is that losing his “Bird” service time should not penalize a player when he is chosen on waivers.

If the ruling goes the Knicks way, they could re-sign the players for up to 120 percent of salary and still be able to sign other free agents, which would be a considerable advantage in building next year’s team.

Again, the appeal must be ruled on quickly as NBA free agency is only a week away.

Stay tuned.