Per Howard Beck of The New York Times, The National Basketball Player’s Association – you might remember the union by one of its many hits, such as “Those Lockout Blues” and “Strike Me? No, Strike You, Pal!” – has filed a letter with the league demanding independent arbitration to clarify a seemingly well-settled question of whether or not players who have been waived retain their so-called “Bird rights,” which allow teams to re-sign their own players sans salary cap consequence.
The challenge, which on its face seems to lack merit from a contract law perspective, is based upon the theory that traded players, despite changing teams, retain their contractual rights and obligations (that’s how lawyers describe “Player A shows up for work, Team must pay Player A”) after the trade is completed, so why should a waived player – who similarly plays under his original contract once claimed by another team – be treated any differently?
The irony, of course, is that should the union’s position be affirmed by an arbitrator – the league’s collective bargaining agreement requires that the league and the union mutually agree on who is chosen to arbitrate the issue – the New York Knicks stand to benefit greatly in the process. And why shouldn’t they? After all, coming off the wackiest professional sports season in recent memory, no one should have expected less drama in Gotham just because the team was recently eliminated from postseason play.
At issue for the Knicks, specifically, are the fates of Jeremy Lin (no, Linsanity never dies, it just takes a little time off every now and again) and Steve Novak, both of whom were claimed off of waivers by New York during the regular season. Amazingly, not only did both players do what is rarely, if ever, done – playing exceptionally well for their new team, and in the process increasing their free agent market value to heights never before seen by a waiver pickup – but they also happened to land on a team with less financial wiggle room than Fred Wilpon at an investor’s seminar. It’s a perfect storm, if you will.
Under the rules as presently interpreted, the Knicks are likely to retain one of Lin and Novak – the smart money is on the former, obviously – but probably not both unless the pair was to settle for less than what they are worth on the open market (and we know how often that happens). The impact, therefore, of a ruling in the union’s favor would be immeasurable to New York, as the team would not only be able to keep both players, but also free up resources to pursue other much-needed free agents.
The union actually has a compelling argument that only players who clear waivers – and are thereafter free agents – should lose their Bird rights, but when strictly viewed as against the applicable provision in the CBA which explicitly says otherwise, it is hard to see how the league’s position on this matter will be reversed.
And besides, does Carmelo Anthony really need additional talented teammates to not pass the ball to? (I keed, I keed!)