May 16 (Bloomberg) -- The New York Knicks’ ability to re-sign Jeremy Lin while maintaining flexibility to add other players will be at stake in an arbitration hearing sought by the National Basketball Association players’ union.
The National Basketball Players Association filed for the hearing to fight a stipulation in the collective bargaining agreement that the league says strips the Knicks of rights allowing teams to exceed the salary cap in re-signing their own players.
The action was taken two days ago on behalf of Lin, Knicks teammate Steve Novak, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chauncey Billups and the Portland Trail Blazers’ J.J. Hickson, the union said in a news release.
At issue is a stipulation in the 2005 and 2011 labor deals that says players maintain their so-called Bird and Early Bird rights if they switch teams “by trade.” Bird rights are named for former Boston Celtics Hall of Fame player Larry Bird, and Early Bird rights are a form of the rule for players who have been in the league a shorter time.
The union argues the rule should include players claimed off waivers.
“Bird and Early Bird rights are among the most valuable rights that players have under the collective bargaining agreement,” Billy Hunter, the union’s executive director, said in a statement. “These rights simply cannot be extinguished in the absence of an affirmative decision by a player to select a team through free agency.”
The NBA interprets the word “trade” as it is commonly used, a swap between two teams. That would not include players who move to a new franchise through waivers, as Lin did in December, joining the Knicks after being waived by the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.
“We are confident that our interpretation of the agreement is correct,” Mike Bass, a spokesman for the NBA, said in a statement.
The four players become free agents on July 1.
Lin is a Harvard University graduate who went from bench warmer last season to the Knicks’ starting point guard in February, averaging 14.6 points and 6.2 assists per game as the Knicks made the playoffs. Novak led the NBA with a .472 3-point shooting percentage. Maintaining their Bird rights would allow the Knicks to re-sign them and use their $5 million mid-level salary-cap exception on another player.
The 23-year-old Lin last played on March 24 before surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He missed the Knicks’ opening-round playoff series with the Miami Heat, which New York lost 4-1.
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