An Appeal for Bird Rights Settlement

Could free agency be delayed by the NBA’s appeal of the recent Bird Rights arbitration hearing?

It’s possible. The NBA Players Association could request an injunction on behalf of the players involved, including Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak, to delay free agency until the appeal process is completed.

The NBA’s appeal could take weeks, possibly months, according to several people with knowledge of the situation on both sides. A panel has to be assembled, the sides have to present their cases and a decision has to be rendered after review. This isn’t something that comes together quickly and with July 11 — the first official signing day — just over two weeks away, there is little chance for closure on this issue in time.

The union would not want to open free agency without a resolution and, privately, the Knicks would prefer to wait until they have a definitive answer so they can execute the proper offseason plan. In the midst of an appeal, the CBA says the Knicks need to follow the letter of the law until further notice. That means they would have to use their Mid-Level Exception to re-sign Lin, which could lead to them losing out on other impact free agents, such as Jason Kidd or Lamar Odom.

What if the appellate panel upholds the decision of arbitrator Kenneth Dam? The NBA would have a major controversy on its hands. Sure the Knicks may have their MLEs back in play, but what if all their top priority targets were already signed elsewhere?

So rather than halt the free agency season while arguing over a definition (the word “trade” as used in the collective bargaining agreement) and negatively impact a franchise’s ability to conduct business, the best case scenario for everyone involved is for the NBA and NBPA to meet and negotiate a settlement in this case.

One reasonable resolution could be for the NBA to grant the arbitrator’s decision be effective strictly for the 2012-13 season, if the NBPA accepts that henceforth, the accepted rule is that Bird Rights transfer only via trade and not via waivers.

It is such a rare case that we may never see this come up again anyway. Players claimed off waivers don’t usually develop a value where Bird Rights are an issue. But this season the emergence of Lin and Novak have created such a scenario, so a one-time exclusion may become the only time it ever comes up again.

The NBA had the right to appeal the decision and followed standard operating procedure. There is a dangerous precedent that could be set by this result because it would open the door for other ambiguities in the CBA to be challenged by the union. The league could not afford to shrug off the decision; especially one that it felt was not an ambiguity.

The NBA feels confident about the appeals process, but as one league source told me, “We didn’t think we’d lose in the first place.” The league fought the Chris Dudley trade to the Knicks in 1997 and after it lost in arbitration — coincidentally Kenneth Dam presided over that as well — the NBA appealed and the decision was upheld.

This time around, with so much uncertainty and too many variables, it seems unlikely that this appeal will ever reach full execution. The sides simply need to get together and, as they did so often six months ago, negotiate a settlement.

J.R. OPTS OUT, BUT WILL STAY IN

J.R. Smith will not pick up the second year of his deal, the New York Times reported on Monday, and will become a free agent on July 1. Smith signed for the pro rated (and shortened season-adjusted) mini-Mid Level Exception in March. He was scheduled to earn $2,443,952 next season.

Don’t be surprised by this decision, but don’t take that to mean he won’t be a Knick next season. Smith could still remain a Knick by re-signing for 120 percent of his previous salary, which would give him a bump to $2,806,452. That is $362,500 more in his pocket than if he picked up his second year option. Right now, that $2.8 million number will serve as his cap hold until he re-signs (or signs with another team).

J.R. has enjoyed being close to his family in New Jersey and regularly said he’d like to stay with the Knicks. What he had to do is make a business decision and it appeared to be a simple one to make.

FIXINS

• Linsanity has gone from a hashtag that trended world wide to an officially registered trademark in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. As reported by the New York Times, Jeremy Lin in February filed to register “Linsanity.” He is now the owner of his own brand and you can expect it to re-emerge with ubiquity by next season as his newly-hired marketing agent, Jim Tanner, will be in charge of growing Linsanity to Air Jordan levels around the globe. You know what would be great? If Lin grew to a similar level on the court.

• Speaking of trademarks, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James couldn’t enjoy their championship without at least one shot at the expense of the Knicks. During a postgame interview on NBA TV, with Matt Winer, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley, the topic came up about how Miami had moments during the playoffs when there was great doubt they could advance.

Barkley pointed out how people thought the Heat might lose to the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics after Miami trailed in both series. Then Wade giggled said: “Don’t forget New York. They said we can lose to New York, too.”

To which LeBron added, “They said that would be a tough series.” More laughing ensued.

“Nobody who knew anything about basketball said that,” Barkley then said, which had the panel hysterical.

Let me remind you here, LeBron was the one in July 2010, before Carmelo Anthony’s wedding, who brashly told his buddies Melo and Chris Paul that if they wanted any chance to win a title against the new-formed Heatles, they should team up with Amar’e in New York. Hours later, Paul made a famous toast. Weeks later, Melo told the Nuggets he wanted to be traded to the Knicks.

I’m telling you now, we’ve only just begun.