Jump to content

NBA Players Union: Early Bird Rights..


Recommended Posts

This one is for SMC and all the other people in the legal field.

Union Seeks Clarification of Bird Rights; Knicks Could Benefit


Published: May 14, 2012

The N.B.A. players union is asking an arbitrator to clarify certain free-agent rights, in a case that could immeasurably benefit the Knicks this summer, according to several people involved in the process.

Off the Dribble



Roster | Player Stats

The case concerns what are known as “Bird rights,” which allow a player to re-sign with his team, without regard to the salary cap. The league contends those rights are lost when a player changes teams through waivers. The union is challenging that interpretation.

If the union prevails, the Knicks would be able to re-sign both Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak, their two top free agents, despite cap constraints. They would also retain a $5 million salary slot — known as the mid-level exception — for use on another player, possibly J.R. Smith, who might opt out of his Knicks contract.

But if the union’s challenge fails, the Knicks will probably lose Novak and possibly Smith, when free agency opens in July. And they will have little ability to sign significant a free agent — such as Steve Nash — once they re-sign Lin.

The union sent a letter seeking arbitration on Monday and hopes to have the matter settled by the time free agency opens on July 1. The union and the league must first select an arbitrator.

The case could also affect J.J. Hickson of the Portland Trail Blazers and Chauncey Billups of the Los Angeles Clippers,.

At issue is whether a player retains his Bird rights when he is claimed off waivers, as Lin, Novak, Hickson and Billups were this season.

The union contends that a claimed player on waivers should retain all contractual benefits, just as a player does when he is traded. The league disagrees, based on a clause in the labor agreement that indicates Bird rights are lost when a player is waived, even if another team claims him.

Although the Bird rules have been in place for years, earning their name during collective bargaining in the early ‘80s because they would theoretically allow the Celtics to re-sign Larry Bird, this specific dispute had never arisen until now. For one, N.B.A. players are rarely claimed off waivers. And most waived players are not valuable enough for a team to invoke his Bird rights.

That changed in a rather dramatic fashion this season, when Lin and Novak – who were both playing on minimum contracts – had breakout seasons for the Knicks after being claimed on waivers in December. Both could receive lucrative, multiyear offers this summer.

If Lin and Novak are determined to have “early-Bird” rights, the Knicks could pay each one a starting salary up to the league average, about $5.7 million. Without those rights, the Knicks could only offer small raises, unless they used a cap exception, the midlevel ($5 million) or the biannual ($1.9 million).

The Knicks would almost certainly need the entire midlevel to sign Lin, leaving them unable to compete for Novak and Smith.

N.B.A. lawyers consider the matter cut and dried, based on definitions contained in the collective bargaining agreement. But experts across the league believed otherwise when the issue first came up. Three general managers asked in February all believed that Lin had retained his “early-Bird” rights.

The league then clarified its view, and the union began pondering whether to challenge it.

A player earns Bird rights by playing for the same team in consecutive years – two years for “early-Bird” rights and three years for full Bird rights. An early-Bird player is eligible for the average player salary, without respect to the salary cap. A player with full Bird rights can sign for up to the maximum salary.

Novak and Lin had earned early-Bird rights before they were waived last December, Novak by the San Antonio Spurs and Lin by the Golden State Warriors. (Lin was subsequently claimed, and waived again, by the Houston Rockets, before joining the Knicks.)

Hickson and Billups had full Bird rights before being waived (Hickson by Sacramento and Billups by the Knicks).

In general, a player retains his Bird rights in a trade, because his contract transfers with him. The union contends that the same principle should apply when a player is claimed off waivers, because his contract is still in effect and -- similar to a trade -- the player did not choose his next team.

In the union’s view, Bird rights should only expire when a player clears waivers, because at that point he is a free agent who can choose a new team and sign a new contract.

The union contends that the entire rationale for allowing Bird rights to transfer was to protect players who changed teams against their will -- a principle that could apply to both trades and waiver claims. (The section of the uniform player contract that deals with waiver claims, in fact, cross references the rules governing trades.)

So union officials believe the spirit of the rule favors them. But if the arbitrator goes by the letter of the law, the union will likely lose the case and the Knicks will likely lose some key players.


I can't be sure if my Knicks' fanhood is biasing me, but I have to agree with the union in this circumstance. The transfer of a player's Bird rights was put in place to help a player who change teams against their will under their same contract. I don't have a legal background, but it seems as though said player should keep the Bird rights on that contract seeing as though his original contract was never voided by being claimed off waivers.

Regardless, from the article it seems as though this hasn't been much of an issue before, but if waived players do not get any sort of Bird rights, then shouldn't the NBA get rid of the waiver system?? If players aren't being protected in that system then why does the league even have it. However, seeing as I know nothing of the legal system, it'd be better for someone who does to share their thoughts.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...