The Knicks are under an immense amount of pressure retain their top free agents (Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak, and J.R. Smith), all of whom made key contributions this past season.
According to our pal Howard Beck of The New York Times, doing so may become much easier for the team to do in the near future.
The NBA Player's Union has asked an arbitrator to clarify rules pertaining to a player's "Bird Rights." The question at hand is whether or not an NBA player carries over his rights once he is claimed off waivers from a new team after being let go by his old one.
These same rights not only usually give way to more lucrative contracts for players coming out of their contract seasons, but also allow teams to go over the salary cap to sign such players as well.
The union is challenging the league's interpretation that players lose their "Bird Rights"completely after being waived, regardless of whether or not they are claimed later. Should the union come out victorious, re-signing both Lin and Novak would seemingly become a much easier task for the Knicks to accomplish. Beck further explains:
If the union prevails, the Knicks would be able to re-sign both Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak, their top free agents, despite cap constraints. They would also retain a $5 million salary slot — known as the midlevel exception — for use on another player, possibly J. R. Smith, who can opt out of his deal.
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 a significant free agent like point guard Steve Nash once they re-sign Lin.
As it stands, the Knicks' Midlevel Exception is all but reserved for Lin, and it's likely that Novak priced himself out of the value of the team's Bi-Annual Exception (worth a tad under $2 million this offseason). With all the significant money available going Lin's way, both Novak and Smith stand to cash in on more lucrative contracts elsewhere.
The appeal of Linsanity and the impact of an efficient floor general on the hardwood make Lin a sensible, as well as likely, candidate to return to New York. Novak's sweet shooting touch and his ability to elevate the Knicks with a boost off the bench should also make him a top-notch priority.
The team will have to be crafty in order to retain both, should the union lose the dispute. If they win, however, New York will not only be able to keep its core intact by bringing back Lin and Novak, but also have room to build upon its existing talent and make improvements too.
How they would decide to do that remains to be seen, and with the dispute still in question, perhaps it's too early to speculate. But everyone knows waiting is no fun!
The Knicks could ultimately opt to throw the newly available cash at J.R. Smith, who proved to be an electrifying half of a strong one-two punch off the bench with Novak. How he gets his points sometimes proves to be a bumpy ride, but Smith nevertheless proved himself as a consistent double-digit scoring reserve. Playing alongside a fully healthy roster, he could thrive by simply scoring within his means and not forcing much else.
But should Smith command even more money in the open market (or if New York simply decides to go in a different direction), perhaps the team would be smart to target a veteran point guard to mentor, spell, and even play alongside Lin for the next year or two.
A prime candidate to fill such a role would certainly be Hall of Fame bound playmaker Jason Kidd. The floor general, who won his first NBA championship with the Mavericks in 2011, has mentioned he may be open to a reserve role next season as he begins to close out his career. Because the Knicks would still be able to offer significant minutes off the pine (in addition to a chance at seriously competing), perhaps Kidd would be open to playing in the Big Apple. Certainly a special request from his good friend and former Mavs teammate Tyson Chandler wouldn't hurt.
As nice as having a bonafide scorer like Smith would be, there's absolutely the possibility that other offensive options emerge off the bench for New York, as they have in past seasons. As exciting and promising as Lin was, he's still young. Furthermore, his run only lasted 39 games. Having a veteran floor general to guide him as looks to continue establishing himself could do wonders for the Knicks.
These are all pleasant possibilities, but the fact of the matter is New York's chances (as well as their hopes) at not only keeping their team intact, but elevating it too, remain up in the air as the union waits for a decision from the arbitrator.