Jeremy Lin and three other players will maintain valuable rights in free agency after an arbitrator's ruling.
The National Basketball Players Association said Friday that arbitrator Kenneth Dam affirmed its position that players claimed off waivers can use their ''Bird'' and ''Early Bird'' rights. The union argued that Lin, Knicks teammate Steve Novak, the Clippers' Chauncey Billups and Portland's J.J. Hickson should be covered by the exceptions that allow clubs to exceed their salary caps to re-sign their own players.
The NBA said it would appeal the ruling.
All four players were waived this season and claimed by other teams. They will become free agents July 1.
The ruling should help the Knicks' hopes of keeping both Lin, their starting point guard, and Novak, who led the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage. They are expected to re-sign Lin no matter what but would have been limited in their other options beyond that if they couldn't use Bird rights.
Teams can sign a player using the Bird exception if the player was with them for some or all of each of the prior three consecutive seasons. The Early Bird rights apply to players who played for the team for some or all of each of the prior two consecutive seasons.
According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the player keeps his rights if he changes teams by trade. The NBPA argued that a player and his contract going from one team to another also should maintain his rights through a waiver claim.
Lin and Novak will enter the free agency period with Early Bird rights, while Billups and Hickson will have full Bird rights — named for Larry Bird. The ruling also will apply to future players claimed off waivers.
''Bird and Early Bird rights are the lynchpin of our Soft Cap system, and we're pleased that Professor Dam recognized that a player does not forfeit these important rights unless he makes an affirmative decision to sign with a new team as a free agent,'' NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter said in a statement. ''Players fought hard for a Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows maximum flexibility for free agent players while also permitting teams to retain their core free agents, and today's decision affirms both of these important principles.''