The player's union is challenging the NBA's declaration earlier this year that players who are claimed off waivers lose their Bird rights, Howard Beck of The New York Times reports. The union is seeking an arbitrator's ruling by July 1, which would have significant impact for several free agents and their teams.
If the union is successful with their challenge, it will be easier for many of the teams who claimed players off waivers this year to re-sign their players. The most prominent examples are the Knicks with Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak, the Clippers and Chauncey Billups, and the Blazers and J.J. Hickson. All of those players were claimed off waivers this season and are at the end of their contracts. If the union's challenge is successful, the teams will be allowed to retain those players using either Early Bird, in the case of Lin and Novak, or full Bird rights, as with Billups and Hickson. There were an unusually high number of players claimed off waivers this year, but the other four players on that list were either waived for a second time this season without being claimed, or have contracts in place for next year.
The league clarified its interpretation of the rule earlier this year, shortly after Lin became a sensation for the Knicks. It cited a clause in the collective bargaining agreement that said players lose their Bird rights when they're waived, regardless of whether a team claims them. The union contends that because everything else about a player's contract remains intact if he's claimed off waivers, the Bird rights should remain as well. Bird rights are tied to the number of years a player spends with a team. He must have finished at least two seasons with a team to have Early Bird rights and three for full Bird rights. Beck says that the union's case also compares a waiver transfer to a trade, arguing that because Bird rights are retained in trades, when players are sent to another team against their will, the same should be true when they're waived and claimed, also against their will.
The union and the league must select an arbitrator before the matter can proceed. Since, as Beck writes, much of the union's case centers around the spirit of the law, and the league is going off specific language in the CBA, it seems unlikely the arbitrator will rule in the union's favor. Still, it will be interesting to see how the pending case will affect teams as they prepare for the draft, which takes place three days before the date by which the arbitrator has been asked to rule.