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Beck: Arbitrator Gives Blazers F J.J. Hickson His Bird Rights

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Howard Beck of the New York Times reports that the National Basketball Players Association prevailed over the NBA in its arbitration case aimed at granting Bird Rights to players who were claimed off of waivers. Beck also reports on Twitter that the NBA plans to appeal the ruling. The ruling affects Portland Trail Blazers forward J.J. Hickson, who was claimed off of waivers after he was released by the Sacramento Kings back in March. ----------------------------- The ruling means that both Lin and Steve Novak of the Knicks will be able to re-sign with the team without respect to the salary cap, for a starting salary around $5 million each. Just as critically, it means that the Knicks will not need to use their midlevel exception to sign either player, which will allow them to use that slot for another free agent. The ruling — which applies to any player who was claimed off waivers — also affects Chauncey Billups of the Los Angeles Clippers and J. J. Hickson of the Portland Trail Blazers. Billups and Hickson will now have full Bird rights, allowing them to re-sign with their teams for any amount up to the maximum salary. ----------------------------- Here's the statement from the NBPA. ----------------------------- Arbitrator Kenneth Dam today affirmed the National Basketball Players Association’s position that players claimed off waivers retain their valuable "Bird" and "Early Bird" rights when they become free agents. As a result of the arbitrator’s decision, Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak of the New York Knicks will enter the 2012-13 free agency period with "Early Bird" rights, and Chauncey Billups of the Los Angeles Clippers and J.J. Hickson of the Portland Trail Blazers will enter the 2012-13 free agency period with full "Bird" rights. Future players claimed off waivers will likewise benefit from today’s ruling. "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. "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." ----------------------------- How does this impact the Blazers? A few notes from Storyteller. Previously, Hickson's cap hold would have been $4.4 million and the Blazers would have needed to use salary cap space (if under the salary cap) or one of their exceptions -- most likely the mid-level -- (if over the salary cap) to re-sign Hickson. With this ruling, Hickson's cap hold increases to $5.9 million, cutting into Portland's cap space slightly for the time being. However, the Blazers can now sign Hickson with cap space (if under the salary cap) or they can re-sign him without needing to use the mid-level exception or any other exceptions (if they go over the cap). Portland can also now offer Hickson a 5-year contract rather than a 4-year deal previously. The ruling essentially puts Hickson into the same boat as forward Nicolas Batum. From an order of operations standpoint, the Blazers can now theoretically load up on salary in advance of the free agency period without worrying that the presence of incoming salary will compromise their ability to retain Hickson. It also frees up the mid-level exception for use on another free agent if the Blazers wind up over the salary cap. The Blazers have until June 30 to extend a qualifying offer to Hickson. Hickson, 23, averaged 15.1 points and 8.3 rebounds in 19 games down the stretch for the Blazers last season. He holds career averages of 9.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Update: The Blazers say that their executives are "unavailable for comment" on the ruling as they are in Houston on their grand Joel Freeland mission. -- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter
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