Last summer's lockout compressed the season to just 66 games, delayed opening night by six weeks and generated no end of animosity between players, management and fans. But the endless negotiations failed to settle a couple of minor issues - one of which could really benefit both Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks.
At issue is the question of whether or not a player's "Larry Bird" rights remain intact when he is claimed off waivers.
Under current rules, a player's service time under his contract is transmitted to his new team when he's traded. For example: Player X is traded during the second-year of a two-year contract. When his contract expires, Player X is eligible to be re-signed using the "early Bird" cap exception, which teams can use to re-sign players that have been under contract for two seasons.
Now... if Player X is waived and claimed before waivers expire, he is still bound to the terms of his original contract. But when that contract expires, the new team cannot use the Bird Exception to re-sign. Or, at least that's the current interpretation of the rules... they're a bit fuzzy on the point, which is why this will go to an arbitrator.
Why does this matter to the Knicks?
As is so often the case, it all comes back to Jeremy Lin.
Lin will be a restricted free agent this summer. Teams will be able to offer him contracts topping out at approximately $5 million per year, which the Knicks will have the option of matching using their mid level exception. If they had the option of using the Bird exception to re-sign Lin, general manager Glen Grunwald might be able to use the mid-level exception on another free agent or two... maybe a badly-needed backup point guard or shooter that can play the two.
As an added bonus for Grunwald - Steve Novak's status is the same as Lin's. So if the NBPA wins this arbitration case, the Knicks may have an easier time retaining both of this season's big waiver-claim finds.
This issue has never really come up before; most of the time, players claimed off waivers are marginal performers at best. (Otherwise, they wouldn't have been on waivers.) I think we can safely say that Lin is the first NBA player to be claimed off waivers twice and appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated - also twice - in the same season.