The Portland Trail Blazers have a vested interest in the hearings taking place about Bird Rights and whether they still apply to players that have been released or waived. J.J. Hickson got released by the Sacramento Kings this past season, giving the Blazers the chance to scoop him up and have him play heavy minutes for the team down the stretch. I thought he was a nice boost to the roster and that the energy he provided is something that the team should try to hold onto moving forward.
The trick to players like Hickson, who will become a free agent during the offseason, is that if they keep their Bird Rights they can re-sign with the same team at a rate higher than the midlevel exception. It allows a team to re-sign players without having to worry about the salary cap and then use the midlevel exception to bring in another free agent at a higher rate than the veteran's minimum.
An arbitrator has heard the case from the NBA players' association, with J.J. Hickson, Steve Novak and Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks and Chauncey Billups of the Los Angeles Clippers having a lot of interest in how the case plays out. The ruling will definitely have a larger impact on what the Knicks can do, because they want to get Novak and Lin back and still have that exception open to bring in yet another free agent.
When it comes to the Blazers and Hickson, the team would be best served if he were to retain his Bird Rights. It would allow the franchise to make trades, bring in the picks from the 2012 NBA Draft and sign Nicolas Batum to a long-term deal. All of those moves would still allow the Blazers the opportunity to sign Hickson to a contract later, giving the franchise more room to work with the midlevel exception.
Even if the arbitrator rules against the players in this case, Portland won't get hurt too badly, but at least if Hickson could retain his Bird Rights it would make his contract much more flexible for the franchise. All of this assumes that Portland wants to bring back Hickson though, which is a move I really hope that the team decides to make. Hickson is the type of worker that could help this team no matter which direction it goes in 2012-13.
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*Ryan is a Northwest bred sports fan that has been a Portland Trail Blazers fan for years. He has high hopes that the Blazers can make it to the Western Conference Playoffs again next year.