The NBA decided Friday that the Knicks are not eligible to use a disabled player exception to replace Cuttino Mobley, who retired in December because of a heart condition.
The exception, according to the NBA collective-bargaining agreement, would have allowed the Knicks to spend up to $4.45 million -- half of Mobley's salary -- to acquire a replacement player.
Now it is believed the Knicks will hold on to Mobley's rights as a possible trade chip for a future deal. Mobley will be an expiring contract next season worth $9.5 million.
One example of how this could work in the Knicks' favor came last spring, when the Mavericks used retired Keith Van Horn's contract to complete the Jason Kidd trade with the Nets.
"I don't know what we're going to do," Donnie Walsh said yesterday from Indiana, where the Knicks played the Pacers last night at Conseco Fieldhouse. "It's our option. There's no pressure to waive him right now."
The basis of the league's decision was that Mobley previously had a known heart-related issue before the Knicks acquired him from the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 21 in a four-player trade that shed Zach Randolph's $17.3-million salary off the 2010-11 payroll.
The Knicks had planned to put Mobley, who averaged 16 points per game in his 11-season NBA career, in the shooting guard spot vacated by Jamal Crawford, who was traded in a separate deal on the same day.
"They said we didn't meet their standard, which is the injury has to occur after the trade; their determination was it didn't," Walsh said of the league's ruling. "I think it's a little different with the heart, but I don't want to get into it."
Mobley, who never played for the Knicks, retired Dec. 11 after the collective diagnosis of several specialists said his condition, known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, had progressed to the point that playing professional basketball could be life-threatening.
Mobley's previous teams -- the Clippers and Houston Rockets -- were aware of the condition, but it was not as severe at the time and Mobley was cleared to play.
Mobley was averaging 13.7 points and 33.2 minutes in 11 games with the Clippers at the time of the trade. But results of a routine physical, which is a requirement of all trades, concerned the Knicks' medical staff enough for the team to send Mobley to a specialist.
This is why the Knicks argue that it was not discovered until after the trade that Mobley's heart condition had reached such a severe state.
"The guy played [for the Clippers right before the trade]," Walsh said, "so when did the injury occur?"
But after the initial concerns, Walsh could have turned down the trade or demanded that the Clippers replace Mobley with another player to complete the deal. Instead, Walsh waived the physical just to complete the trade, which suggested the main motivation of the deal was to unload Randolph's hefty contract.
Between Randolph and Crawford, the Knicks -- who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday -- saved $27 million in payroll for 2010, when the team plans to be a major player in what is expected to be a bountiful free-agent market. And now they were seeking $4.45 million -- which wouldn't have to be used until October -- to spend on another player.