Jobu puts the Jeremy Lin situation to bed.
The Knicks finally announced on Tuesday what everyone has known they were going to announce since the Raymond Felton rumors began over the weekend. They would not be matching the offer sheet Jeremy Lin signed with Houston, allowing Mr. Lin to mosey on down to Texas to become a Rocket. After repeatedly throwing their support behind Lin in the early off-season, business (and owner James Dolan’s personal feelings) got in the way and now he is gone. So, now that the dust has settled… Was this a good move for the Knicks?
First of all, this has been one of the more ridiculous sagas in the history of me giving a crap about basketball (that’s not that long a period, btw). The Knicks had exclusive negotiation rights with Lin when the season ended, and they didn’t do anything to sign him. In fact, they actually tried to negotiate a trade to bring Steve Nash on board to start at the point. This made Lin, who captivated the entire city last season and probably deserved a little more respect than that, a little upset. After they piddled away their exclusive negotiation period, the Knicks ownership (aka Dolan) got all upset when Lin actually began negotiating with other teams! The nerve! It’s like when Rachel told Ross she wanted a break, and then he slept with someone and she never let him live it down (WE WERE ON A BREEAAAAAAAAAK!).
Either way, all along, the Knicks front office said they would match any offer Lin got “short of one billion dollars.” Now, either someone doesn’t know their numbers, or the Knicks completely overplayed their hand in this situation. I don’t think they ever thought Lin would get a solid deal from another team, let alone a three year, $24MM one like the one he got from Houston. Imagine their surprise when Lin not only got that deal, but chose to sign the offer sheet! This sent Dolan, who revealed himself as the sixteen-year-old girl he really is, into a tiffy. The Knicks reportedly avoided receiving the offer sheet (which, by NBA rules, had to be hand delivered) to buy themselves time to think (I totally hear you guys in there! I see your shadow behind the laaaamp! just let me in and take this offer sheet!), and then Dolan basically made a personal decision to not bring Lin back because he dared ask for more money (so sayeth the rumor mill).
If this is the case, I kind of hope the Knicks lose 75 games next season. I’m pretty disgusted by the entire team, from the management on down to the locker room. During this debacle of a negotiation, Carmelo Anthony came out and backhandedly said that he enjoyed playing with Lin, but it was up to the Knicks to match “that ridiculous contract.” If you really support someone, and want them on your team, you don’t make statements like that. A couple of days later, teammate J.R. Smith came out and said that, if the Knicks were to match the offer sheet from Houston, a lot of people in the locker room would be upset about it. I wonder how many of those “lots” of people were named J.R. Smith. Egos, whether they were in the locker room or the front office, paved the way for Lin to walk.
Ok now that that’s all out of the way, this actually isn’t the worst decision for the Knicks. Yes Jeremy Lin lit up New York last season. Yes, he will bring millions from merchandising sales and attendance, not to mention the whole Asian market thing (the Rockets made millions in shoe deals and overseas advertising, etc, when they had Yao Ming). On the one hand, you can’t really put a number value on that. It’s probably in the millions! On the other hand, you can’t really put a number on that… period. You can put a number on the luxury tax hit the Knicks would have taken in year three of Lin’s deal, and it’s a pretty huge number.
Part of the negotiations involved in this off-season’s collective bargaining agreement was giving restricted free agents (like Lin) more leverage in their contract negotiations. They basically had no rights before, unless they got a completely ridiculous contract offer. The fix from this year’s new agreement changed the rules of how a restricted free agent’s salary counts against the cap of the two teams involved (the team trying to sign him away and the team with the right to match the contract). Let’s use Lin’s contract as an example. The offer sheet he signed with the Rockets called for a deal that would pay him roughly $5MM in each of the first two seasons of the deal, and $15MM in the final season. The Rockets, as the team trying to get Lin, would take a yearly cap hit equivalent to the average yearly salary of the deal, or roughly $8MM per season. The Knicks, meanwhile, would get a $5 MM cap hit in the first two years, and an unsightly $15MM the third (face value).
This gives the restricted free agent more leverage because he can sign a back-loaded contract, which the incumbent team is far less likely to match (if he wants to leave). In this case, the Rockets made a smart move because no one, especially the Knicks, wants to absorb that kind of cap hit on a guy with really 25 good NBA games under his belt. Why especially the Knicks? Why, because they already have $60.5 MM tied up in three players for the 2015 season. Amar’e Stoudemire and his mean left hook (hee hee) are set to make $23 MM that year, and so is Carmelo Anthony. Throw in the $14.5 that will be owed to Tyson Chandler, and maybe your wallet would tighten up a bit too (those prices truly are Linsane).
Another part of the collective bargaining agreement signed this off-season levied much stricter luxury taxes in the years to come, which would include that 2015 season. If they agreed to match Lin’s contract, the Knicks wouldn’t just owe him $15MM. Because of the stricter tax, they’d owe the league another $30-$40 MM. You can point to the endorsements, attendance and merchandise sales the whole Linsanity thing generated in it’s short burst last season (not to mention the hike the MSG stock experienced too), but how much money will that really bring in? It might cover the luxury tax but, if it doesn’t, the team is screwed. This was a very smart contract offer by the Houston Rockets, who regretfully cut Lin in training camp before the Knicks had him last year (they already had Kyle Lowry and Goren Dragic on the roster).
At the end of the day, this situation goes a lot further than the Rockets shrewd contract offer. The Knicks have so many bad contracts on their payroll that they simply couldn’t risk the final year of the Lin contract. They found their out when they acquired Raymond Felton in a sign-and-trade, along with the age-less wonder Kurt Thomas, for Jared Jeffries, Dan Gadzuric, the rights to Kostas Papanikolaou and Giorgos Printezis (the Greek Connection!) and a second round pick. As with the other trade the Knicks made last week, this seems like a lot for a guy who played 50 good games in 2010 and then was fat and terrible in Portland in 2011. They’ve also guaranteed him the starting job in front of Jason Kidd. That’s probably the right move considering Kidd’s age and 2012 injuries, but is Felton really a starting point guard? (Not that I’m saying Jeremy Lin is either).
Anyway, business is business. Knicks fans are already calling this the worst mistake in NBA history, so it’s good to see they are keeping their composure on this issue. This move will undoubtedly have severe backlash as far as public opinion and ticket sales go. Also, this Knicks team really isn’t that good, and they’ve spent the entire off-season getting older and not securing any players that will help them in the years to come (except maybe Iman Shumpert, whom they have managed not to trade or give away yet). Outside of Stoudemire, Anthony and Chandler, they don’t have a lot going for them. At least they brought back Smith and Steve Novak to provide a lift off the bench (and I guess Kidd and Camby too if they manage to stay healthy).
If the Knicks win early, the fans will forget Lindemonium. They’ll be too busy rejoicing with Anthony-itis and Stoudemiration. If they falter early, and those huge egos in the locker room don’t get along well, it’s going to be one ugly season in New York. Houston, meanwhile, better stock up on their straight-jackets and padded rooms, because Linsanity can spread awfully quickly, and there is no cure… unless he ends up being terrible.
Featured image courtesy of: (Ray Stubblebine / Reuters)
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