Is Lin a Lock to Return to New York?
With the news that Jeremy Lin is on his way to Houston to visit with the Rockets and general manager Daryl Morey, some are wondering if Lin’s days as a Knick are nearing an end. If Morey signs Lin to a back-loaded contract, what are the chances he’ll be wearing a Knicks uniform on opening night next season? Would the Knicks be willing to match a contract containing a so-called “poison pill” to keep Linsanity alive in NYC? In a word, “yes.”
It is obviously difficult to be too sure about anything in today’s unpredictable NBA, but for those in the know, there is very little doubt that New York will do whatever it takes in order to ensure Jeremy Lin remains a Knickerbocker.
We could discuss the incredibly impressive statistics he posted during his short stint as the team’s starting point guard (during his 25 games as a starter, Lin averaged 18.2 points, 7.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 2 steals); however, in the grand scheme of things, those numbers are merely of marginal importance. Lin’s on-court production is only relevant if we are debating whether or not Lin deserves a contract that could average over $8 million per season. In reality, the reason GM Glen Grunwald, and especially owner Jim Dolan, are highly incentivized to bring Lin back to New York has more to do with Nielson Ratings and jersey sales, than rebounds or assist-to-turnover ratios.
Consider this: Back on February 20th, the Knicks (a team floating around .500) played the last-place Nets. It was a Monday night. Nothing to get too excited about, right? Wrong. It was at the height of “Linsanity,” which meant folks from Brooklyn to Beijing were buzzing. This seemingly insignificant regular season contest on a Monday night in late February became the single highest-rated regular season event on MSG since the network began tracking household ratings at the start of the 1988-89 NBA season. Per an MSG networks press release, the telecast garnered a 7.34 Nielsen household rating (542,265 households). It topped the previous regular season high of a 6.78 household rating, which occurred 17 years ago with Michael Jordan’s famous “Double Nickel” game on March 28, 1995 when Jordan scored 55 points in his return to Madison Square Garden after his first NBA retirement. Including playoff games, Lin versus New Jersey was the highest-rated event on MSG since Game 6 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Semifinals when the Knicks defeated the Heat 72-70 at Madison Square Garden. (The highest-rated event ever on MSG was Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, which delivered a 16.18 household rating.)
Through the first seven games on MSG after Lin was installed as the team’s starting point guard, the Knicks’ average household rating has increased 138% compared to the previous 20 games. Ratings for the Knicks 2011-12 regular season telecasts on MSG also set records across every key demographic. MSG’s Knicks telecasts averaged ratings of 1.62 in Adults 25 to 54 and 1.55 in Adults 18-34, and 2.43 in both Males 25 to 54 and Males 18 to 34 – all season high marks.
Scott O’Neil, President of Madison Square Garden Sports, speaking with Jaime O’Grady of the LoHud Journal back in April, further illustrated the incredible impact Lin had on the bottom line inside MSG.
“When Linsanity hit, it was like nothing I have ever experienced in this or any other business. There has never been anything like it. At one point, 45% of all Knicks merchandise sold in The Garden was connected to Jeremy. And that was after just two weeks. We saw a 2000% increase in our online video views. Our television ratings doubled. When compared against any other league-wide measurable, be it sales, page views, you name it, the gap between us and anyone else was unprecedented,” said O’Neil.
According to the NBA, Lin sold more jerseys in February and March than any other player in the league, including Kobe Bryant.
You get the idea. Any way you slice it, Lin is a veritable cash cow for the Knicks franchise.
Like it or not, “basketball reasons” will not be the overriding or deciding factor in Dolan and Grunwald’s decision.
That fact that Lin is undeniably talented, and plays a vital position, and was able to post unimaginably impressive numbers while saving the Knicks season and leading them to seven straight improbable wins at the same time as the team’s leading scorers were sidelined; that’s the cherry on op of the sundae. Factor in that Lin was just 23 years old and learning how to play point guard in the NBA, you understand why many other NBA teams (such as the aforementioned Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks) have singled out Lin as a top priority this offseason.
However, the smart money says Lin will stay right where he is.