Knicks Lose Lin; Get Nothing in Return
* Friday, December 9, 2011: Jeremy Lin is waived by the Golden State Warriors.
* Monday, December 12, 2011: Lin signs as a free agent with the Houston Rockets.
* Saturday, December 24, 2011: On Christmas Eve and the eve of the season opener, the Rockets waive Lin in order to make room on the roster for Samuel Dalembert.
* Tuesday, December 27, 2011: Lin is signed as a free agent with the New York Knicks.
* Tuesday, February 14, 2012: With the clock running down late in the fourth quarter and the Knicks and Raptors tied at 87 apiece, New York’s new starting PG Jeremy Lin holds the ball at the top of the circle. Tyson Chandler starts inching toward the three-point stripe, when Lin vehemently waves him away. With about five seconds left on the clock, Lin takes a few dribbles to gain some rhythm, and launches a three-ball from straight away. When it splashes through the net, the Knicks win and Lin is mobbed by his teammates. (It was New York’s sixth straight win; rather remarkable, considering they were seven games below .500 (8-15) just two weeks prior). Appropriately enough, this all happens on Valentines Day – so many Knicks fans, who had so little to cheer about over the darkness of the prior decade, were falling head-over-heals in love.
The back-story is important to help put the complete narrative in context. The Knicks were once one of the NBA’s flagship enterprises. New York, at its core, is a basketball city. In any borough, on any day of the week, pickup games are aplenty. When the Knicks are winning, or even competitive, there is an energy that engulfs the city. From Riverhead all the way to The Rucker, the Knicks become the talk of the town. Back in the 1990’s, and of course the glory days back in the 70’s, this surging wall of energy would swell and eventually crescendo inside the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden during big games. Prior to this past April, it had been over 10 years since the Knicks had last won a playoff game. And it wasn’t just the innumerable and deflating Knick losses that attempted to suck the basketball spirit out of the city, it was the way they lost, lethargically and without the intense defensive effort that long-suffering Knicks fans had grown accustomed to and now longed for. Moreover, off-the-court issues continually embarrassed the franchise nearly as much as the defeats on the floor. From sexual harassment lawsuits, to a string of fired coaches and front office turmoil, there was not a lot for New Yorkers to take pride in.
Somehow, Linsanity had turned gloomy, hardened and cynical Knicks fans into optimistic fanatics, rooting for the underdog. Their underdog…
* Monday, February 20th, 2012: Linsanity is now at its height. The Knicks are hosting the struggling Nets. Yet, this seemingly insignificant regular season contest on a Monday night in late February becomes 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 garners a 7.34 Nielsen household rating (542,265 households), topping 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.
There were eventually some undeniable bumps in the road once Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire returned the lineup, but the Knicks continued to win a majority of their games. However, Lin injured his knee and attempted to play on it for a couple of games, but was clearly not himself. An MRI revealed that he had torn his meniscus, which would keep him on the shelf for the rest of the season. Nonetheless, there were few who doubted he would return as a Knick next season in an attempt to prove he could come close to replicating his incredible numbers, and win totals.
* Friday, June 22nd, 2012: In a shocking decision, a federal arbitrator rules that Jeremy Lin is entitled to his “early Bird” rights and thus eligible to re-sign with the Knicks without the use of other salary-cap exceptions. New Yorkers are euphoric, as the decision is universally viewed as a major victory for the Knickerbocker franchise.
Since the issue was first raised, most pundits naturally assumed that new Knicks GM Glen Grunwald would unhesitatingly retain Lin by matching any offer sheet his uber-popular point guard received once he became a restricted free agent on July 1st. However, it was also assumed that the Knicks would have to use the entirety of their mid-level exception to do so. Yet, once it was announced that the Knicks would retain Lin’s Bird Rights, which meant they could re-sign Lin without having to burn their MLE, it essentially became a fiat accompli that Lin would be wearing orange and blue on Opening Night next season. And here’s why…
Once presented with the Rockets three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet, the Knicks basically had two choices:
1) Proceed with the roster as currently constituted (i.e. no roster or financial flexibility through 2015) with a 23-year-old PG who averaged over 18 points and nearly 8 assists in 25 career starts;
2) Proceed with the roster as currently constituted (i.e. no roster/financial flexibility through 2015), without that same 23-year-old PG who averaged 18 and 8.
This is a critically important point.
It’s been truly amazing to see how many people have debated back and fourth the last 72 hours about whether Lin “is worth it,” or if Lin is better than Felton or if Lin will ever match those mind-boggling numbers he posted last season.
Those debates all miss the point. Whether the Knicks believe Lin will be better than Michael Jordan, or worse than a 39-year-old Jason Kidd – that’s essentially irrelevant. The Knicks didn’t have to choose between Felton and Lin, or Lin versus any other player for that matter, because they controlled Lin’s Bird Rights. The organizations only choice was whether or not they were willing to pay additional salary to keep Lin in NYC. Having an abundance of PG’s wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. If Felton is out of shape, move him in February. If Lin doesn’t pan out, put him on the trading block.
The fact of the matter is this: Lin was a valuable asset (as evidenced by another NBA organization willing to pay him an average salary of $8.3 million per year for the next three seasons). And when a team, such as New York, is capped out to the hilt for the foreseeable future, and has traded away the lion’s share of its draft picks (past, present and future), holding onto valuable assets becomes imperative.
Lin landed in the Knicks lap like a gift from the basketball Gods, saving their 2011-12 season and reinvigorating the entire franchise. New York then incredibly lucked out once again via an improbable court ruling, which allowed them to retain the PG prodigy without sacrificing either cap space or current talent on the roster.
Yet, somehow, someway, the Knicks let Lin slip away. After all that good fortune, they have absolutely nothing to show for it. And that is inexcusable, on so many levels.
Looking at it strictly from a basketball perspective, it is a “no-brainer” in the truest sense.
What’s the worst case scenario if you do match? If Lin is extremely disappointing to start the season, you simply trade him in February. Even if his value has diminished, there will undoubtedly be interest from an array of teams, as Lin’s combination of youth, promise and marketability is rather unique in today’s NBA. But even if his league-wide value is reduced, he’d still be a decent trade chip in a potential deal. Maybe he nets the Knick a first-round pick, or backup big man or a Traded Player Exception? Something, anything would be better than the NOTHING the Knicks now have.
Again, Grunwald will NOT be able to use that $25 million he “saved” next summer, or in 2014, or anytime, as the Knicks are already way over the cap. NBA general managers match offer sheets on their own restricted free agents the vast majority of the time because the alternative is losing a player/asset and getting nothing in return.
Furthermore, if the Knicks had known they were going to decline matching the exorbitant contract Lin would surely secure, the only prudent option then would be to seek sign-and-trade opportunities for would-be Lin suitors.
* Wednesday, July 11th, 2012: Head Coach Mike Woodson tells New York Newsday that the Knicks “absolutely” will match the four-year, $28.8-million offer sheet Lin will get from the Houston Rockets. “He’ll be our starter and Jason will back him up in terms of helping us develop this young man into a great point guard,” says Woodson.
However, for all intents and purposes, it appears the Knicks had planned to match all along. An now infamous ESPN report even indicated that the Knicks would match any offer “up to one billion dollars.” As late as last week, Knicks representatives were openly declaring that would definitely match. Head Coach Mike Woodson stated on numerous occasions that Lin would “absolutely” return to the Knicks.
But something funny happened on the way to the altar, as apparently the Knicks got cold feet, or, more likely the owner had his feelings hurt. All we know is that something that was once a forgone conclusion fell apart.
The only rational/logical argument against matching Lin’s offer sheet doesn’t pertain to on-the-court roster management; the only line of reasoning against retaining Lin is the luxury tax hit owner James Dolan would have to deal with in 2015. Is this what prevented the Knicks from holding onto a young man (on a roster full of veterans) that plays a crucial position? Extremely odd, considering all the other truly “ridiculous” contracts James Dolan approved during his tenure as team owner. Remember, this is the same guy who signed off on a $29 million contract offer to a 30-year-old Jerome James. Dolan agreed to pay Eddy Curry $56 million. He paid Steve Francis over $15 million for 44 games back in 2006. Heck, Dolan even gave Isiah Thomas a four year, $24 million contract to run the Knicks, and then gave Zeke an extension!
You get the idea.
They say previous actions are the best indicator of future performance, which makes it difficult to accept that all of a sudden Mr. Dolan decided to err on the side of fiscal caution.
More perplexing, Dolan decided to draw a line in the sand at the expense of THIS player? The young, exciting, international phenomenon that padded his pockets last season (for details on Lin monetary impact on the organization last season – click here)
Sadly, but safe to say, there is likely more at play here. Was Dolan offended when Lin purportedly reworked his contract with Houston and informed the Rockets that the Knicks planned to match the initial offer ($19 million guaranteed over three years)?
If so, it’s incredibly shallow and short-sided, especially considering the Knicks asked Lin to set the market by obtaining an offer sheet. He did exactly that. In addition, the whole world knew the Knicks were planning to match the initial offer. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has a Twitter account, and I assume he reads the newspaper or the internet. What exactly could Lin have told Houston that they hadn’t already become keenly aware of?
As for the Knicks’ future, if they are in fact tightening their belts a bit, now would seemingly be an importune time to morph into a stingy, or shall we say fiscally conservative, organization considering the Nets (and their billionaire owner) are moving to Brooklyn as we speak. For the record, the Nets new starting five (Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, and Brook Lopez) will make a combined $72.5 million next season.
Again, the humorous aspect is that we are working under the worst-case scenario (Lin becomes a bust), and doesn’t bring in any money to the organization (high unlikely), which then ends up costing Dolan significant money via the luxury tax three years from now. As we know, there are also many ways to prevent this, such as trading Lin before the tax hit takes effect; or even spreading out Lin’s annual salary via the “stretch provision.”
As alluded to above, the last decade has been difficult for Knicks fans, as the organization has disappointed time and again. Unfortunately, in New York, basketball decisions are too infrequently made strictly on their on-court merits alone. Ego, anger and immaturity often interject when cooler heads and common sense should prevail.
* Tuesday, July 17, 2012: At around 4:00 p.m. EST, Howard Beck of the New York Times breaks the news via Twitter: “Posting momentarily to nytimes.com: Lin will be a Rocket. Knicks deliberations over.”
And just like that, New Yorkers lost Linsanity.
Yet another inexplicable, embarrassing loss that cynical, jaded Knicks fans will be forced to deal with and try to make sense of in the days, weeks and months ahead.