12:20 pm Jul. 6, 20126
For all the speculation about Jeremy Lin's 2012-13 destination, it's always seemed most likely that he was going to stay right where he is.
Lin is a restricted free agent, meaning that the New York Knicks could match any offer from another team. Sure, another team could theoretically offer Lin so much money that the Knicks wouldn't want to match. But exactly how the mechanics of that worked were unclear; Lin is an accomplished N.B.A. point guard, if in limited action, and a marketing machine who printed money for the Knicks last season. The price point for Lin to become too expensive was set, according to a source with the Knicks, at $1 billion. And that sounded about right.
So the offer from the Houston Rockets, which calls for Lin to earn a guaranteed $19.5 million over three years with a fourth-year team option, falls far short of the theoretical poison-pill contract that would cause the Knicks to think twice about retaining Lin.
In several ways, the contract is a bargain.
Let's consider the best comparison to Lin's free agency this summer: point guard Goran Dragic.
Dragic had been an effective backup point guard for the Houston Rockets, and agreed to a four-year, $34 million contract with the Phoenix Suns Wednesday night.
Last season, Dragic performed at a higher level in his age-25 season than he had in his first three years in the league. His assist percentage of 32.5 was a solid one. His turnoever rate of 18.7 was quite good. And his shooting of 46 percent overall, 34 percent from three-point range, and 80 percent when he got to the line helped keep defenses honest. He started 28 games, with a total of 36 starts to his credit in his career.
Most of those numbers pale in comparison to Lin's. His assist percentage, the most important job a point guard has, blows away Dragic's, checking in at 41 percent. His turnover rate was a bit higher, at 21.4 percent, but not nearly enough to even things out. And Lin's shooting was comparable (45 percent overall, 32 percent from three, 80 percent from the line) while he took an additional three shots every 36 minutes.
Player efficiency rating captures the overall difference. League average is 15. Dragic was at 18 last year, 14.8 for his career. So the Suns are betting that last season marks a new level of play for him.
Lin, at age 23, posted a PER of 19.9 last year. For reference, that ranked eighth in the league last season among point guards, just below the prime-level seasons of Steve Nash and Deron Williams. Nash didn't reach Lin's level of play until he was 27, though. And Williams did it in his age-23 season, just like Lin.
So for roughly half the guaranteed money Dragic received, the Knicks can employ a point guard whose playing record suggests he is far likelier to end up among the elite point guards in the league than Dragic is.
But you haven't heard of Goran Dragic, you might say. Well, that is the other advantage Jeremy Lin enjoys.
It is fair to say that for roughly half the guaranteed money, Lin will bring in far more revenue for the Knicks through marketing than Goran Dragic will for the Phoenix Suns, or even what Dragic would have for the Knicks. Let's say Lin doesn't pan out for whatever reason, either because he cannot stand the rigors of a full N.B.A. season, an unknown at this point, or his play drops off.
The major hit the Knicks take with Lin at that point is the $9.3 million he is guaranteed in year three of the deal he agreed to with Houston. If the Knicks are that worried about paying for that, a doubtful proposition, they can simply put the extra money Linsanity will provide next season alone, and put it in a piggy bank to pay Lin's third season salary.
In all likelihood, however, Lin's third-year salary of $9.3 million—which he will earn in his age-26 season, while Deron Williams is getting paid twice that for his age-30 season—will look like a bargain.