Jeremy Lin era to be blown to bits by James Dolan’s Knicks

Jeremy Lin in Toronto. (nba.com)
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Jeremy Lin was "absolutely" returning to the New York Knicks to start. His contract offer from the Houston Rockets, for three years, $19.5 million plus a fourth-year team option, was one the Knicks would easily match. And Jason Kidd was someone the Knicks were eager to sign and hold up to the limelight—as a mentor to Lin.

But that plan, a sound one for the basketball team, was way back on Friday. Here's what happened this weekend, and why the Knicks may hurt their chances on the court, and squander much of the goodwill they earner from the fans, because of the pique of their owner.

On Friday, the Knicks learned that Lin's agent had returned to the Rockets and negotiated a three-year, $25.1 million contract that will pay Lin close to $15 million in the third year of the contract. The Knicks have until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday night, to match it and keep Lin in New York. The conventional wisdom right now is that the Knicks won't do it.

The Knicks were reportedly incensed about Lin's revised deal. The difference between $9.3 million and $14.98 million in year three of the contract is more than just approximately $5.7 million. The Knicks have a large number of salaries already guaranteed for the 2014-15 season, taking them well over the luxury-tax threshold. The result will be paying a penalty to the league for exceeding the salary cap.

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It's worth remember that they'd be paying this tax no matter what, notwithstanding the media reports that add it onto Lin's prospective salary when talking about just how expensive he'd be to the team now.

The Knicks will be paying Marcus Camby, Raymond Felton—the point guard they traded for over the weekend to potentially replace Lin—and Jason Kidd roughly as much guaranteed money in 2014-15 as they would Jeremy Lin.

So the Knicks first made the decision to prioritize other players ahead of Lin, choosing to let the market dictate his value. That made sense, given that the Knicks had the right to match any Lin offer, and had a bottomless pit of James Dolan's money. But it certainly didn't make sense to prioritize a backup center and two less-promising point guards (one because he's old, and the other just because, well, he's less promising) if it meant letting Lin go.

The Knicks have Kidd, they have Camby, they have their core of Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire. They are in a win-now mode. Lin is their best point-guard option.

Comparisons of Lin and Felton, imperfect as they are given the very different circumstances in which each has compiled his numbers, suggest as much.

Felton played well in 54 games with the Knicks back in 2010-11 before getting traded for Carmelo Anthony. But his success, even then, didn't remotely approach what Jeremy Lin accomplished in his 25 starts with the Knicks.

Lin's PER, which measures overall production with 15 as league average, was 19.9 last season. Felton checked in with a 17.3 in his 54 games with the Knicks, and hasn't approached that in any other spell of his career. He's at 14.4 in a six-year career, 13.4 last season.

So they'd be replacing a point guard who played at a level few point guards ever have, at age 23, with a point guard whose most recent play and an extended career both suggest averageness.

The apparent decision to go with Felton over Lin makes less sense the closer you look.

The Knicks, way back last week, had their coach, Mike Woodson, telling reporters that the Knicks would "absolutely" match the Lin offer at $9.3 million. So the difference between the old offer and the revised offer is comparable to what they are paying Marcus Camby, or Steve Novak and J.R. Smith, or Smith and Felton, etc. And that public certainty alone—echoed by General Manager Glen Grunwald—obviously emboldened the Rockets to increase the offer.

Meanwhile, the Knicks are effectively trading Lin for one of those packages, if they choose not to bring Lin back due to the overall luxury tax issue.

This is made even stranger by the fact that the Knicks would likely make that money back by signing Lin.

Let's say Lin is a productive starting point guard anywhere near the level of his age-23 season. He'd be a bargain in year one and year two of the new contract and far more effective than Felton for a Knicks team that needs to win now. He'll also generate so much additional revenue—you might remember Linsanity—that even if he doesn't become a player worth a max salary in year three, he'd generate more than enough revenue to offset the additional cost.

And if Lin does not live up to expectations, he'd still, in year three, have a huge expiring contract. In the odd world of the N.B.A., that will make him valuable as a trade chip, even if he doesn't play a game. See Eddy Curry, the massive bust the Knicks were able to trade in his contract's final year, among many other examples, for details. The luxury-tax implications of Lin's deal for the Knicks don't transfer in a trade—it would cost another team just what Lin is owed, then giving that team a max contract space to sign a free agent following the 2014-15 season. The same is true if Lin were to become a star, but Amar'e Stoudemire, for instance, continued his decline. The Knicks could simply reduce their bottom line by trading Stoudemire's expiring deal.

Perhaps the Knicks aren't going to match Lin because James Dolan is upset.

Dolan has been the owner of the Knicks for twelve years now. They have not been a well-run team over that time. Donnie Walsh, the only strong personality with basketball sense to have worked for the team during that time, left to take an identical position in Indiana after rebuilding the Knicks from garbage into contenders, then getting overruled in Carmelo Anthony negotiations.

The big positive James Dolan brought to the table was his money. But the problem was that the money was spent so badly, either because Dolan was micromanaging general managers who knew what they were doing or giving free rein to ones who didn't.

Then Jeremy Lin fell into the Knicks' laps. Suddenly, a Big Three of Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire—insufficient to contend for a championship on their own, and too expensive to make room for a necessary floor general like Chris Paul—had a potential star to complement with them for years. It was the kind of lucky break that most N.B.A. teams will never, ever experience.

But now apparently they are made at Lin, and for taking advantage of the Dolan's refusal to engage in preemptive contract talks with him.

So it looks like the Knicks will lose the player who gave New York a reason to root for them last year, turning around yet another train wreck of a season.

It was probably too much to hope that they'd stick with him. 

Elsewhere in New York sports:

KNICKS

Jason Kidd, Lin's would-be mentor, was arrested for DWI Saturday night after crashing his car into a utility pole.

METS

After getting swept in a 6-1 loss to the Braves, the Mets are facing a series with the Nationals to  stay within striking distance of the N.L. wild card.

Lucas Duda's hamstring injury isn't going away yet.

The Mets will watch Matt Harvey's start Monday night, and if he passes the audition, will start him Saturday against the Dodgers. He'll have to demonstrate that he can top Miguel Batista's performance this year, which is eminently possible.

YANKEES

Despite a 10-8 loss to the Angels, the Yankees won the series, and hold an eight-game lead over their closest division rival.

RED BULLS

The Red Bulls posted a 2-2 draw with the Seattle Sounders Sunday, and newly acquired Sebastian Le Toux scored a goal.