FILE - This Feb. 24, 2012 file photo shows New York Knicks' Jeremy Lin laughing during warmups before the start of the NBA All-Star Rising Stars Challenge basketball game in Orlando, Fla. This would have been such an easy decision in February. Lin was the biggest thing in basketball, and no way the Knicks would have let him go elsewhere. Now, knowing his price and with no assurance he'll play as he did when Linsanity reigned, the Knicks may allow Lin to leave for Houston. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
HOUSTON — Time to make a decision, New York.
Keep Jeremy Lin, or let him go?
The Knicks have until 11:59 p.m. EDT Tuesday to match Houston’s three-year, $25 million offer sheet or release Lin, who became an international phenomenon during a dazzling February. A person with direct knowledge of the process says the Rockets delivered the offer sheet to the Knicks late Saturday. But the Knicks have never officially acknowledged receiving it, so not even the Rockets were certain if New York planned to honor the deadline.
Lin initially agreed to a four-year offer sheet worth about $28 million. The Rockets threw a curveball at the Knicks by revising the offer and making it three years and including a guaranteed salary of about $15 million in the third year. If the Knicks agreed to that deal, they’d have to pay a hefty luxury tax in 2014-15 — between $30-40 million
One sports consultant said the adjustment to the offer sheet was a stroke of genius by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
“The Rockets deserve a lot of credit for the way they’ve gone about this,” said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based SportsCorp. “It was extremely intelligent — with an assassin’s touch.”
Ganis says the Knicks should swallow the “poison pill” anyway, because of the immeasurable value that Lin, the league’s first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent to play in the NBA, added to the franchise internationally. He says the Knicks would not directly recoup the luxury-tax hit, but Lin would drive higher television ratings and continue to raise the team’s profile in Asia, a prosperous market for the NBA since Yao Ming played for the Rockets.
“The Knicks, as important and as relevant as the Knicks’ brand is in New York, it became internationally known by adding Jeremy Lin to it,” Ganis said. “I can’t speak to whether it’s a good basketball decision. But from a marketing standpoint, I’d say it’s a very poor decision.”
David Schwab, who specializes in matching brands with celebrities as managing director at Octagon First Call, says the Knicks would be gambling by re-signing Lin, who started only 25 games last season before he was sidelined with torn cartilage in his left knee.
“There’s a risk he gets hurt, there’s a risk he’s not a star, there’s a risk that he’s not at the same level where he was when he played,” Schwab said. “Do I think the opportunity is there and have they built good will and do they have the luxury of going to marketplace and figuring that out? Yes. But you also have to believe that for the past six months, that’s what they’ve been doing.”
Lin’s life has been a whirlwind since last December, when he spent less than two weeks in Rockets’ training camp. The Rockets liked what they saw in the undrafted Harvard graduate, but had to waive him because they had Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic on the roster.
The Knicks picked him up and Lin was once again relegated to the bench, behind Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby. Lin was briefly demoted to the developmental league, recalled and finally got his chance when coach Mike D’Antoni put him in with the Knicks floundering at 8-15. Lin scored a career-high 25 points in a 99-92 win over New Jersey Nets and “Linsanity” was born.
Lin had slept on teammate Landry Fields’ couch the night before, still refusing to get his own place as he headed into that week, knowing the Knicks would have to decide whether to cut him or guarantee his contract for the rest of the season.
But Lin proved more than just an overnight sensation — he had 28 and 23 points in his first two NBA starts, then scored a career-high 38 in a 92-85 victory over Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The stock price for Madison Square Garden Inc. surged on the production and popularity of the team’s international star. Lin also made the Sports Illustrated cover in consecutive weeks, only the 12th athlete to hold that distinction since 1990. On Tuesday, Lin had more than 829,000 followers on Twitter.
The more opponents saw Lin, though, the more they seemed to figure him out as the season wore on. He went 1-for-11 with eight turnovers in a humbling, nationally televised loss in Miami and the Knicks dropped their first six games in March.
D’Antoni resigned in mid-March and Lin hurt his left knee less than two weeks later. The Knicks revealed on April 1 that Lin needed surgery to repair a meniscus tear and would miss six weeks.
The Knicks made the playoffs behind surging Carmelo Anthony, but bowed out to Miami in the first round. The Rockets, meanwhile, missed the postseason for the third straight year and have spent the offseason completely rebuilding their roster.
Houston has been trying to put together a package of assets and draft picks to offer Orlando in exchange for disgruntled All-Star center Dwight Howard. In the process, the Rockets lost the unrestricted free agent Dragic to Phoenix, then traded Lowry to Toronto in exchange for a future first-round pick with lottery protection.
With no true point guard left on the roster, the Rockets turned back to Lin. The Knicks may have shown their hand when they brought back Raymond Felton in a sign-and-trade deal with Portland. Felton averaged 17 points and nine assists in 54 games for New York in 2010-11, before he was traded to Denver as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal in February 2011.
Houston, meanwhile, jumped at the chance to reacquire their popularity in China, where Yao became a larger-than-life figure. Many Rockets landed lucrative shoe contracts with Chinese companies on Yao’s coattails and Rockets’ games drew massive television ratings there.
While Lin is an American success story, Schwab thinks he would reopen in-roads the team established during Yao’s eight seasons (2002-11).
“Teams base their decisions on wins and losses, because wins and losses ultimately affect ticket sales, sponsorships,” Schwab said. “I still think it’s a win-loss decision, but I think, in their case, it’s weighed more as a marketing decision. They’ve got more to gain right now, with a decade of Yao and companies they’ve done business with. They’ve got kind of the next frontier there.”