This latest error in the disgraceful decade long run of Garden chairman James Dolan may have been his worst. From Isiah Thomas to Stephon Marbury to now Jeremy Lin, Dolan has made all the wrong moves en route to transforming the Knicks from contender to preverbal NBA laughing stock. Tuesday night, the Knicks foolishly waved goodbye to 23 year old point guard Jeremy Lin, as they failed to match Houston’s 3 year $25.1 million offer sheet. Previously thought of as a foregone conclusion, up until the news broke on Saturday of the Raymond Felton sign and trade, the Knicks decision to bid adieu to the dynamic point guard is a shocking one. Dolan’s decision is shocking in that there’s no clear logical reasoning behind it. However, Dolan’s mistake is not shocking at all. Why should we have expected the logical, correct decision to be made? These are the James Dolan led Knicks after all.
Headed into this off-season, the Knicks were primed to take the next step forward. They were coming off a disappointing season, but one that ended with reasons for optimism. New York won its first playoff game since the Louisiana Purchase was made in 1803. Carmelo Anthony found a coach, in Mike Woodson, that he would actually play hard for. The Knicks had found a point guard that could lead them, potentially into greatness, for the next decade. Or so we thought.
If not for Jeremy Lin, there would have been no playoffs for the Knicks last season. New York was floundering at 8-15 before Lin took over against the Nets on that faithful Saturday evening. We were introduced to Linsanity. The Linsanity run ultimately kick started New York on the road to the post season, despite the fact that Lin missed most the second half of the year with a knee injury. Lin not only improved the well being of the Knicks on the court, but his success paid mass dividends for the Knicks off the court as well. MSG stock blew through the roof while the Knicks became one of the most interesting and popular teams in the league. For an organization that loves its money, Lin was a god send. Dolan’s organization had suddenly been given a virtually free pass into a largely untapped market of Asian basketball fans. Sure, Yao Ming was huge in China, but Lin took basketball in China to a different level. This was not the first overall pick having a solid NBA career. This was an un-drafted Harvard graduate doing unprecidented things on the biggest stage in basketball. Had the Knicks re-signed Lin, they would’ve not only had a 23 year old whirling dervish of a point guard, but an international cash cow. This wasn’t good enough for James Dolan.
Having done nothing but fall flat on his face since taking the reins of Madison Square Garden, James Dolan once again made a fool of himself Tuesday night. It wasn’t good enough for Lin to have made Dolan millions of dollars. It wasn’t good enough for Lin to have saved the Knicks season. Dolan wasn’t satisfied with Lin’s potential to catapult the Knicks into an unprecedented level of overseas popularity. No, Mr. James L. Dolan, or “guitar Jim” as commonly referred to in some circles, wanted more. Dolan was unhappy that Jeremy Lin chose Montgomery Sports group. Guitar Jimmy wanted Lin to join his army of company men over at CAA, the talent agency that has unprecedented power inside the organization. That in itself is a mockery, but that is conversation for another day.
Despite Lin’s completely rational decision to not join CAA, I believe Dolan would have moved past that. Neither Amar’e Stoudemire nor Tyson Chandler is a client of CAA. I think the turning point of this whole situation was when Houston changed the terms of the original offer sheet for Lin, who was a restricted free agent.
When the NBA Players Association had won their bird rights appeal in the courts, Jeremy Lin was granted with Early Bird rights. With Lin being a restricted free agent, New York had the ability to match any offer sheet he was offered by another team. Rather than offer him a 4 year $24 million contract, the Knicks told Lin to set his own market. The Houston Rockets and Lin verbally agreed to a 4 year contract, with a player option for the final year. This contract would pay Lin $10 million in each of the final two seasons, were he to opt into the 4th season. By all accounts, the Knicks were very satisfied with this deal and were more than prepared to match it. Everything was turing out according to plan for Lin and the Knicks. However, Houston then came back to Lin with a new three year $25.1 million deal that would pay him $14.8 million in year three. Having been told to set his market, Lin did what any logical business person would do; signing the new offer sheet that would garner him about $5 million more in guaranteed money and an earlier free agent status.
This development made James Dolan and company irate. Nobody double crosses James Dolan and gets away with it, except for most the other 29 teams in the league. Never-mind the fact that Dolan’s Knicks have been out witted on signings and trades for the past decade, they weren’t going to let Jeremy Lin double cross them. They wanted Lin to agree to the original offer sheet, something that would have made no financial sense to a player that made less than $800 thousand dollars for all his troubles last season. How dare he set his own market and make a better business decision for himself! Where was his loyalty? For it was the Knicks who claimed Lin off waivers to fill the 15th spot on the roster, with really no intention to ever play him significant minutes in a game.
Dolan’s self consummated fallacy that Jeremy Lin owed the organization for his mid-season breakout onto the world wide stage is absolutely ludicrous. If anything, it was the Knicks that owed Lin. It isn’t like the Knicks claimed him with the intention of ever giving him a shot to play. New York was days away from cutting Lin and signing somebody else. He got an opportunity out of sheer desperation because the team was so bad. If anything, the Knicks owed Lin the due diligence to make the best business decision for himself.
I believe Lin wanted to be back in New York, but in the end James Dolan’s ego once again reigned supreme. For a man that has pulled all the wrong strings since his inception into power at Madison Square Garden, Dolan once again made a horrible decision. This wasn’t about the massive luxury tax that the Knicks would have had to pay in 2014-2015, were they to pay Lin’s $14.8 million salary. Dolan sleeps with that kind of money under his pillow. This wasn’t about basketball reasons either, as Lin is far and away better than both Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton. Dolan was unhappy that Lin did not take Houston’s original offer sheet because he felt Lin had upstaged him.
In typical James Dolan fashion, he made the completely irrational and incorrect decision. Rather than swallow his ego and make the clearly correct decision, Dolan had to flex his muscles once again and show Lin who is boss. So Lin will take his talents down to Houston while the Knicks are now stuck with 300 pound Raymond Felton and recent DUI recipient Jason Kidd.
Even if Dolan and MSG brass were unsure of Lin’s potential as a basketball player, he was still worth signing. For $5 million in each of the first two years of the contract, they would have been getting good value out of Lin. Even if Lin had bombed in the first two years of the contract, the Knicks would have had an always valuable expiring contract to ship out in year three. As seen by the traded contracts of Eddy Curry, Rashard Lewis and Joe Johnson, no contract in this league is un-tradable. The Knicks could have moved Lin in year three and given themselves roster flexibility moving forward. Also, the stretch exception would have been in play with respect to Lin. New York would have had the ability to cut Lin and stretch his remaining salary out over multiple seasons. For example, the Knicks would have had the ability to cut Lin after year two of the contract and stretch his third year salary over three seasons, thus paying approximately $4.9 million a season.
Jeremy Lin was an asset. In this salary capped NBA, teams don’t give away assets for free because they’re not easily obtained. Many teams would kill to have their hands on 23 year old point guards that average 18 points and 8 assists. The Knicks had one, but thanks to their owner they gave him away for free.
There is no logical reason for why Jeremy Lin is a Houston Rocket today. Only with the Knicks, namely James Dolan, could such a poor decision have been made on account of such idiotic reasoning. The gravitas of this mistake cannot be understated. By letting Lin walk, the Knicks have greatly reduced their chances of contending for a championship. This decision wasn’t Jeremy Lin versus somebody else, this was Jeremy Lin versus nothing. Instead of signing somebody else, the Knicks are now handcuffed due to the salary cap and do not have the ability to sign any significant assets. New York would have been in great position with Jeremy Lin as the starter along with Felton and Jason Kidd as backups. Now Felton and Kidd will have to carry the point guard load for the Knicks, which is almost as scary an idea as the Toney Douglas Hindenburg experiment from last season.
For Dolan, the sports world once again laughs directly into his face. The tyrant of Madison Square Garden reared his ugly head once again Tuesday night. Best known for his baffling loyalty to Isiah Thomas and his disgustingly poor treatment of the New York media, Dolan has added another notch on the saddle. July 17, 2012 will go down in infamy for this New York Knicks franchise. If the Knicks are unable to at least reach a championship in the next three seasons, this decision will be and should be lambasted for years to come. As for Dolan, he’ll go back to bathing in cash, hiding from the media and tossing up the preverbal middle finger to the Knicks fan base.
Jeremy Lin represented the dream that Knicks fans needed. A long suffering fan base, New York Knick fans deserved the magic of Linsanity. Would he have delivered a championship? Probably not. But Jeremy Lin was a symbol of hope with this Knicks basketball team. A poorly constructed bunch, the Knicks had one potential wild card that could propel them into contender status. His name is Jeremy Lin. And thanks to James Dolan, he now plays for the Houston Rockets.
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