Roundtable: The Lin conundrum
The Knicks can match Houston's three-year, $25.1 million offer to Jeremy Lin
New York, however, may not want to spend big to keep the undrafted phenom
Basketball-wise, going with Raymond Felton over Lin could be a mistake
Jeremy Lin has signed a three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet with the Houston Rockets. The deadline for the New York Knicks to match the offer for the 23-year-old point guard is Tuesday night. New York's pending trade for another point guard, 28-year-old Raymond Felton, which is expected to be finalized on Monday, has raised speculation that the Knicks will let the undrafted, twice-waived Lin walk rather than pay him nearly $15 million in the third year of his deal -- a salary that, according to The New York Times, could cost the team an extra $35 million to $45 million in luxury-tax payments in 2014-15.
Should the Knicks pay the price to keep a player who became a global phenomenon last season but is still largely unproven? How does Lin stack up against Felton? How would Lin fit in Houston (which waived him before the start of last season and now wants him back)? SI.com's NBA writers assess those questions and more as the clock ticks for the Knicks.
Ian Thomsen: If Mike D'Antoni were still coaching the Knicks, the answer would be "yes" -- and in that case I doubt whether Houston would have gone to such trouble to sign Lin, who was so valuable for D'Antoni that the whole world paid attention. But Lin isn't likely to play the same kind of role over a full season with coach Mike Woodson, and if the Knicks are thinking he'll be less important than he was in January, then why would they ever pay him so much money?
Zach Lowe: I'm not going to tell the Knicks what they should and shouldn't do when I haven't seen their internal financial projections, especially when we are talking about a player whose worth we're essentially basing on a sample size of about two dozen games. Lin was wonderful in those games, but New York's offense scored at only a league-average rate during the height of Linsanity, and we have very little evidence that the core of Lin, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler can mesh well. We have very little evidence of anything about this New York core, really. Letting Lin go would be a weird decision for a team that hasn't shown much previous concern for the luxury tax and could still avoid the dreaded repeater penalty by ducking the tax in 2015-16, when it has barely any salary committed. But it's not weird to the point of being obviously and totally wrong.
Lee Jenkins: The Knicks are obviously in a terrible dilemma, considering the excitement Lin generated, the fans he attracted and the business opportunities he sparked. But the contract is too rich for a player who has started 25 games and a team that would spend its way deep into the luxury tax. The Knicks would have to pay Lin like an elite point guard and scouts aren't convinced that he is one, especially in an isolation-heavy system that features Anthony. With the new CBA, and the high-salary players the Knicks already carry, another reckless deal could cripple them. Judging by the quotes from Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith, it could also lead to locker-room discontent. As gut-wrenching as it would be to let Lin leave for nothing, given what those 25 games were like, it's riskier to keep him.
Chris Mannix: It's a difficult question. Lin is one of the most marketable players in the league, a one-man merchandise-, ticket- and sponsorship-selling machine; his February explosion practically resolved the dispute between MSG Network and Time Warner Cable. But his 25 starts in D'Antoni's offense-happy system is a pretty small body of work to justify a third year in which Lin would make almost $15 million ... and may not even be a starter. If it were any other team, I'd say "no." But for the Knicks, with their limitless resources, ability to scoff at the luxury tax and the fact they will have little cap flexibility the next few years anyway, it's a risk worth taking.
Sam Amick: No. I think the Knicks have a sense of the problems it could cause in their locker room if Lin returns under that contract. He's obviously a cash cow for the organization, but there's serious potential for jealousy and bad blood among his teammates if Lin doesn't replicate last season's theatrics. New York obviously felt the need to get a more proven product in place (Felton) to pair with Jason Kidd, and holding on to him at this price simply because he's a major draw (even from the bench) is just way too shallow of a strategy. Though one could argue that it's a perfect way for Lin to ease his way into a more prominent role a couple of years from now, even the Knicks shouldn't be tying up this kind of money for a player who will fill that kind of role.
Thomsen: It would say that they don't believe he can be a star while playing in a more traditional NBA offense, which the Knicks will be playing for Woodson. It would also say that they've made a calculation of his value financially -- what he would be worth to them in terms of sponsorships and attention -- and that he wouldn't bring in enough money to offset his exorbitant cost to the Knicks in terms of salary and luxury tax.
Lowe: It could say many things, but the most important would probably be that the Knicks didn't view Lin's skills and marketability as being worth a giant luxury-tax hit. There are other possible explanations -- sticking it to the Rockets, somehow being "angry" that Lin tested the market to this degree, concerns about the impact of his deal on team chemistry -- but smart teams get over those pieces of emotional bitterness if they believe in the talent and off-the-court profit opportunities. And if it really comes down to money and the tax, we have an early sign that the new collective bargaining agreement can dissuade even the two teams for whom past tax penalties have been irrelevant -- the Knicks and Lakers.
Jenkins: It would say the new CBA is working, to some degree, because even the Knicks are watching their wallets. It would also say the Knicks are making basketball decisions independent of marketing and PR. Matching is the easier move. The Knicks would spare themselves a lot of angry headlines and fan revolts.
Mannix: That fiscal responsibility is a priority in New York. Lin has the potential to be a good player, maybe better. But that balloon payment in Year 3 is going to be an albatross if he doesn't pan out, which has to be what the organization is thinking if it decides not to match.
Amick: That they made a basketball decision, which is the perfectly prudent thing to do even when you have one of the league's most successful business models. If the Knicks have decided that Lin isn't the guy to lead their team on the floor, then they should be credited if they decide to avoid the gimmicky signing just because of what he does for the franchise off the floor.