Could the Lakers Steal Jeremy Lin from the Knicks for 2012-13?
As Linsanity continues to roll following Jeremy Lin's second consecutive double-double (10 points, 13 assists) in a rout over Sacramento, the question arises: could the Knicks lose their sensational new point guard shortly after discovering him?
You can bet savvy league execs—both inside and outside New York—are looking into that question even as you read this.
Lin is making around $613,000 this season, which is the pro-rated portion of his league minimum $762,195 contract due to the shortened season.
But more significantly, Lin becomes a restricted free agent after the season.
Let me state upfront that the Knicks stand a very good chance at retaining him.
But it's not bulletproof. I'll explain in a minute.
The Knicks' Rights
First, the Knicks need to make a qualifying offer to Lin for 125 percent of his previous season's salary. Based on his pro-rated salary, that amounts to about $766,000.
Clearly, Lin is worth more than that.
So other teams can try to sign Lin to an offer sheet—a contract offer for at least one year. However, due to what is known as the "Arenas Rule," those teams' offers cannot be more than the league average salary, which is about $5 million for one season.
Assuming Lin does receive an offer sheet, the Knicks are fortunate enough to be able to use their mid-level exception (MLE), which is slightly higher than the league average salary, to retain Lin. The Knicks, incidentally, must do so within three days, thanks to the new CBA.
So Lin looks likely to remain in New York this offseason.
But it's not a guarantee. Here's why.
Where It Gets Tricky For the Knicks
As with any free agent, the key to getting Lin is to give an offer that the Knicks cannot match.
And as described above, the Knicks can outbid any team that offers a one-year deal for Lin thanks to the MLE.
In fact, the Knicks can even outbid any team that offers a multi-year deal for Lin if the offer is equivalent to the MLE multiplied by the number of years (for example, four years at $20 million).
But according to Brian Cronin's KnickerBlogger post, teams could sign Lin to a deal that is bigger than the MLE multiplied by several years as long as the first two years are not larger than the MLE (in order to avoid violating the "Arenas Rule").
For example, if a team is $11 million under the cap, they can offer Lin a deal with that number as the yearly average—say, 4 years/$44 million.
The first two years would be the amount of the MLE. The last two years would be backloaded so that the entire deal would average out to $44 million. In other words, the first two years would each be $5 million and the last two years would be roughly $16 million a year.
With the Knicks owing an average $57 million just for Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler for the next three seasons, adding a Lin payout around $16 million (not to mention the salaries for the other rostered players) could require a stiff luxury tax from Knicks owner James Dolan.
As Cronin points out, "if Dolan is willing to pay the luxury tax, then the Knicks cannot be outbid."
The question is: would Dolan be willing, if the situation came to that?
Besides the Knicks, of all the teams that Lin would most be interested playing for would be those from his home state of California.
The Golden State Warriors—Lin's favorite team growing up (and the team that cut him)—have the cap space, but already have an established point guard in Stephen Curry.
The Sacramento Kings are another option and they too have cap space. But the team is awful and Lin most likely would prefer a team with playmakers to help him carry the load.
That brings us to the Lakers.
They do not have cap space. But they could be an attractive option for Lin.
The Lakers would provide Lin the chance to return to his home state again to play while still offering the big-market, international media exposure that New York does.
Additionally, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol would offer lethal inside-outside talent that Lin could work with.
And with some creative engineering, they could potentially make an offer for Lin.
Perhaps their best scenario would be if Luke Walton's chronic back problems forced him to retire. This would allow the Lakers to use a medical waiver on Walton. Then the Lakers could use the league's new amnesty clause to waive Metta World Peace's salary.
This would get the Lakers almost $4 million under the cap, which is not enough to offer Lin a deal that would make Dolan nervous.
The Lakers would then need to also clear Derek Fisher's salary (he has a $3.4 million player option that he would likely exercise this offseason), perhaps via trade.
Even then, a Lakers offer sheet might not be enough to exceed Dolan's threshold for luxury tax pain.
As mentioned, the process would require some creative planning that is far beyond my salary cap expertise, but it's not entirely out of the question either.
I expect Lin to remain a Knick when all is said and done, but the offseason could be more interesting than we might think.
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