Knicks Let Lin Go and Draw the Line at the Wrong Time

Rob Mahoney@RobMahoneyNBA Lead WriterJuly 17, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 29:  Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks looks on during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden on February 29, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

After days of contradicting sourced reports served to make Jeremy Lin's future a dizzying unknown, Howard Beck of The New York Times has offered a fairly definitive end to all of the speculation: The internal deliberation in New York over the choice to match Lin's offer sheet is reportedly now over, meaning that the one-time king of the basketball world will soon be a Houston Rocket.

It should be noted that in Beck's full report, he does hedge ever so slightly against the absolute certainty of the Knicks' decision, given that they still have time on the clock to reverse course:

The Knicks are not expected to announce their decision until this evening, and there is still a chance — albeit incredibly small — that it could be reversed. But as of 4 p.m. the decision had been made and was considered final by those with knowledge of the deliberations. Indeed, the deliberations were said to be over.

The Knicks have first-refusal rights on Lin and by rule have until Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time to either match the offer or let him walk.

Yet that seems like an incredibly—and increasingly—slim possibility. There may be time left for New York's decision-makers to stumble back to reason, but if the circumstances and finances aren't likely to change in the hours to come (and they aren't), then we shouldn't expect the Knicks' decision to, either.

The "poison pill" that Daryl Morey built into the Houston Rockets' offer sheet to Lin has apparently served its purpose; rather than match the Rockets' formal offer, the Knicks have reportedly elected to let Lin walk, a decision that will cost the Knicks in every conceivable way. Much will be made of what New York has lost in marketing alone, but we shouldn't at all understate what it's lost in the basketball realm; Lin was the Knicks' best shot at offensive cohesion and one of the few up-and-comers on an otherwise ancient roster.

Even if the Knicks do have Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd to initiate their offense (a considerable upgrade over the non-Lin Knicks point guard contingent last season), passing up on Lin is an almost incomprehensible decision given New York's cavalier spending. Player contract values had largely been inconsequential to James Dolan up to this point, and yet with his team as a virtually certain luxury taxpayer for the foreseeable future, this was the moment at which he apparently decided to get stingy.

That's ultimately Dolan's call to make, and yet one can't help but see how this particular decision seems to be borne of a very different philosophy from that which put together the rest of the Knicks roster. While that in itself isn't a problem, this is an odd—and counterproductive—time to develop a financial conscience; with the Knicks locked into some huge deals over the next few seasons, the awarding of Lin's early Bird rights was a squandered gift that allowed New York to compete with the rest of the free-agent market via salary cap exception. It could be quite some time before the Knicks are logistically able to acquire a player of Lin's caliber, and with so many things on New York's roster either lacking or uncertain, the idea that Dolan and the Knicks would pass on Lin because of a slightly inflated and thoroughly back-loaded deal is baffling.

The third and final year of Lin's new contract—worth $14.8 million—may be far greater than what the Knicks ever wanted to pay for the young point guard in a single season. But that bit of unreasonable salary (in an expiring year, no less) would otherwise seem to make for a reasonable concession given Lin's talent and potential, which is to say nothing for his earning potential. Lin may prove to be no more than a very solid pick-and-roll player, but that alone is highly valuable on this team, as demonstrated in the gains that Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire, Steve Novak and the recently departed Landry Fields saw when Lin was on the court.

He's simply a better complementary player than whatever else the Knicks will be able to manage through meager cap exceptions in the current era. This was practically New York's last chance to "add" a very effective player thanks to an almost unnavigable salary gridlock, and though no one has any bearing over how Mr. Dolan spends his money, this new-found financial conservatism has dealt the Knicks a heavy blow.