Lin Leaving New York: James Dolan's Biggest Mistake

Kevin Daly@@TheDalyWhatContributor IIIJuly 19, 2012

Teammates, no more
Teammates, no moreChris Chambers/Getty Images

In any situation, one of the worst sensations you can experience is when something you assume as true or something you take for granted disappears, goes wrong or fails in some capacity.  For New York Knicks fans, the assumption was that Jeremy Lin would get re-signed and the Linsanity would continue rolling through to next season.

Yet something went wrong.  Lin is heading to Houston and in his place is the man who Knicks fans were unhappy to see go, yet unhappier to see return—Mr. Krispy Kreme himself, Raymond Felton

Some pundits have declared this development to be a blessing in disguise. The focus of the team goes back to the big money players and the team avoids what many describe as an onerous contract.  While the Rockets' offer was a deal that promised severe financial penalties down the line if the Knicks decided to match the offer sheet, James Dolan needed to bite the bullet and match the offer.

It seemed that the team's one priority entering the offseason was to re-sign Lin.

When Lin went to the sidelines in March with a torn meniscus, the fans and the organization believed that he would have a chance of returning by or during the playoffs.  But he did not risk returning to the team before he felt 100 percent and New York got knocked out by the eventual champion Miami Heat. While his decision became a magnet for criticism by people who believed that he should have tried playing, he disclosed that other players had advised him to stay sidelined until fully healed.

Furthermore, Lin hardly profited from his celebrity, even if The Madison Square Garden Company immensely did.  Further injury to his knee would have severely jeopardized his free agency stock.  Of all people, he understood the harsh, mercurial nature of the NBA.  Any young player, especially one who has never received a big payday, is only one severe injury away from effectively ending his career.

Anyone can criticize his decision to sit out rather than trying to help the team, but if he had gone back and injured himself in the process, no one would have been there with a big contract upon his recovery.

By now, we have all crunched the numbers.  The Knicks would have paid Lin $5 million in each of the first two seasons, then $15 million in the third season that when combined with the $30 million or so in luxury tax penalties, would result in the team having to pay $45 million in the last season to retain Lin's services (that's $55 million over three years).  Steep, yes.  Worth it?  Of course not!

...Until you remember how much money the Lin gold rush pumped into James Dolan's hands.

According to a New York Times article, The Madison Square Garden Company added a quarter of a billion dollars in value in February and a total of $600 million in value since Lin took the court against the Nets back on February 4.

Lin's introduction onto center stage of the sports world arena presented the possibilities—afforded toward both Lin's respective team, the Knicks, and the NBA as a whole—of Jeremy Lin's pole position in the world's most global city.  Both the Knicks organization and the NBA only scratched the surface on marketing Lin to a global audience during the two months that Lin actually spent on the court.

Lin will continue to bring in money.  His Rockets jersey will likely become a top seller in China and the United States, as anticipated by Rockets owner Leslie Alexander and his advisor, Yao Ming.  If Lin had stayed in New York and come close to replicating the success he had in February, one can only imagine how much Lin's global brand, along with the league's popularity, might have further expanded.

Regardless, Jeremy Lin, not Amar'e or Carmelo, was the Knicks' biggest money-maker last season.

The Knicks decided that Lin should test the open market, not him.  New York's front office anticipated Lin receiving and signing a lucrative offer sheet, which may explain why they never extended a formal offer, yet their decision to ultimately let him walk reveals something beyond a money issue or misplaced feeling of betrayal in the mind of James Dolan.

To think that the Knicks were right in letting Lin go—regardless of the price—after his efforts effectively saved the team's season, and that he let the Knicks down—either by sitting out during the playoffs or by signing with Houston—is hypocritical.  

The Knicks ultimately let Lin down by failing to pay him for his vital role in thrusting the Knicks into the heart of the sports world last season, while Dolan and Co. reaped the benefits.

The Knicks have been a team trying to rise from the ashes, following their second season of (barely) reaching the playoffs.  While the team has an undeniably extensive arsenal of talent, the pieces have not quite fit.  In classic Dolanian fashion, the team abandoned its developmental stage two seasons ago by trading for Carmelo Anthony and entered win-now mode with the acquisition of Tyson Chandler last summer.  While a glasses lens would probably describe the size of the team's championship window, the time for the team to contend is for the next two or three seasons.

Despite this relative resurgence, more than anything, the decision by James Dolan and/or the Knicks front office to let Lin walk presents the chasm between the front office and the fans.  

Regardless of the system, Lin is a player with superior offensive and defensive ability to Raymond Felton.  If the team failed to make this commitment based on a $5 million difference or feelings of betrayal, how can the organization faithfully state that its priority is winning?  

General manager Glen Grunwald has already proven himself as a trustworthy figure of the Knicks brass through his acquisition of players such as Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby, yet these roster moves fail to cover for an ultimate downgrade at the point guard position.

At the very least, Jeremy Lin was just another missed opportunity for the Knicks, another young player that the team failed to retain and develop.

But he was more than that.  

While I do not support the Knicks, those first two weeks of Linsanity were one of the most captivating periods of regular season sports that I can remember.  For those seven or eight games, the Knicks were not an underachieving team with two overpaid stars that struggled to thrive together, but rather a unit of supposed role players that was beating good teams with a three-point specialist, a much-improved defense and a point guard who catalyzed the offense and drove the fans into a frenzy with his fearless and smart, albeit often out-of-control, style of play.

Especially without Mike D'Antoni and with Carmelo Anthony, Lin would have had a much shorter leash and a smaller role.  His play was clearly aided by Mike D'Antoni's system, and only time will tell how well he plays in a more conventional system.  He likely will hover around 12 to 14 points a game, five to six assists and three to four turnovers next season, nothing special by any means.

Ultimately, the loss of Lin will hurt the team.  

Either way, the Knicks would probably not beat the likes of the Heat or Thunder, yet Lin would have helped their chances.  Off the court, Lin's loss will have a much more resonating impact. Once again, it illustrates a disconnect between Knicks fans and ownership.

Unlike in years past, this summer has been a time of enormous optimism for Knicks fans, as the organization distances itself further and further from the Isiah Thomas era. For the first time in nearly a decade, the team had finally been focused on contending, not rebuilding. While the bad contracts, poor drafting and faulty personnel decisions all combined and blended together to form one of the most forgettable eras in franchise history, this is a grand failing of a new dawn for the organization.

The Lin story transcended basketball.  It eroded league stereotypes, undermined the value of a draft choice number and provided a new rendition of the age-old lessons of perseverance, humility and dedication. He'll always be remembered by MSG executives for tremendously boosting the company's stock and value and by fans for the ever-rare Cinderella story, which gave Garden fans something to have hope in besides the highly paid stars. He made for the NBA regular season's biggest headline story since the conception of Miami's Big Three.

While the phenomenon was always going to peak in February, we will never know how far Lin could have helped bring the team.

Without Lin, the Knicks lose their most popular player and revert to a team fully centered around its $53 million frontcourt.  Without Lin, the team and MSG will never go deeper than the surface in terms of expanding and exploring the Knicks' potential market on a global scale.  Without Lin, the Knicks downgrade their point guard position at a critical time when the team's only two options are contend or bust.  

That's why Jeremy Lin needed to stay in New York and why this is James Dolan's single biggest roster mistake as the Knicks owner.