Madison Square Garden is often referred to as "The Mecca of Basketball". If you've gone to MSG to watch hoops in the past 12 years or so, especially NBA hoops and the New York Knicks, most of what you watched would make that moniker seem like a big joke. And now the Knicks appear to be ready to let go, for nothing in return, the one player who made Madison Square Garden electric again. Jeremy Lin made the world pay attention to Knicks basketball with his unlikely run of excellent play, despite possessing about one-eighth the God-given talent and basketball accomplishments of the original saviors, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
And after decades of wild spending, doling out horrific contract after horrific contract and total mismanagement that all but destroyed the Knicks franchise, owner James Dolan may possibly decide, strangely enough, that now is the time to tighten the belt and worry about finances. He's about to let the Knicks' biggest fan favorite in a decade go for nothing because of money. Here is the truth: it is A TON of money. Lin's offer sheet form the Houston Rockets will pay him a touch over $14 million in the third and final year, and the Knicks would be on the hook for a sizable luxury tax payment if they retain him and all their current contracts play out as scheduled. But after all the insane spending and disregard for financial implications of the past decade plus, it just seems like Dolan would be picking a very peculiar time to finally say that enough is enough.
But would he be actually wrong to do so? Regardless as to whether it's the Knicks or Rockets or another team, the fact is that Jeremy Lin is going to get paid almost $15 million in 2014-15 to play basketball. Courtesy of HoopsHype.com, here are the players in the NBA who stand to make $14 million or more next season, just as a barometer of what you should be getting out of a player making that much. (The list starts with the highest paid players. There are a few omissions, and it's not an official list; for instance Deron Williams is not included. But you'll get the gist)
Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Gilbert Arenas (Ha!), Amare Stoudemire (shhh), Joe Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Elton Brand, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, LeBron James (this could possibly be the biggest injustice in sports, really), Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce, Zach Randolph, Andrew Bynum, Rudy Gay, Brandon Roy, Rashard Lewis, Al Jefferson, Carlos Boozer, Andre Iguodala, Manu Ginobili
You didn't have to read that entire list to get the point, but thanks if you did. There are outliers, but for the most part, if you're going to pay someone $15 million to play in the NBA, you're expecting them to be an all-star.
What's funny about this whole Jeremy Lin debate is that there doesn't seem to be many people in the "Jeremy Lin is a surefire All-Star, future all-time great" camp. Most people, somewhat shockingly given our current sports-debate climate, seem to be fairly reasonable about Lin. Most of us expect him to be a solid NBA starting point guard, in the level below the elite group of Derrick Rose, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul. Could Lin reach this status? We don't know for sure, nobody does. He has some glaring weaknesses - he struggles mightily going to his left and would have trouble defending the chair you're sitting in right now. But all young players have weaknesses. He's only 24, and you have to think he'll improve, not get worse. But, if most people don't think he's going to be a slam-dunk All-Star, then yes, he is going to be overpaid in 2014-15. By a lot.
It seems like the worst case scenario for the Knicks if they match the offer sheet is that Lin doesn't fit it well with the rest of the roster and with Mike Woodson's offensive system, he becomes a marginal player and a salary albatross. If the Knicks aren't able to move any contracts off their books in 2014-15 (they should be able to, considering they'll have four huge expiring contracts) they'll owe the NBA a crap ton of money. Can you blame Knicks fans for not caring about Dolan's money?
From a purely basketball standpoint, you can make a solid case both ways. The Knicks can bring Lin back and have a young point guard who's still learning the professional game and how to play point guard. He'll have Jason Kidd and Ray Felton to learn from (hopefully the teaching stays on the court and doesn't shift to the Hamptons club scene and the buffet line at Harrah's). He'd be some sorely needed youth on a team that desperately needs it. He has the chance to be really good. But if they don't match Lin, again purely from an on the court standpoint, the Knicks can still be a very good team the next few years. With their offseason moves, they're clearly building a team with some toughness and grit, one that wants to slow things down and grind it out. Lin doesn't really fit that bill, and while Felton lacks the potential that Lin has, he does fit (better than he does in that pair of jeans he bought last summer...Ray Felton fat jokes FTW).
Maybe Dolan is pissed because Lin went back to Houston to get more money. As much as we all hate Jim Dolan, you'd be pissed too if someone did that to you. You'd recognize that he has every right to, but you'd still be pissed. There's also the possibility that Lin doesn't really want to come back to the Knicks. If he really did, why would he sign the second offer sheet, knowing that it would screw New York in terms of the luxury tax? Lin will not have done anything that any athlete on the planet wouldn't have in doing so, but that's the reality; had he wanted to really be a Knick, he wouldn't have gone back to Houston and gotten more money over less years.
I truly believe that the Knicks and Dolan are mulling this over. I think when they first saw the offer sheet, they flipped out, acquired Felton and said "No way we're matching!", and every NBA reported ran with it as fact. I really believe they're thinking this over until 11:59 on Tuesday night and that nothing has been decided.
I don't know if they'll match it, but I think they should. I think they should match now and worry about 2014-15 when it comes. That's a freakin' lifetime in the NBA. We have no idea what players will be where, who's going to get hurt, what rookie will enter the league and transform a dormant team into a contender. The Knicks can match the offer sheet and see what Lin is. If he isn't worth $15 million (and the impending tax) heading into that season, he's a trade chip because of his expiring contract. For that matter, so are Stoudemire, Anthony and Tyson Chandler. Bring him back, and find another way to avoid the tax when it comes. If he is worth it, and the Knicks win a title in the next three seasons, it will all be worth it.
It's easy for fans and media to play around with Dolan's money. But he's also made his money seem like play money over the past decade with all the terrible moves. Why stop now?