On Thursday night, Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Houston Rockets had reached terms with New York Knicks sensation and restricted free agent Jeremy Lin on a backloaded, four-year, $28.8 million offer (with the fourth year as a team option). For all intents and purposes, this deal means he's heading back to the Knicks for the same price. Knicks officials have been very clear over the past few weeks that they intended to keep Lin at any cost. And while the luxury tax hit will be steep in the third and fourth years of this contract, it's hard to argue that Lin won't be worth it.
[Adrian Wojnarowski: Jeremy Lin takes Rockets' offer; N.Y. likely to match]
The question for many is if that will be the case because of his on-court production or his status as a global brand. As a high-profile Asian-American player in the biggest market in the league, Lin will command attention from all forms of media and bring in many, many dollars in jersey sales, corporate sponsorships, and virtually every other way that an NBA franchise can make money. I fully expect to see Lin-branded hot dog carts around New York by the end of October.
It's a little less clear how he'll perform on the court or exactly what his role will be under new permanent head coach Mike Woodson. Lin thrived after entering the starting lineup under Mike D'Antoni, but Woodson seemed less enthusiastic about his abilities and figures to employ Carmelo Anthony as the obvious focal point of the offense this season. For all the warranted talk about his unselfishness and team play, Lin is best with the ball in his hands, particularly in the pick-and-roll game that D'Antoni loves so much. In 2012-13, Lin will have to adjust to defenses more inclined to respect him and work in a new system. It'll be a test, though one that he's likely to pass eventually.
Despite these issues, most of the immediate Knicks-centric criticism of this deal focused on the finances. The year-by-year salary breakdown is quite backloaded — $5 million and $5.2 million to start, followed by $9.3 million each for the third and fourth seasons — which will put the Knicks well over the salary cap and deep into the luxury tax. Being over the tax threshold itself is nothing new for New York. What makes this time different is that the new collective bargaining agreement institutes a repeater tax that forces regular offenders to pay $4.75 for every dollar they spend over $20 million past the initial tax threshold. Given that the Knicks already have vast sums of money committed to Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and the newly signed Jason Kidd for the 2014-15 season, it's entirely possible that, if the early math and estimates are correct, they will have to pay nearly $90 million in luxury taxes under the new revenue-sharing guidelines. In fact, that might even be why the Rockets made the offer with full knowledge that the Knicks weren't letting Lin go anywhere.
Of course, if money is an issue, then Lin could very well pay for himself. He's that big a deal, and that's only after a month of regular playing time. If he continues to improve and plays an important role on a playoff team, it's easy to see him becoming an even bigger star and generating much greater profits. Plus, the Knicks are one of the two richest franchises in the NBA and should consider any salary cap penalties to be well worth the price.
On the other hand, there's something a little bizarre about analyzing a deal for a young, promising starting point guard in terms of profits and not wins, losses and personal stats. For one thing, it does a disservice to Lin, who really did play quite well last season and got fans genuinely excited about the Knicks at a time when they were devolving into the petty squabbles and ego clashes that helped define the brutal Isiah Thomas regime. There's also a fascinating discussion to be had about exactly what the Knicks look like next year with Melo expecting to be the undeniable first option, Amar'e Stoudemire looking to take on a different role (perhaps with more of a post game), and two very different point guards sharing playing time.
Yet we discuss the Knicks as a business and tabloid, because that's essentially how management seems to treat them these days. Over the past few seasons, James Dolan and his employees have made deals with sex appeal as the deciding factor and little attention paid to whether or not the pieces fit together. Sometimes they've done well, as with Tyson Chandler, and sometimes they've gotten lucky, as with Lin. For the most part, though, very few people take the franchise seriously. And that's why, no matter how much money Lin makes for the Knicks and MSG, it'll mean very little to the Knicks in the long term if his presence doesn't translate into more wins. As with most summer signings, we won't know that result until they tip off in the fall.
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