Betrayal, deception, oath-breaking. Why can't something good ever happen to James Dolan? (Getty Images)
When the New York Knicks confirmed Tuesday evening that they had decided not to match the three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet tendered by the Houston Rockets to restricted free-agent point guard Jeremy Lin, many fans expressed sadness at what they viewed as the too-soon conclusion of Lin's brief, remarkably eventful tenure in Manhattan. (This one included.) Many others stood fast against that emotional tide, though, arguing that this was a logic-based decision predicated on the financial reality that Knicks owner and Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan simply couldn't agree to pay a still-unproven commodity with a rotation-player resume just 26 games long a whopping $14.9 million for one year of work three years from now.
[Marc J. Spears: Rockets land Jeremy Lin after Knicks decline to match offer]
Even the NBA's most valuable franchise can't just sign up for $35 million luxury-tax payments, the argument went — and as I wrote Tuesday, the Knicks' balance sheet indicates they'd be writing a check at least that big in 2014-15 if they matched Lin's sheet, depending on how else they filled out the roster. Strip out the emotion, they said, and as the New York Times' Howard Beck wrote, "the short answer" for why the Knicks would let Lin go is "money."
Except, of course, that you can never strip emotion out of the Knicks' decision-making process, because as our own Kelly Dwyer put it, "it appears as if the lone thing that James Dolan is an unmitigated expert at is stubbornness." Since the start of the "will they match/won't they match" drama, the talk around the Knicks was that the team's disinclination to bring him back had less to do with money than it did with Lord Jim's hurt feelings, which is exactly what Frank Isola of the New York Daily News wrote Wednesday:
The decision was both financial and emotional since Garden chairman James Dolan was upset over Lin restructuring his deal with Houston last week to include a third year salary of $14.9 million. Dolan, according to sources, felt he was deceived by the 23-year-old Lin.
"Much love and thankfulness to the Knicks and New York for your support this past year," Lin said on Twitter. "Easily the best year of my life. #ForeverGrateful."
Of course, team officials privately felt that Lin's actions over the past few weeks were anything but grateful. They were upset that he hired a publicist without their consent and were livid that the second-year point guard out of Harvard went back to the Rockets for more money. [...]
"Deceived." "Upset." "Without their consent." "Livid." Doesn't sound like bottom-line-based decision-making, does it?
Lin going "back to the Rockets for more money," as Isola put it, came after reports surfaced that Houston planned to sign Lin to a four-year, $28.8 million sheet — really three years and $19.5 million, since the Rockets would hold a team option for the fourth year — with the so-called "poison pill" coming in the third year, when the 23-year-old point guard would be due a $9.3 million payout.
[Marc J. Spears: Lakers continue Dwight Howard talks with Magic]
The Knicks — both privately and publicly, according to Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski, and repeatedly, as noted by BDL's Eric Freeman — vowed to match the sheet ... which led Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to reconfigure the offer to ratchet up the third-year value, bumping Lin's '14-15 salary up to $14.9 million and creating all sorts of heavy luxury tax implications. That, according to Isola's story, was the line in the sand for Dolan:
Dolan has a history of overpaying his players and has never shied away from the luxury tax before.
But in this case, Dolan felt betrayed by Lin for going back to Houston to rework the contract. After all, the Knicks acquired Lin in December after he was released by both Golden State and Houston.
And that's where it gets absurd. "Betrayed." "Betrayed!"
(And if, as Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick reports, the Knicks were frustrated with the Rockets — hey, "frustrated," another emotion-soaked descriptor — because Morey broke "an unspoken rule in negotiations by changing an informal offer during the moratorium that ran from July 1 to July 11," well, boy, then Dolan really showed Houston by allowing them to get the player they wanted in exactly the way they wanted to do it!)
Lin's return to New York wasn't predetermined by bonds of servitude or commanded by some kind of fealty after the Knicks signed him to the end of the bench and then got lucky as hell — all-time lucky, once-in-a-generation lucky, this-kind-of-thing-doesn't-happen lucky — when he became an on- and off-court thunderbolt. It was up to Dolan, Grunwald and the Knicks to actually pay him to play. That's the business that Lin, Dolan, Grunwald, Morey and everyone else in the NBA are actually in. That's what dictates and governs everything. Do you want to pay the man, or don't you?
If they didn't want to because A) they don't think Lin's good enough to pay what it'd cost, considering they've already got Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and (unofficially) Pablo Prigioni in the fold at the point, or B) they decided in a sudden pang of financial conscience that they just couldn't justify spending eight-figure money on an unsure thing, then that's one thing. Personally, I disagree with those assessments — given Felton's heinous performance in Portland last year, Kidd's advanced age and the fact that the 35-year-old Prigioni has even less NBA experience than Lin does, I think Lin would enter the season as clearly the best point guard on the Knicks roster, and I'd point those terrified by the third-year balloon payment toward David Aldridge's roundup of the avenues that were available to the Knicks had they kept Lin and he didn't work out (Cliffs Notes: "stretch provision" and "giant expiring contract") — but fine. Reasonable people could differ about the validity of those decisions, but at least they'd be based on some kind of logic.
Allowing a young asset with the potential to mature and with significant demonstrable value already — both off the court and on it — to just walk away, though? Not having a plan in place to at least get something in return for the investment you made? Throwing your hands up because several completely reasonable things happened and you just straight-up got beat? That's not logic; it's tantrum. That doesn't make you some kind of principled, commendable soul; it just makes you a rash, ill-considered loser.
It makes you the Knicks. Forever and always, the Knicks.
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