Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the Garden (or GAH-den if you are a New Yorker), it appears the New York Knicks, who appeared to have finally re-captured the imagination of basketball fans, are close to letting point guard Jeremy Lin go and join the Houston Rockets. I'm not going to call it Linsane because that joke is turning into the Chinese basketball equivalent of Smurf speak -- which is a thing, seriously -- but let's just say it's getting a little Lindiculous.
A primer for those who don't understand restricted free agency and why this is such a confusing situation. Lin, as a restricted free agent, may sign an offer sheet with any team. The Knicks then have three days to match said offer, which they told anyone who would listen they would absolutely do. But Rockets' resident math wizard and general manager Daryl Morey signed Lin to an offer sheet for three years and around $25 million -- granted, it took a search party to find the Knicks delegation and get the document delivered.
The problem is that they included a balloon payment -- a so-called poison pill -- in the third year, which, given the Knicks sizable contracts due that season, could cost New York as much as $60 million in luxury tax penalties. Yet, for the Rockets, it would still only represent about $8 million each year in cap space. I'd try to explain the math, but it requires a slide rule and something about a quantum singularity and a fissure in space time, so I'll just leave it there.
The Knicks are pissed and fans are even pissier. Camelo Anthony, the Knicks star forward who makes more money than Labron James called the contract "ridiculous" (we assume ironically, but probably not) and it has been widely reported that New York probably won't match the offer sheet. In fact, Lin merchandise is already hitting the discount rack at sporting good stores around New York. Still, they have until Tuesday night (or Wednesday morning if you believe the Knicks' bizarre disputed timeline) to decide.
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For the Rockets, the salary is about what Goran Dragic got to play in Phoenix, though there doesn't appear to be a fourth year of guaranteed money. Still, Dragic may not have been responsible for Linsanity, but he was very, VERY good down the stretch last year. But, with a gaping hole at point guard and Lin, a guy the Rockets cut in training camp last year, on the market, it seems like a good fit.
Then there's the whole Dwight Howard situation or "Dwightmare" as some writers have been calling it. Once the Knicks make a decision on Lin, the Rockets will then sign Omer Asik, the defensive-minded center currently restricted to the Bulls, to a very similar deal. Within three days, the Bulls will match or not -- hard to tell at this point -- and it is speculated the very real discussions of a deal for Howard could commence, with the Rockets salary cap picture much clearer.
It begins with Lin. He would certainly bring some excitement to the Toyota Center, but not just with his good plays. Lin is a turnover machine and there is some worry he is limited in his game. He's a decent if not spectacular shooter and a solid passer, but the turnovers are an issue and he isn't much of a defender, which is to say he really isn't a defender at all. But, a team that features Lin -- an unselfish, pick and roll point guard -- in the backcourt with arguably the best defensive player in the league in Howard would be a move in the right direction, at least in the short term.
There are strong indications that by this time next week, the Rockets roster will start to look more like a real NBA team and less like the best rec league team you've ever seen.