Aldridge Weighs In: Why Knicks Should Keep Jeremy Lin

For whatever reason, Jeremy Lin gets people talking.

Those who say the Knicks shouldn’t match the three-year, $25 million offer sheet Lin got from Houston over the weekend think it’s ridiculous to (over)pay someone that much money who, basically, has three good weeks of basketball on his career ledger, and that Lin’s contract would inevitably cause friction in the locker room. Those who think the Knicks should match point to Lin’s incredible popularity, both on and off the court, and the financial implications for Cablevision, the Knicks’ owner, if it lets Lin walk. The New York Times has reported that the team’s parent company has gained $600 million in market capitalization since Lin became a starter and phenom last February.

I have no dog in this hunt. I’m neither a Knicks fan nor a hater. But it seems clear that, while the Knicks would certainly be paying above market and basketball value for Lin by matching the offer sheet, the implications of not doing so could bring even greater risk. And, even if it turns out Lin is a complete bust, it doesn’t have to be nearly as punitive in that potentially toxic third year for New York as people are making it out to be.

There are legitimate basketball reasons not to bring Lin back. He flourished while Carmelo Anthony was injured and out of the lineup, thriving in a free flowing game where the ball moved. The Knicks ran numerous screen and rolls with Lin, allowing him to stay on the move while deciding whether to drive or dish. Wing players like Steve Novak and J.R. Smith thrived in that system, and the Knicks’ defense was much improved as well. (Rookie Iman Shumpert was just as important a part of Linsanity as Lin, with his ballhawking, turnover-producing defense on the wings.)

When Anthony returned — and when you trade for Carmelo Anthony, this is what you’re going to get — the ball stayed in ‘Melo’s hands, with more traditional isolations. That doesn’t make Anthony a villain; he’s a scorer, and it’s silly to have him on your team if he’s not going to get the ball. Some players just don’t mesh well together. Lin and Anthony, at least initially, seemed to fit that bill. Maybe in time Lin will become a more consistent shooter, but it’s not really the strength of his game at present. Raymond Felton, acquired over the weekend from Portland is, barely, a better three-point shooter than Lin.

Lin’s inexperience could also factor into a decision to let him go. The Knicks’ window for competing in the East is right now, three years — which, not coincidentally, is the length of time left on the contracts of Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. New York obviously isn’t going to trade Anthony, and no one is going to trade for Stoudemire, with his history of knee problems (which make getting insurance for him extremely problematic) and $20 million annual salary — at least not now. (See below.) This is the team for the next two years. Lin has never played in a playoff game; he didn’t return from his torn cartilage injury in time for the Knicks’ first-round series loss to Miami. Jason Kidd, who signed with the Knicks, has played in 146 postseason games. Felton’s only played in nine playoff games, but that’s nine more than Lin. The Knicks may not trust Lin yet in clutch situations — at least not at those numbers.

And let’s talk about those numbers, the crux of the matter. Really, we’re just talking about the third year, which pays Lin $14.898 million for the 2014-15 season.

The Knicks have already committed more than $70 million in salaries that season to five players: Anthony, Stoudemire, Chandler, Kidd and Novak, who re-signed last week. (For purposes of this exercise I’m not counting Marcus Camby‘s third-year salary, which is not fully guaranteed.) Adding Lin would swell the payroll to more than $85 million, and New York would still have to fill out almost half of its roster. The argument is that keeping Lin would cost the Knicks millions more in potential luxury tax payments, with the more punitive luxury tax penalties in place by then. That was the rationale Houston used to discourage the Knicks from matching the sheet in the first place.

But that’s not a winning argument.

First, as Ira Winderman pointed out the other day, it’s not Lin’s contract that would push the Knicks into luxury tax oblivion; it’s the entire team’s payroll. Nobody made New York give Stoudemire a $100 million deal, or commit $58 million to Chandler. Those contracts count, too.

Second, anti-match advocates ignore the fact that the first two years of Lin’s deal, at $5 and $5.225 million, are pretty good bargains for a starting point guard these days. The Lakers got Steve Nash for three years and $27 million in that Fourth of July sign-and-trade deal with the Suns. Indiana is paying George Hill, on average, $8 million a year in his new deal. Phoenix is paying Goran Dragic $7.5 million a year to run the point in Nash’s place. Ramon Sessions will get $10 million for two years in Charlotte.

Third, that luxury tax payment schedule, with higher penalties for teams that exceed the tax threshold, is going to make people quite desperate. The need to get under the tax threshold, or at least get closer to it, will be overwhelming for most teams. Lin will be an expiring contract in ’14-’15. How many teams would love to be able to cut $14.898 million off of their team salary? People are getting caught up in whether Lin’s worth that much; that’s not the point. The point is he’d be an extremely valuable asset for a team looking to escape going deeper into luxury tax hell.

Say, for example, your team payroll is projected for $90 million in ’14-’15. If we used the current $70 million tax threshold as a guide, your team would pay $1.50 per dollar on the first $5 million ($70 to $75 million) you were over the threshold, or $7.5 million in tax. You’d pay $1.75 in tax on the second $5 million ($75-$80 million) that exceeded the threshold, or $8.75 million in tax. You’d pay $2.50 per dollar on the third $5 million ($80-$85 million) that exceeds the tax, or $12.5 million more in tax. And you’d pay $3.25 on every dollar on the fourth $5 million ($85-$90 million) that exceeded the tax, another $16.25 million. That’s $45 million in tax on that $20 million which exceeded the threshold. (And those penalties increase for so-called “repeater” teams that have paid the luxury tax in each of the three previous seasons before then.)

If you traded for Lin, however, and subsequently released him (remember, we’re not talking about the talent of the player here; just the tax implication), you’d knock almost $15 million off of your payroll, and you could easily exceed $15 million by waiving a non-guaranteed contract. Those two transactions alone would lower your team salary to less than $75 million, meaning you wouldn’t have to pay $37.5 million of the $45 million in tax you’d pay with a $90 million payroll.

Do you think saving $37.5 million would be something teams would want to do? Expiring contracts are like the Golden Ticket in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Please don’t tell me you can’t trade Lin’s contract. Juwan Howard got traded. Gilbert Arenas got traded (for Rashard Lewis, whose humongous contract has subsequently been traded again). Joe Johnson got traded. There’s always somebody who can use a big contract, for one reason or another. And, as noted above, Stoudemire will be in the last year of his deal that year as well, and could bring even more potential tax relief ($23.4 million) that year than Lin would.

Fourth, as cap avatar Larry Coon pointed out Tuesday morning, the Knicks also will have the “stretch” provision available to use in the third year of Lin’s contract. The stretch provision was a new addition to the collective bargaining agreement. It allows teams that sign players after the implementation of the new CBA to waive those players and stretch the payments (hence the name) out over the same number of years as his contract. So, if the Knicks wanted to cut Lin in 2014 or 2015, they wouldn’t have to take that $14.898 million hit all at once. They could divide it into three hits over the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons of $4.966 million each season.

Fifth, and seemingly forgotten in all this, is that Lin showed signs of being a pretty doggone good player in that admittedly brief sample size. His Player Efficiency Rating of 19.9 was 10th in the league among point guards, according to ESPN.com’s John Hollinger. He had a true shooting percentage of .552, 14th among point guards. He was willing to take contact on his way to the basket. He got better as the game went on; one eminently qualified observer noted that Lin might start a game not knowing how he was being guarded, but by the end of the game, he had figured out the angles. He was not a pushover defensively, either.

The knock on Lin, and it’s a fair one, is that he was a turnover machine. He was 10th-worst among all point guards in the league in turnover ratio last season. Lin did make occasional horrible decisions with the basketball, getting caught in the air far too frequently and telegraphing his intentions. But, guess who was 11th-worst in the league in turnover ratio last season, right behind (ahead of?) Lin?

Nash.

Two spots behind Nash?

Kidd, Denver’s Andre Miller and Minnesota sensation Ricky Rubio. Right behind them? John Wall.

The point is not that Lin is better than Nash; he isn’t, or that turnovers are a good thing; they aren’t. The point is most top point guards turn the ball over a lot. It’s part of why I never have understood the vitriol reserved for Russell Westbrook. The point guard has the ball in his hands for much of the game. The great ones try passes they probably shouldn’t, and many of them result in miscues. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the game. A Knicks fan can hope that as Lin gets smarter and more experienced he’d be more careful, but chances are, he won’t.

Sixth, unless you believe that Felton is going to have a bounce-back year after his disastrous turn with the Blazers last season (to be fair, Felton was great for Mike D’Antoni in New York in his half-season with the Knicks in 2010-11), or that the 39-year-old Kidd is going to be rejuvenated by the bright lights and big city, chances are the Knicks may well be looking for a point guard again in a year or two. Would it not make sense to try and continue to develop a 23-year-old who came on like a freight train when he got one last chance to show what he could do?

There are good arguments to be made on both sides of the debate. We’ll all find out what James Dolan and the Knicks’ brass decide. But the preponderance of the evidence would seem to indicate that while matching Lin’s offer sheet is a gamble, it’s a gamble worth taking.

23 Comments

  1. Brandon says:

    I’m pretty sure Aldrige made a pretty big mistake in this article. An expiring contract just doesn’t go away for 14-15, if the Knicks cut Lin before that year they would still pay luxury tax on his salary unless they used the stretch provision, but even then they would have go out and find another player to replace him. Additionally, if they trade to trade him they’ll still have to take a decent amount of salary back unless someone is willing to trade for Lin’s $15m contract into their cap space…

  2. AaronC says:

    Any organization that pays Marbury 80 Million and Steve Francis 30 Million and then cuts both because of their bad attitudes has issues. The revenue that Lin will generate from China is worth then his contract.

  3. Frank6501x says:

    “The decision was said to be financial, not emotional”.
    Really?

    Financially I’m sure they can work it out if they wanted to (as explained nicely here by DA). Let’s count the ways they were emotional:

    1) “Dolan was upset over Lin’s decision to restructure his deal with Houston last week. Dolan, according to sources, felt he was deceived by the 23-year-old Lin.”
    (My comment: Remember it’s the Knicks who refused to make Lin an offer and asked him to set his own market value. Lin did nothing wrong here. They felt played or blackmailed by Houston and responded emotionally).

    2) Team officials announced publicly they would match Houston’s offer no matter what. (giving Houston the upper hand to make it ‘ridiculous’, and making them lose credibility by not matching)

    3) GM Grunwald playing cat and mouse with the Houston delivery. (just silly. laughable)

    4) Jealous teammates (Melo and JR) heralding locker room trouble. (unprofessional athletes)

    5) Knicks removed all mention of Jeremy Lin on their website days before the official announcement.

    All point to a Knicks management that is emotional, vindicative, immature/childish, and incompetent. Not the way to run a professional organization.
    No wonder they make dumb decisions time and again.

    I might add some of the Knicks fans behave the same way.

  4. carmeloss says:

    “and it’s silly to have him on your team if he’s not going to get the ball” right, but its not the point — carmelo is a ballhog, he wants to be treated like the franchise player, and he is clearly (skills/mental) not a guy of that caliber. The only reason of why he is so overrated, is because he started his career at the same time with lebron james. high expectations buzz, lebron is the real deal, but anthony is not the franchise guy, he doesnt have that en el mente. i think he is a good player, a blind scorer, no more no less, and considering him like the center of a rebuilt is a big mistake, handicap.
    be in the top 3 scorers during regular seasons, make a fews top tens highlights and be qualified for the first rounds of playoffs (thanks to the slave team who play the lie, adding some talents around him) and thats all you can expect from him. he doesnt care about the rest
    the real problem is that anthony doesnt want a more skilled player than him in the team, but there is a looooot of guyz better than him, so they have to go elsewhere (byebye lin !)
    he is like the girl who go out with an ugly girl just to seem more pretty, dominant, be sure to get the spotlight. Champs are not like that, and if there is some nba champions like that, i garanty you that there are not the centerpiece of the team.

  5. Kid NYC says:

    Man F Jeremy Lin. I’ts all about Loyalty and he show the Knicks what kind of person he really is. I really think that he didn’t want to come back to the Knicks, I felt this way during the Knicks playoffs watching him on the bench, I think he could have played. But going forward Linsanity started in NYC and I don’t think it will be that big in Houston LOL. The major markets are NYC, LA, not in slow moving Houston. I think the Asian market was larger in NYC, but his fans will follow him regardless. Lin being a Harvard Grad may be book smart, but not a smart move to secretly fly back out to Vegas, and redo the original contract that the Knicks could match to this crazy balloon payment of 15 million in the third year. That’s not loyalty! That shows me that you really didn’t want to play in NYC. But if you think the point guards in the league, couldn’t wait to play against you when the whole Linsanity started. Wait till the NBA season starts you’re a marked man for sure…I can’t wait to see how this plays out. Good job NY Knicks he’s not worth it…

  6. Filipino Idiot says:

    Looks like NY management were not able to read this good idea of Mr Aldridge.

  7. Knickerbocker says:

    Poor move NY Knicks management….. just so sad about the loss of a good sold and young Pg in JLin17 … also a potential future all-star.

  8. i love this GAME! says:

    its a big loss to Knicks organisation so they cant have the sympathy of NBA fans in ASIA.

  9. MEL says:

    Go ROCKETS!!

  10. Ron says:

    Being from New York I know it’s not a popular sentiment, but Carmelo has too much say on the team right now and the comments he made about this a few days ago all but tells the story. The Knicks are a team that have overpaid guys like Allan Houston and picked up the contracts of aging players like A. Hardaway and Francis only to get nothing out of them. The Knicks re-signed Melo’s buddy JR Smith, who is as much a chucker as Melo, and if Kidd and Felton breakdown this year the Knicks are going to be right back where they started. Kidd already got DWI out on Long Island so who knows if coming back here will be good for him.

    The Knickc are going to be capped out anyway and if they were so concerned about the luxury tax they wouldn’t have spent all the money they did on Anthony, and Stoudemire. Chandler has been the only one to earn his money to me at this point, so his contract is justified.

  11. Ben says:

    I don’t think I have ever agreed with a higher percentage of anyones opinion in journalism than I do with David Aldridge. I completely agree with him here too.

    Literally the only reason I can see for the Knicks not to match the offer for Lin is for the best interests of Lin, not the Knicks. And even then, its debatable that being a starter for a team that has just been completely gutted is better than having the tutelage of Kidd, and the absence of pressure that comes from being one of a 3-pg rotation.

    I’m a fan of Felton. I tend to think his Portland stint, not his New York stint, is the odd one out going forward for him. But you just never know, and if he isn’t back to his NY best, Lin oculd very rapidly be the number one PG choice in NY anyway.

  12. b1harlem says:

    great story…what is not mentioned is the knicks could of had the kid for a lot less…THEY TOLD HIM TO GO GET ANOTHER OFFER BEFORE THEY (THE KNICKS) WOULD MAKE HIM A OFFER THEMSELVES …AFTER HE COMPLIED TELLING ALL THEY (KNICKS) WOULD MATCH…WELL THE RUBBER IS MEETING THE ROAD..
    IT SAYS HERE THE KNICKS MAY HAVE OUTSMARTED THEMSELVES WITH THIS STRATEGY..THEY MAY HAVE BEEN ABLE TO HAVE GOTTEN HIM FOR A LOT LESS IF THEY HAD MADE AN OFFER FIRST….DONT THINK THEY THOUGHT HE WOULD GET THE TYPE OF OFFER HOUSTON GAVE…WITH REGARD TO THE DEAL BEING CHANGED ..WHAT WAS HE SUPPOSED TO DO? TELL HOUSTON NOT TO OFFER HIM ANY MORE MONEY? (SILLY THING CRAZY TALK)

    ITEM LAST… FOR THOSE WHO SAY HE IS NOT WORTH THAT TYPE OF MONEY…ONLY IN SPORTS WHERE WE KNOW HOW MUCH PEOPLE MAKE ..DO WE HEAR THIS TYPE OF CRAZY SILLY TALK …YOU ARE WORTH WHAT EVER THE BOSS IS WILLING TO PAY YOU ..(SOME OF US THINK WE ARE WORTH MORE) NO ONE SAYS TO THE BOSS PAY ME LESS I AM NOT WORTH THAT….BUT THAT IS JUST ONE PERSONS (MINE) OPINION

  13. Robert Zenon says:

    Let him go! Jeez! Those that want him to stay are still living in the 3 week haze of 2012. He is going to prove a flop sooner than later.

  14. lee says:

    Amen!!! to that D.A. I’ve been hoping for this article to come….. Thank you, at least I have a valid reasons to tell my 10 million friends it’s time to move on and go with lin to houston This franchise is really making a mockery for the expense of Lin and the knicks fans. They know lin will love to sign a new contract even as early as march and also the moment he got invited with select team to practice with team USA but the knicks say go and find your market value. I truly believe that knicks don’t have any intention to retain lin right from the start…

  15. Krespino says:

    So many people writing against Knicks matching Lin offer hopefully will learn from this article. It’s such a no-brainer: if they don’t match The Knicks are the fools. For the third year when they would be faced high luxury tax The Knicks should think of finding a solution by cutting another player, or trading Lin before that season. Without Lin The Knicks will again be the disappointing loser team which is not exciting to watch. With Carmelo Amare Chandler The Knicks will never win anything, everybody knows that. Why should I care to watch Melo’s boring iso game which has been memorised by everybody… And preferring a 39 years old 40 years old Kidd over Lin…is just insane. Looking into his last one year, we see a terrible Felton, who can guarantee that he will suddenly improve drastically and perform to make people happy? Carmelo obviously is jealous about the spotlight Lin has got, nothing but that. The Knicks do not deserve Lin, and it will be better for his career if he goes to Houston.

  16. I am linsane says:

    Great post by DA…i just want add that whatever happens tonight. The knicks will still be labelled ridiculous tommorow morning. So its all good for Lin hes gonna get his American Dream in ny or houston. I am happy for him. Yo jeremy lend me some money when you can ok? TGB the Glory.

  17. jcln18 says:

    finally the voice of reason in all thois. Please heed this excellent counsel Mr. Dolan

  18. dgatorr says:

    bigger issue to me is NOT the backloaded contract that Stephan A Smith has brought out and got this ball rolling with, but how MSG has stolen Jeremy’s media rights, FOREVER ! wherever he goes, they want to make the money from everything he sells !
    with the Chinese market alone, he will sell millions of dollars in merchandise. i heard he is already out selling Kobe’s Lakers jerseys ! his salary will be minor to this money MSG stands to take out of it. Jeremy is reported to have already hired an attorney to sue over it and align his media and endorsement entities. i think MSG and the Knicks are trying to take advantage of him, totally. yes they give him a chance to become who he is, BUT who are they to take all the profits away ? do the Lakers take all Kobe’s product and endorsement money ? i doubt it. does the Heat take all LeBrons product and endorsement money, dont think so ? does/did the Bulls take all MJ’s money ? hahaha, good luck with that ! so why should Jeremy Lin be so taken advantage of ??? such a tangled web we people weave sometimes, trying to take advantage of someone else !

  19. NightTimeInTelAviv says:

    Great post DA. I would just add one more thing, that no one seems to mention, but I believe is key: Jeremy Lin is a WINNER. Show me another “rookie” (let’s face it, he was basically that) who took his entire team on his shoulders game after game, night after night, beating stunned opponents in the clutch, as if he was doing this for years in this league (Kevin Love and Rubio, then immediately Toronto, where he scored 6 points in two consecutive 3pt plays the final minute)? In fact, show me ANY point guard who had such a stretch last year. Jeremy Lin is a WINNER. And if I had to put the ball in someone’s hands next year, when my team was down 7, and there’s 3 minutes left in the 4th? I WOULD CHOOSE LIN OVER CARMELO ANTHONY. Yes. And why? Because of Jeremy’s HEART. This is where the difference lies, between a 23 year old winner and a “failing all-star”…

  20. emac2 says:

    Lin would be the hottest trade chip in the league if they resigned him and put him on the market. Even if he isn’t in their plans they have to resign him just to trade. This is being handled really poorly because it is exposing a rift in the clubhouse just to play games with the Rockets or the player. Hopefully we see a trade tonight that gives the Knicks enough value that they agree not to match. Paul, Howard? :)

  21. Mang says:

    I am pleased by the usage of the word preponderance in this article.

  22. two says:

    For once I agree with the big D A.