Silliest of summers continues as Rockets, Knicks battle over Lin
LAS VEGAS -- George Karl is never one to mince words. The Nuggets' coach paused for only a half-second or so before deciding how to describe the first real offseason of the NBA's post-lockout era.
"This summer has kind of been, I don't know what the word is other than foolish," said Karl, who has been outspoken against the league's star culture that he was once a part of before Carmelo Anthony was traded to New York two seasons ago. "I just think there's some wild and crazy mentalities going on out there."
Karl didn't pinpoint one particular situation, but he didn't have to. Whether it's the Dwight Howard saga that has long since bordered on absurd, the doling out of max contracts to players who are hardly superstar material, or the high-stakes games being played between rival teams and their respective payrolls with poison pill provisions and such, this has been the summer of silliness. Jeremy Lin stands front and center at the moment, the poster boy for the problems that still plague the NBA in what was supposed to be a more prudent time.
Speaking of Linsanity ...
If the Knicks decide to match Houston's three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet to Lin by Tuesday's apparent 11:59 p.m. deadline (more on that later) despite having agreed to acquire Raymond Felton on Saturday, then the point guard whose exciting 25-game stretch last season sparked all of this madness would be set to earn a whopping $14.8 million in the 2014-15 season. To wit: Lin -- who would earn a mere $5 million in the first season and $5.2 million in the second -- would make 84 percent of what LeBron James will earn next season (approximately $19 million) and slightly more than Knicks and Team USA center Tyson Chandler is scheduled to make ($14.5 million).
While New York's next move remains to be seen, it's worth noting that Felton's camp did his deal with the understanding that Lin was not likely to be retained. There continues to be conflicting information about Felton's deal and the sign-and-trade with Portland. A source close to him insists it's a four-year deal worth about $18 million while other reports peg it at three years and $10 million. A source close to Lin told SI.com at midday Sunday that he had not been informed as to what the Knicks would do.
The Rockets need a point guard and are hoping they've landed Lin, but they won't receive word until their cat-and-mouse game with the Knicks is complete. Houston made this situation the oddity that it is, at first offering Lin a more reasonable deal with an estimated $9 million in each of the final two seasons of a four-year deal (fourth year not fully guaranteed) before restructuring it to make the Knicks' life even more miserable and increase its chances at bringing back the undrafted player whom it waived last December.
Then came the Knicks' counterpunch, a mysterious delay to the process on Saturday when Rockets officials spent much of the day in Las Vegas trying to deliver their offer sheet but being unable to find New York general manager Glen Grunwald. And while reports indicated that the offer sheet was eventually delivered to the Knicks' offices in New York via courier, a move that would start the timeline up to Tuesday's deadline, the involved teams are now sending mixed signals as to whether that is actually the case. A league spokesman said the teams would need to speak on the matter, though neither would officially. Again, the silliness abounds.
Anthony wasn't afraid to state the obvious Saturday, when he deemed the Lin contract "ridiculous" while speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., at Team USA practice. It's not clear whether he meant the poison pill aspect or the deal as a whole, but he's safe in saying that this simply isn't the way teams were intended to go about filling their rosters.
As Anthony's comments would suggest, there could be concerns among the Knicks about Lin's contract and how it would be perceived by his teammates. New York veteran shooting guard J.R. Smith, for example, is a far more established player in the league, but he recently signed a two-year deal that will pay him $2.8 million in the first season and has a player option in the second. In an interview with SI.com on Sunday, Smith spoke as if Lin would not return to New York. The Knicks, however, have not indicated that they have made a decision yet.
"I'm sure the city would love to have him back, but the team decided to go in a different direction," Smith said. "It's nothing personal, I don't think, just business. We just hope everybody can benefit from here.
"I don't really know how Mr. Dolan [owner James Dolan] feels at this point with what the luxury tax is now and what it used to be, but I just hope it works out the best for both of them."
Asked if Lin's contract could cause a challenging dynamic with his teammates, Smith agreed.
"Without a doubt," he said. "I think some guys take it personal, because they've been doing it longer and haven't received any reward for it yet. I think it's a tough subject to touch on for a lot of guys."
The true impact of the league's new collective bargaining agreement won't be known for a few more years, in large part because of the incredibly punitive luxury tax that doesn't kick in until the 2013-14 campaign. But this is the fork in the road that commissioner David Stern envisioned during those negotiations when he often preached parity and increased economic efficiency for all. However, as evidenced by Brooklyn's fearless (though futile) pursuit of Howard that came the risk of putting its payroll above $100 million -- and the fact that New York is still contemplating matching Lin -- the fear factor doesn't seem to be kicking in just yet.
Lin's case is unique, of course, with his ability to spike the Knicks' revenues globally meaning this is more about business than basketball. The Knicks clearly don't believe Lin is capable of taking over the team this season, hence they signed Felton and will now hope for a repeat of the 2010-11 campaign in which both Felton and the then-franchise centerpiece, forward Amar'e Stoudemire, were at their best. Jason Kidd, who signed a three-year, $9 million deal to join the Knicks, would play the veteran leadership role in the backup position. Yet beyond being the moneymaker, it remains to be seen exactly how Lin would fit into the basketball equation.
Matching Lin's offer would have a major impact on the Knicks' payroll, with the numbers surely daunting even for an organization that -- with an assist from Lin last season -- always rakes in the dough. Matching the Lin offer means the Knicks would likely be slated to pay about $79 million for just five players in the 2014-15 season, at which point the price tag would start skyrocketing because of tax implications. Starting in 2013-14, teams that are less than $5 million over the luxury tax threshold (which isn't yet known for that year but will likely be around $70 million) pay $1.50 for every dollar they are over the tax. Teams that exceed the tax by $5 million to $10 million pay $1.75 for every dollar over; teams that are $10 million to $15 million over pay $2.50; and teams that are $15 million to $20 million over pay $3.25, with subsequent 50-cent increases for each additional $5 million over the line. And should a team stay in the tax for four out of five seasons, those rates increase by a dollar in each respective category. A financial day of reckoning awaits, in other words.
The silliest of summers, indeed.