Should the Knicks pay the price to keep a player who became a global phenomenon last season but is still largely unproven? How does Lin stack up against Felton? How would Lin fit in Houston (which waived him before the start of last season and now wants him back)? SI.com's NBA writers assess those questions and more as the clock ticks for the Knicks.
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Ian Thomsen: If Mike D'Antoni were still coaching the Knicks, the answer would be "yes" -- and in that case I doubt whether Houston would have gone to such trouble to sign Lin, who was so valuable for D'Antoni that the whole world paid attention. But Lin isn't likely to play the same kind of role over a full season with coach Mike Woodson, and if the Knicks are thinking he'll be less important than he was in January, then why would they ever pay him so much money?
Zach Lowe: I'm not going to tell the Knicks what they should and shouldn't do when I haven't seen their internal financial projections, especially when we are talking about a player whose worth we're essentially basing on a sample size of about two dozen games. Lin was wonderful in those games, but New York's offense scored at only a league-average rate during the height of Linsanity, and we have very little evidence that the core of Lin, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler can mesh well. We have very little evidence of anything about this New York core, really. Letting Lin go would be a weird decision for a team that hasn't shown much previous concern for the luxury tax and could still avoid the dreaded repeater penalty by ducking the tax in 2015-16, when it has barely any salary committed. But it's not weird to the point of being obviously and totally wrong.
Lee Jenkins: The Knicks are obviously in a terrible dilemma, considering the excitement Lin generated, the fans he attracted and the business opportunities he sparked. But the contract is too rich for a player who has started 25 games and a team that would spend its way deep into the luxury tax. The Knicks would have to pay Lin like an elite point guard and scouts aren't convinced that he is one, especially in an isolation-heavy system that features Anthony. With the new CBA, and the high-salary players the Knicks already carry, another reckless deal could cripple them. Judging by the quotes from Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith, it could also lead to locker-room discontent. As gut-wrenching as it would be to let Lin leave for nothing, given what those 25 games were like, it's riskier to keep him.
Chris Mannix: It's a difficult question. Lin is one of the most marketable players in the league, a one-man merchandise-, ticket- and sponsorship-selling machine; his February explosion practically resolved the dispute between MSG Network and Time Warner Cable. But his 25 starts in D'Antoni's offense-happy system is a pretty small body of work to justify a third year in which Lin would make almost $15 million ... and may not even be a starter. If it were any other team, I'd say "no." But for the Knicks, with their limitless resources, ability to scoff at the luxury tax and the fact they will have little cap flexibility the next few years anyway, it's a risk worth taking.
Sam Amick: No. I think the Knicks have a sense of the problems it could cause in their locker room if Lin returns under that contract. He's obviously a cash cow for the organization, but there's serious potential for jealousy and bad blood among his teammates if Lin doesn't replicate last season's theatrics. New York obviously felt the need to get a more proven product in place (Felton) to pair with Jason Kidd, and holding on to him at this price simply because he's a major draw (even from the bench) is just way too shallow of a strategy. Though one could argue that it's a perfect way for Lin to ease his way into a more prominent role a couple of years from now, even the Knicks shouldn't be tying up this kind of money for a player who will fill that kind of role.
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Thomsen: It would say that they don't believe he can be a star while playing in a more traditional NBA offense, which the Knicks will be playing for Woodson. It would also say that they've made a calculation of his value financially -- what he would be worth to them in terms of sponsorships and attention -- and that he wouldn't bring in enough money to offset his exorbitant cost to the Knicks in terms of salary and luxury tax.
Lowe: It could say many things, but the most important would probably be that the Knicks didn't view Lin's skills and marketability as being worth a giant luxury-tax hit. There are other possible explanations -- sticking it to the Rockets, somehow being "angry" that Lin tested the market to this degree, concerns about the impact of his deal on team chemistry -- but smart teams get over those pieces of emotional bitterness if they believe in the talent and off-the-court profit opportunities. And if it really comes down to money and the tax, we have an early sign that the new collective bargaining agreement can dissuade even the two teams for whom past tax penalties have been irrelevant -- the Knicks and Lakers.
Jenkins: It would say the new CBA is working, to some degree, because even the Knicks are watching their wallets. It would also say the Knicks are making basketball decisions independent of marketing and PR. Matching is the easier move. The Knicks would spare themselves a lot of angry headlines and fan revolts.
Mannix: That fiscal responsibility is a priority in New York. Lin has the potential to be a good player, maybe better. But that balloon payment in Year 3 is going to be an albatross if he doesn't pan out, which has to be what the organization is thinking if it decides not to match.
Amick: That they made a basketball decision, which is the perfectly prudent thing to do even when you have one of the league's most successful business models. If the Knicks have decided that Lin isn't the guy to lead their team on the floor, then they should be credited if they decide to avoid the gimmicky signing just because of what he does for the franchise off the floor.
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Thomsen: The only time Felton has looked like a star was during his 54-game run with D'Antoni two years ago. Otherwise, the Bobcats, Nuggets and Trail Blazers have all let go of him. But if Felton's contract will indeed be $10 million to $11 million for three years, as some reports say, he'll be much better value than Lin -- especially if the Knicks doubt Lin's ability to adapt.
Lowe: Probably not. It's true that the Lin sample size is limited, but there are almost zero examples of players performing at the level he reached over his 26 games as a real part of New York's rotation and then flaming out. Lin recorded an All-Star-level Player Efficiency of 19.9, scored efficiently, passed well and at least held up on defense. He'll turn 24 next month. Felton just turned 28, is coming off the worst season of his career and has put up a league-average PER just twice in seven seasons -- and never one approaching 20.0. He's a solid defender when in shape (ahem) but hardly a game-changer on that end, and the idea that he brings long-range shooting to the Knicks has been wildly overblown. Felton is career 33 percent shooter from deep over a span in which the league average has been 35 percent, and there has been no general upward trend to his long-range shooting. Felton essentially is what he is at this point. Lin was significantly better than that last season and has room to grow.
Jenkins: Felton probably played the best basketball of his career during his few months in New York. He signed with the Knicks as a free agent, led a mini-renaissance alongside Stoudemire and never wanted to be traded. He was roped into the Anthony deal in February 2011 and has struggled ever since. Felton will be happy back in New York, but the Knicks' system isn't the same and neither is he. He looked out of shape and aloof last season. Even though Lin didn't play a lot of games, he tore through defenses in a way Felton cannot, and he left the Knicks wondering what he could accomplish with more time. Felton is not capable of energizing a team the way Lin did. But no one claims Felton is better than Lin. His salary is just more palatable.
Mannix: It's hard to say, mostly because we don't know what the Knicks' offense is going to look like in training camp. But Felton -- who has played in several different offenses in his career, including D'Antoni's -- is a proven commodity with a significantly cheaper price tag. It all boils down to this: Do the Knicks believe Lin will pick up where he left off last season? Or is he a flash in the pan, a player whom teams will be able to defend once they get a better read on his weaknesses?
Amick: I'm not so sure about that. Felton was very good in his stint in New York, but that was two seasons and one coach ago. D'Antoni is gone, and things changed for his then-running mate, Stoudemire, after Anthony was acquired from Denver. The dynamic is different, and the Knicks, should they decide not to re-sign Lin, may very well look back and wish they'd kept the Linsanity going. Felton could surprise me and replicate his play of 2010-11, but he really struggled last year in Portland and comes in with very little, if any, momentum.
Thomsen: The most important thing for Lin is to find a team that will enable him to establish his value for the long term. He's a big enough name that he doesn't need the New York market to extend his stardom. He has to fulfill himself on the court, and with this offer the Rockets are insisting that he can become a star for them. It doesn't matter what the Knicks and other teams think of him or how he would play in other offensive systems; all that matters is the Rockets' obvious belief that he'll be worth the money they're offering him and that ultimately he'll make the Knicks look bad for not keeping him.
Lowe: It's hard to conclude anything about Houston until we see how the team sorts out its roster. If the Rockets successfully trade for Dwight Howard -- a trickier proposition if they do end up with Lin -- then the guy who couldn't make the end of Houston's bench a year ago gets to team up with a pick-and-roll beast. If the Rockets lose out on Howard (or Andrew Bynum or another star), Lin will be something close to a top option on a bare roster, carrying a heavy load for a team that would still be looking to retool almost completely every second of his tenure. Life would be more difficult without a proven pick-and-roll partner or star-level surrounding talent to draw attention all over the floor, but it would be a situation in flux, and still way better than his precarious NBA life of six months ago.
[Zach Lowe: Rockets all-in in bid for a star]
Jenkins: Yes, because he can be a basketball player. If he falters, no one will be looming over his shoulder, and if he succeeds, no one will be turning him into a Broadway sensation. He will be able to develop as any other young point guard would, only with more security, because of this contract. It helps that Lin knows the Rockets, and they know him, since they were the last team to give up on him before he landed in New York. What he needs now is a post player, whether Howard or Bynum.
Mannix: Houston would be great for Lin. The global marketing opportunities would still be there. Plus, he would be playing in a pick-and-roll-heavy system that helped both Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic average career highs in scoring last season. The uncertainty over Woodson's offense makes the Rockets a better fit, basketball-wise.
Amick: It could be. It remains to be seen with whom Lin would be playing in Houston, but it wouldn't be a bad thing to get a legitimate fresh start completely separate from the Knicks' situation, which had such a lightning-in-the-bottle feel to it. And besides, he'd have to get along better with coach Kevin McHale than his possible point guard predecessor, Lowry, right?
Thomsen: The Knicks are going to be asking a lot of Kidd to organize their offense and enable Anthony and Stoudemire to be stars while sharing the ball. Marcus Camby is a solid addition who will improve their defense, which was a strength last year. Never mind the East -- the competition for the Knicks is going to be proving that they're the best team in New York.
Lowe: The same place they finished last season: a middle-of-the-pack playoff team with a gazillion basic questions of fit still to answer before we can have a reasonable discussion of what their ceiling might be, and whether that ceiling is much higher than the team's current location in the conference pecking order.
Jenkins: They're in about the same spot, only now they have to contend with the Nets in the Atlantic Division and in their own city. They aren't going to win a championship next year with or without Lin.
Mannix: The bar is Miami, and the Knicks didn't do anything to push them closer to that level. Still, this Knicks team has the firepower to match up with any team in the league. But I keep coming back to this question: Will the offense maximize the talents of Stoudemire and Anthony? Or will it be the Melo show or the Amar'e show, with one often left out?
Amick: I like their offseason quite a bit. They recovered nicely after losing out on Steve Nash, as Kidd still has something left and he should help persuade Anthony, Stoudemire and Co. to finally make things work as a group. It was no small feat to get Smith back on a relatively modest deal ($2.8 million in the first season, player option in the second), and retaining sharpshooter Steve Novak (four years, $15 million) was a good move, too. Novak wasn't much of a factor in the playoffs, but shooters are always at a premium and one has to think that Woodson learned a thing or 10 about how to best use him. As new-additions-with-limited-cap-flexibility go, the sign-and-trade for Camby was a top-notch move to add depth behind Chandler, the Defensive Player of the Year. The pressure will be on Woodson now to take the next step with this team after a strong second half to last season.