After joining the Rockets in 2012 restricted free agency (via an offer sheet unmatched by the Knicks), Jeremy Lin made a blunt admission: He preferred New York.
We didn’t realize how much.
Lin, via MSG Network (which is spending the week revisiting Linsanity):
“I’m not sure if I’ve ever even said this publicly because, in my mind, like you said, I’m looking forward. And I think, I’m not sure if I said this publicly, but I don’t have any regrets. Because really, to me, I didn’t really have a decision like I only have one contract. I was only offered one contract. We couldn’t get anything from any other team. And so, I had to go find a contract from somebody. And I remember when Houston gave the offer, I promise you, I had just finished a workout and got into my car and got the phone call from my agent and I said to him, ‘can you tell Houston to lower the offer, this is too much. Can you tell someone to lower the offer’, because I wanted to go back to New York and I wanted New York to match. The time there, with the fans, everything. It was so special. I was like, I need to go back to New York. That’s where my heart is. So, I call my agent and said ‘hey, find a way to get out of Houston. Give me a less good of a contract so that New York will match it’ and he said, ‘we can’t, this is Houston’s final offer and we’ve been talking to them for a week, two weeks, three weeks, this is it. We’re at the end and this is the only offer that you got, you have to sign it.’ So I remember signing it, and again, this is no disrespect to Houston. At that time, I didn’t know anything about the organization or the city. I just knew New York. So, I actually was trying really hard. I was like, man, we have to find a way to make this contract, like bring down the money, bring down the years, whatever we need to do, make it easier. So that it’s not a poison pill. And that’s honestly where my heart was at the time and obviously it didn’t happen, but in my mind, I was like, ‘all right, well, I still hope that New York matches and there’s still a chance.’ But it was a long 72 hours.”
The problem: The Rockets actually wanted Lin. They even increased Lin’s guarantee to make the offer sheet more difficult to match.
Salary-cap rules at the time also aided Houston.
Because of the Arenas rule, Lin was limited to a $5,000,000 salary his first season and $5,225,000 salary his second season. The third year could pay more, and the Rockets offered $14,898,938 to bring his total compensation to $25,123,938.
For Houston, Lin would count against the cap each season at his average salary: $8,374,646.
But if the Knicks matched, their cap hit would have been Lin’s actual salary each season: $5,000,000, $5,225,000 then $14,898,938. That third-year balloon payment could have caused a jam in 2014-15.
As a result of this situation and the Rockets signing Omer Asik to an identically structured offer sheet (which the Bulls didn’t match), the NBA changed its rules in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. Now, the matching team can choose whether to make the cap hit the player’s actual or average salary.
That was too late for Lin, though.
Even if it weren’t, we’ll never know whether the Knicks would have matched.
New York star Carmelo Anthony publicly called Lin’s offer “ridiculous.” The Knicks found a point guard they liked in Raymond Felton. And it’s not as if Lin proved to be great value on this deal. Houston had to attach a first-round pick just to dump Lin on the Lakers a couple years later.
But Lin carried incredible star power and was intriguing as a player. If it were a little easier to keep him, New York might have.
Would Linsanity have continued? Doubtful. That was a well-timed hot streak, a solid player going supernova. But Lin and the Knicks are left with the “what if?”
That’s not ideal, but it’s better than another potential outcome – the Knicks matching, Lin not living up to his contract and New York turning on him.