The departure of Lin, who averaged 14.6 points and 6.2 assists in 35 National Basketball Association games for the Knicks last season, was probable after New York signed 39-year- old point guard Jason Kidd and re-acquired point guard Raymond Felton in a trade.
The Knicks had until yesterday to decide whether to match Houston’s three-year, $25 million offer -- a back-loaded contract that, under the new collective bargaining agreement, would have cost New York $25 million to $35 million more in the final season because of the league’s luxury tax.
“I can confirm that we are not matching,” Knicks spokesman Jonathan Supranowitz said in an e-mail.
Lin, the first Chinese- or Taiwanese-American to play in the NBA, boosted Knicks’ television ratings as well as merchandise and ticket sales after joining the team’s starting lineup on Feb. 6. The Harvard University graduate now returns to a Rockets team that cut him before he joined the Knicks.
“Extremely excited and honored to be a Houston Rocket again!!” Lin, 23, wrote on his Twitter account. “Much love and thankfulness to the Knicks and New York for your support this past year...easily the best year of my life.”
The Knicks’ decision to pass on Lin, a restricted free agent, ended a period during which his return to New York changed from seemingly inevitable to fiscally unreasonable due to the structure of the Rockets’ offer.
On July 11, Knicks coach Mike Woodson said that the team would match any offer for Lin, who emerged as a star on and off the court in his one abbreviated season in New York. Lin in May trademarked the term Linsanity, the catchphrase that encapsulated his rise from undrafted player to starter.
The Rockets offered Lin $5 million in the first season, $5.225 in the second and $14.8 million in the third, ESPN said, citing unidentified team officials.
If the Knicks agreed to match the contract, they would have had to pay Lin, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler a combined $75 million in 2014-15. Next season, teams have to pay the NBA $1 in tax for every $1 that their player payroll exceeds $70.3 million. If over the luxury-tax threshold, Lin’s third year under the new contract would have cost New York $43 million, according to ESPN.
Lin, who had surgery in April to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, will take over as the point guard in Houston after the Rockets traded Kyle Lowry to the Toronto Raptors.
The Rockets, who will host the NBA’s All-Star Game next season, get Lin a year after China’s Yao Ming retired from the NBA because of ankle and foot injuries.
“In his limited opportunity last season, Jeremy showed that he has all the skills to be a great player in this league for many years to come,” Rockets Owner Leslie Alexander said in a statement. “Jeremy is a winner on and off the court and we view him as an important part of our plan to build a championship contender.”
Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey welcomed Lin to Houston on Twitter and wrote that “we plan to hang on this time.” Lin was cut by both the Rockets and Golden State Warriors before the Knicks picked him up in December. He had a base salary of about $762,000 last season and has played in a total of 64 regular- season NBA games.
Lin started 25 games last season, helping the Knicks make the playoffs and expand marketing opportunities in China, the world’s biggest market. His emergence was also a boon to the team’s sponsorship deals. Coca-Cola Co. (COKE) added courtside advertisements in Chinese and the Knicks signed agreements with Taiwan-based Maxxis International, a tire manufacturer, and Acer Inc. (2353), the fourth-largest computer maker.
Lin’s departure captured the attention of other sports figures in New York, including New York Yankees All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira, who acknowledged the “end of Linsanity” after last night’s win against the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Thanks for two great months Jeremy and good luck in Houston,” Teixeira wrote on Twitter.
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