Jeremy Lin’s exit from New York didn’t pass quietly today, with Knicks fans stunned at how quickly the team’s most popular player got away.
“This is a classic example of Knicks’ mismanagement,” Mike Kurylo, a Manhattan resident who has written the Knickerblogger.net blog for the past eight years, said in a telephone interview.
Lin officially became a Houston Rocket last night after New York opted not to match a back-loaded, three-year, $25 million offer for the restricted free-agent guard.
In two weeks last season, Lin doubled Knicks’ television ratings, expanded the franchise’s reach to China, helped end a cable-television carriage dispute and reinvigorated a floundering team that eventually made the playoffs.
He took even less time to go from New York’s entrenched starting point guard to wearing another team’s uniform.
Among the callers to ESPN Radio 98.7 FM/1050 AM in New York, the Knicks’ flagship station, were some who felt Lin wasn’t worth the financial burden his contract would have placed on the team, host Ryan Ruocco said.
“There’s also a huge a faction of louder, more passionate people that cannot believe that the greatest thing they’ve seen on the floor in a Knicks’ uniform in the past 12 years is now gone for nothing,” Ruocco said in a telephone interview.
Lin’s return had seemed to be such a forgone conclusion that Ruocco’s show last week decided not to use daily promotions to mention the possibility that the Rockets might actually get him.
“We can’t really use that to create drama or urgency because everybody knows that the Knicks are going to match,” Ruocco said today about his colleagues’ earlier thinking. “How much have things changed?”
Today’s New York Times sports section headline captured Lin’s short stay as one of New York’s biggest celebrities, as well as yesterday’s 11:59 p.m. deadline the team had to decide whether to match Houston’s offer:
“Clock Strikes 12. Fairy Tale Ends.”
Six days earlier, Knicks’ coach Mike Woodson said the team would “absolutely” match any offer for Lin, a 23-year-old Harvard University graduate who was cut by two clubs including the Rockets before signing with New York. He would start ahead of newly signed 18-year veteran Jason Kidd, Woodson said.
Lin said in an interview with Sports Illustrated that he wanted to stay with the Knicks but was glad the wait was over.
“I love the New York fans to death,” Lin said. “That’s the biggest reason why I wanted to return to New York. The way they embraced me, the way they supported us this past season, was better than anything I’ve ever seen or experienced. I’ll go to my grave saying that. What New York did for me was unbelievable. I wanted to play in front of those fans for the rest of my career.”
Lin’s unexpected rise, which spawned the catch-phrase “Linsanity,” began when he posted a 25-point, seven-assist performance in a Feb. 4 win over the New Jersey Nets at Madison Square Garden, playing extended minutes for the first time with the Knicks. He moved into the starting lineup and became the first player in NBA history to score at least 20 points and collect seven assists in his first four starts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Lin’s final game for New York came March 24, when a chronic meniscal tear in his left knee flared up, requiring season-ending surgery. In 35 games, Lin averaged 14.6 points and 6.2 assists. New York, which was 8-15 on Feb. 3, finished the lockout-shortened season at 36-30 before falling to the Miami Heat 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs.
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.
With All-Stars Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler already under contract for 2014-15, the third year of Lin’s contract would have put New York over the National Basketball Association’s luxury-tax threshold, leading to $25 million to $35 million more in tax obligations.
“They could have kept him and traded him or Amar’e or ’Melo or Chandler before 2015,” said Kurylo, 38. “They could have planned ahead. They didn’t do any of that and they got nothing for it.”
By this morning, 14,679 people had signed a Change.org petition asking the Knicks to match Houston’s offer for Lin, the first Chinese- or Taiwanese-American to play in the NBA.
“I placed a vote,” said Michael Zhao, the managing editor of the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations in New York. “I guess it didn’t help.”
Zhao, who didn’t follow the Knicks until Lin’s emergence last season, said in a telephone interview that he’ll likely start following the Rockets.
“His emergence on the court for a few weeks with the Knicks really helped boost a lot of confidence from the Asian population, and not just basketball fans,” Zhao said. “I guess they have their reasons, but for the Asian community here it’s quite sad.”
The Knicks, owned by James Dolan, chairman of the Madison Square Garden Co., will get more competition in New York City next season, with the Nets moving to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn from Newark, New Jersey.
The most popular post on the Change.org petition, which continued to receive votes this morning, came three days ago from a person identifying him or herself as R.J. O’Connell. It included a mention of the Nets.
“Every time my NY cynicism crept through the cracks, he surprised me by doing something amazing the next night,” O’Connell said of Lin. “Dolan and Co., if you don’t sign him, consider me and a ton of other people across the Brooklyn Bridge to Barclays.”