Commentary

Knicks say goodbye to Linsanity

Letting season savior leave and getting nothing in return is new low for Dolan

Updated: July 19, 2012, 9:48 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

Jim Dolan just made one of the dumbest moves of his basketball life, which is saying a mouthful. The owner of the New York Knicks, who has spent years wearing a "Kick Me" sign on his back, just kicked out the Madison Square Garden door a promising 23-year-old point guard, a player who averaged 18 points and eight assists the one time someone in the NBA decided to start him instead of fire him.

Jeremy Lin was going places, and now he's going, going, gone. The Knicks voted him off the island of Manhattan. They voted against matching his $25.1 million offer sheet, the one he signed with the Houston Rockets, and barely thanked the kid for the memories, for making New Yorkers feel good about their basketball team for the first time in forever and, oh yeah, for making that nasty dispute between Cablevision and Time Warner go poof in the night.

[+] EnlargeJames Dolan
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesJames Dolan has doled out big money to the likes of Eddy Curry, Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas. But Jeremy Lin is too expensive?

At least Knicks fans found comfort in that future first-round pick the Rockets sent their way. Or was it Houston's rights to Royce White? Or the services of Kevin Martin to help fill the void at the two?

Actually, the Knicks didn't even get an autographed Yao Ming jersey in return. Dolan and GM Glen Grunwald and head coach Mike Woodson dispatched the same relative rookie who dropped 38 on Kobe's Lakers, the same guy whose 2012 stats put to shame those of many accomplished 23-year-old point guards of the past, Steve Nash included, without getting a player or pick for their trouble.

Just so they could hand the ball to the unworthy likes of Raymond Felton, a decent ex-Knick who was outplayed last season by -- you got it -- Jeremy Lin.

Felton is likely a bigger creation of the Mike D'Antoni system than his predecessor at the point ever was. He's four years older than Lin, and as a seven-year veteran he isn't getting any better and isn't getting his new team any closer to Miami.

But the Knicks ran off Lin anyway, if only to make the point that nobody -- not even the inspiration of the worldwide craze known as Linsanity -- crosses Jim Dolan and gets away with it. Just last week, after it was reported Lin had verbally agreed to a Houston guarantee worth nearly $20 million, Woodson announced that the Knicks would "absolutely" match the offer and that Lin would "absolutely" open as his starting quarterback.

Only the Knicks "absolutely" lost their minds after Lin took Woodson's empty pledges back to the negotiating table, inflated his poison-pill wage in Year 3 from $9.3 million to nearly $15 million, and stuck the Knicks with a luxury-tax bill in 2014-15 that would've left Warren Buffett cowering under a table.

So they made the trade for Felton, and then sealed it with a dis, telling Lin he could take his offer sheet and stuff it.

"And you have to blame Jeremy Lin at least for a little of the way this went down," maintained a source close to Knicks management. "LeBron James and Dwyane Wade worked together with Pat Riley to construct a deal to end up in Miami, and here it looked like Lin was trying to construct a deal to end up in Houston.

"Jeremy was the king of New York, and he could've made up that extra 5 to 6 million by staying with the Knicks. But now he's going to get the things every NBA player craves -- playing time and shots. He's going to average 20 and 10 for a Houston team that stinks."

Sure, Lin could've made this decision easier on the Knicks by signing the Rockets' original deal. But then again, after going undrafted, he'd already been dumped by several NBA teams, Houston among them. The Knicks were about to fire him, maybe send him to the D-League or overseas for good, until Lin went wild against the New Jersey Nets on the eve of the Super Bowl and then blew the champion Giants right off the front and back pages in a tabloid town.

Lin didn't even earn a lousy eight hundred grand for his trouble, this while making his bosses plenty more than that. So the point guard had every right to cash in. The Knicks? They had every right to offer Lin a four-year deal for $24 million at the start of free agency, a bid they never made.

The Knicks told Lin to hit the marketplace, and it turned out to be a mistake as big as the hiring of Larry Brown. Houston wanted Lin, and the same franchise that threw so much money at so many lost causes over the years decided to draw the line at $25.1 million for a potential star.

Lin might not turn out to be a star, but he'd already built a reasonable case suggesting the Knicks should take the gamble. Dolan took a pass. The owner whose one redeeming quality was his willingness to reach deep into his pockets chose to short-arm this one while his new Brooklyn neighbor, Mikhail Prokhorov, was assuming a third of a billion dollars in long-term commitments in his bid to rule New York.

Dolan embraced fiscal restraint at the worst possible time.

Lin would've been a bargain making $5 million in Years 1 and 2, and the Knicks could've dealt one of the four massive expiring contracts belonging to Lin, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler in the summer of 2014 to dodge the luxury-tax hit.

If the Gilbert Arenas, Rashard Lewis, and Joe Johnson contracts could be moved, the Knicks would've found a taker somewhere. And if no team under the salary cap would accommodate them, the Knicks could've waived Lin after two seasons and spread out his remaining salary over three years, easing their tax burdens under a "stretch provision" clause spelled out by ESPN's Larry Coon.

Only Dolan and his people weren't interested in working the problem. They hired Felton, a point guard who doesn't scare any contender, never mind the Heat, and released a younger playmaker with greater upside. Asked to project whether Lin or Felton will be the superior player over the next three years, one Knicks cabinet member conceded, "Probably Lin."

Definitely Lin. But the Knicks just let him walk Tuesday, just like they almost let him walk in February.

This was the very definition of Linsanity, minus the "L."

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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