- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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But Lin woke up Wednesday morning as a member of the Houston Rockets after the Knicks declined to match Houston's three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet.
"Honestly, I preferred New York," Lin told Sports Illustrated. "But my main goal in free agency was to go to a team that had plans for me and wanted me. I wanted to have fun playing basketball. ... Now I'm definitely relieved."
Lin's comments shed light on the Knicks decision not to match his offer from Houston and the process that led to it.
A team source told ESPNNewYork.com earlier this week that the third year of the Rockets' offer -- worth $14.8 million -- caused the Knicks to consider letting Lin go. If the Knicks matched the offer, they would have been subject to a luxury tax in the third year, potentially bringing their total out-of-pocket cost for Lin to about $43 million in 2014-15.
The Rockets' offer to Lin will pay him $5 million in the first year, $5.225 million in the second and $14.8 million in the third, according to sources.
Lin told Sports Illustrated that he'd never considered the idea that the Knicks wouldn't match his offer until the team traded for point guard Raymond Felton last Saturday, confirming what a source told ESPNNewYork.com on Tuesday.
Lin had been given several assurances that he'd be back in New York prior to the Felton trade.
In late June, the 23-year-old had dinner with Knicks coach Mike Woodson in Los Angeles to talk about his future with the club.
"Woodson was saying, 'You're going to be a starter, you're going to be a big part of the team,'" Lin said. "I came away really excited."
"Felton's signing was the first time when I thought, 'Oh, wow, I might not be a Knick,'" Lin added.
That became a reality late Tuesday night, when the Knicks officially announced that they'd be letting Lin walk, confirming what ESPN's Stephen A. Smith had reported over the weekend that New York had no plans to match the offer.
Shortly after the Knicks announced their decision, Lin tweeted, "Much love and thankfulness to the Knicks and New York for your support this past year...easily the best year of my life#ForeverGrateful."
"Extremely excited and honored to be a Houston Rocket again!!#RedNation," Lin added in another tweet.
The Knicks stated publicly after the season that they had every intention of bringing Lin back.
But New York's thinking changed when Lin signed his final offer sheet with Houston.
Original reports stated that the Rockets' offer to Lin was for four years and $28.8 million, with the third and fourth years for $9.3 million each.
But New York balked at the final offer sheet, which was heavily backloaded in the third season.
With Lin out, the Knicks will turn to Felton at point guard. Jason Kidd, 39, will serve as Felton's backup.
As for Lin, he joins a Rockets team that finished in ninth place in the Western Conference last year and underwent a major overhaul in the offseason. Houston is said to be interested in obtaining Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic.
Sports Illustrated reports that Lin is "happy" with his new employer, even though the Rockets had cut him before this past season. A source close to Lin told ESPNNewYork.com late Tuesday that he was "warming up" to the idea of playing for the Rockets.
The Knicks' decision to cut ties with Lin ends his brief but unforgettable run in New York.
The 23-year-old averaged 14.6 points, 6.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 35 games with 25 starts before his season was cut short because of surgery to repair torn cartilage in his knee.
Lin tried to rejoin the Knicks during the playoffs, but wasn't able to play. He declared himself "85 percent" healthy before Game 5 of the Knicks-Heat series but did not suit up. According to a team source, that caused friction in the locker room.
"Other guys were hurt, playing at less than 85 percent, so some of them didn't like that," said the source.
Lin addressed the injury and the surrounding circumstances with Sports Illustrated.
"Every single vet on our team that has been in the league longer than five years pulled me aside and told me that I shouldn't play," Lin said. "And I had arguments with them about why I should."
Sports Illustrated also reports that Lin clarified his "85 percent" comment. According to the magazine, Lin claims that he was 15 percent from the "absolute minimum threshold to play."
"People think it was easy for me to sit there and watch us lose, like I had nothing to do with the season," Lin said. "I was dying to play. I didn't miss a game due to injury in seven years until this past season, and people are acting like I wouldn't want to play in the playoffs? Of the NBA? In my first season?"
Lin also said that Dolan, the Knicks owner, supported his decision.
"I have plans for you in the future," Lin remembers Dolan saying, according to SI. "This is a long-term investment. Don't rush back."
In the 35 games he was healthy, Lin went from an end-of-the-bench afterthought to an international phenomenon.
The undrafted guard out of Harvard, who was also cut by the Warriors in the preseason and played in the D-League, set the league on fire in February, leading the Knicks to seven consecutive wins. He scored at least 20 points in nine of 10 games during that stretch.
Lin, a restricted free agent who made $788,000 last season, expressed to SI his appreciation for Knicks fans during his incredible run last year.
"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."
Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.
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