Chapter 6: The Lin Camp

How the Knicks' actions led to Jeremy Lin's departure from New York

Originally Published: July 19, 2012
By Chris Broussard | ESPN The Magazine

In the months, weeks and days leading up to July 1, Jeremy Lin had every reason to believe he would be returning to the New York Knicks.

In an effort to scare off competitors from trying to sign him, the club had been spreading the word for months that it would match any offer presented. Like most around the league, the Lin camp took those words to heart and felt his future was almost assuredly in New York.

His representatives, Roger Montgomery and Jim Tanner, had been speaking with the Knicks every few days and the club gave every indication, in word and in deed, that retaining Lin was a priority. Lin was even working out in his hometown of Palo Alto, Calif., with Knicks assistant coach Kenny Atkinson.

So when he got a telephone call one day in late June from Mike Woodson, asking him to meet for dinner in Los Angeles, Lin was excited to meet with the coach he thought would be leading him the next few years. Knicks stars Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, as well as Lin's best friend on the Knicks, Landry Fields, were also at the dinner at Mastro's Steakhouse in Beverly Hills.

During the bonding session, Woodson talked of Lin being the Knicks' starting point guard and the stars talked of coming together next season on the court, further confirming Lin's belief that he'd remain in New York. No potential salaries had been bandied about between the two sides at that point, but with the Knicks speaking so confidently about Lin's future with the team, his camp figured that money would not be a sticking point.

The first red flags came on July 1, according to a source close to Lin, when the Knicks failed to place the obligatory 12:01 a.m. ET phone call. While three other teams, including Toronto and Dallas, called Lin as soon as possible, the Knicks waited until 12:15 a.m. to contact Montgomery. And rather than call him, they sent him a text, saying they'd prefer to talk later on Sunday unless the Lin camp felt they needed to speak immediately, according to a source. They agreed to speak Sunday afternoon.

While it may not seem like a big deal, Lin's camp felt the Knicks' nonchalant approach was a show of disrespect and took it as a sign that the Knicks might play hardball. When the parties did speak, their feelings were confirmed.

Montgomery and Tanner were hoping to receive an offer. The Knicks could offer Lin a four-year deal worth $24.3 million before he even hit the open market. While sources say Lin still would have tested the market -- where other clubs could offer as much as $40 million over four years, complete with the "poison pill'' -- Lin's representatives felt a Knicks offer right off the bat would have shown that New York was truly prioritizing him as much as they said.

While no one claims Lin would have definitely taken less money to stay in New York, one source close to him says a reasonable Knicks offer on July 1 -- and "reasonable" in this case meant the full four years, $24.3 million -- would have made it tough for him to leave the team.

"If they had made that type of offer, he probably would be in New York right now," the source said. "It would have made it difficult for offers from other teams to really sway him because his goal and his heart was to go back to New York. I can't say for sure that he would've turned down a larger offer from another team, but when your incumbent team comes at you and offers you as much as it can, that shows that you're a priority. That would have made it difficult to look elsewhere."

But instead of making an offer, the Knicks spoke in terms of concepts rather than numbers, a source said. And their concept, according to the source, was for Lin to sign a front-loaded contract that actually decreased in the third year of the deal, with no mention of a fourth year. Considering that the most Lin could get in the first year of the deal was $5.3 million, it seemed to Lin's representatives that the Knicks were asking him to settle for $4 million or even less in the third year. Sources close to the Knicks would not confirm that the figures discussed were front-loaded or less than the maximum possible offer.

The Knicks' motivation for a front-loaded deal was to avoid a harsh penalty when the new luxury tax rules kick in for the 2014-15 season, the third year on a new Lin contract. The Knicks' apprehension about paying a steep tax later in the deal gave the Lin camp pause and led it to conclude for the first time that if Lin got a lucrative offer elsewhere, the Knicks probably would not match it.

While it may not seem like a big deal, Lin's camp felt the Knicks' nonchalant approach was a show of disrespect and took it as a sign that the Knicks might play hardball. When the parties did speak, their feelings were confirmed.

At that point, Lin's representatives began going on the offensive, telling clubs that were interested in Lin, most notably the Toronto Raptors, that the Knicks were not likely to match a lucrative offer. But most teams, still convinced the Knicks wouldn't let Lin go, didn't believe them.

Then along came the Houston Rockets. The Rockets had not called Lin at 12:01 on July 1, and had not been aggressively recruiting him. But when they finally reached out, the two sides agreed to meet in Houston on July 4. Lin met with Rockets coach Kevin McHale, who told him how well he'd fit into Houston's up-tempo, pick-and-roll offense.

Lin was already convinced of that, having watched Goran Dragic, a departing Rockets point guard, excel in McHale's scheme over the second half of the season. Dating back to before he was passed over in the 2010 draft, Lin had told people he felt his game was like Dragic's. It caused many to chuckle -- as in, "Why compare yourself to a reserve?" -- but Lin truly felt their games were similar.

While Lin spoke with McHale, Montgomery and Tanner talked to the Rockets' management. They spoke about the parameters of a deal, and Lin's camp left Houston believing it would eventually receive an offer. Conflicting reports had the Rockets expected to offer either four years, $28.8 million, or three years, $19 million. According to a source, Houston confirmed to the Knicks the size of the offer that had been discussed with Lin's representatives.

Such information, whether gained directly from Houston or indirectly from media reports, must have convinced New York, at least Woodson, that would be the Rockets' offer, because he told reporters at the Las Vegas summer league that Lin would "absolutely'' return, and return as the Knicks' starter. Media reports cited other sources that confirmed the Knicks planned to match.

Of course, the only official offer would be the one the Rockets actually presented to Lin (and to the Knicks, if Lin signed the offer sheet), and that one had not yet been finalized. Houston, whether spurred on by Woodson's comments or not, eventually offered Lin the maximum that it could in a three-year deal, giving him $14.9 million in the final year to bring the total to $25.1 million. Lin signed the offer sheet on July 13.

While Lin's reps didn't have to call the Knicks, they telephoned Knicks GM Glen Grunwald to tell him about the offer. After sharing the numbers with Grunwald, they asked him for a reaction. According to a source, Grunwald said the Knicks had three days to match and he'd let them know once they got the offer.

[+] EnlargeRaymond Felton
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesWith Raymond Felton back in a Knicks uniform, Lin knew he might be wearing a different one.

Things got a bit strange at that point, with Grunwald seemingly avoiding the Rockets in Las Vegas in order to buy more time before receiving the offer. Lin didn't understand what was happening, but it eventually dawned on his representatives that the Knicks were working on an alternative plan just in case they decided not to match the offer. When Lin saw reports about the Knicks trading for Raymond Felton, he realized his days in New York might be numbered.

Still, he never accepted it until he got the call from Grunwald himself Tuesday night. Even with all the reports that the Knicks would not match the offer, Lin held on to the idea that they might just be false reports, according to a source close to him. Throughout the process, Lin tried to keep an even keel. He tried to remember that it was business, and to keep his emotions out of it.

His experience with celebrity during the height of Linsanity helped. When reports surfaced that Anthony called Lin's contract offer from Houston "ridiculous," Lin refused to believe it, the source said. He had seen many false reports during his fabulous Knicks run and chalked up the Melo story as just another inaccuracy. He told those close to him that Anthony had to have been either misquoted or had his quotes taken out of context. He never believed Anthony belittled him or didn't want him back.

It was the same with J.R. Smith, even though Smith was quoted on the record as saying the size of Lin's contract could become a problem in the locker room with some Knicks who had more experience than the 23-year-old Lin. Still, Lin was bothered by suggestions that leaked out that some thought he had developed a sense of entitlement and become big-headed and arrogant during the height of his fame, and that he had rubbed his teammates the wrong way.

He also didn't like the idea emerging from some corners that he had sold out his teammates by not playing in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference first round against the Miami Heat even though he was "85 percent" healthy.

"You go through a range of emotions when you hear that stuff, especially because it's so inaccurate," a source close to Lin said. "Initially, you're upset, then disappointed, then angry and you even think about getting even. But when it's all said and done, you have to stick to who you are and that usually prevails in the end.

"Ultimately, Jeremy looked at it as reporters being reporters. He never felt anything against the Knicks, and he has nothing against them now. The Knicks gave him an opportunity that was great and he cherished it."

Six Degrees of Separation: Jeremy Lin

The Family | The Knicks | The Rockets | The Poison Pill | The Financials | The Lin Camp

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