They say in life you don’t often get second chances. What they don’t tell you is that if you’re Daryl Morey, that’s apparently not necessarily the case.
Last Christmas Eve, the Houston Rockets' general manager cut Jeremy Lin ’10, leaving the point guard he had just claimed off waivers disenchanted and unsure whether he had a future in the game he loved.
Morey had wanted to sign center Samuel Dalembert, but had too many players for roster spots. With point guards Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, and Jonny Flynn already on the squad, cutting Lin was an easy way for him to solve that problem.
But thanks to a turn of events that has stunned the basketball world, Lin will walk back into the very same office where he was once considered a benchwarmer and seven months later sign a contract that will make him the face of the Rockets’ franchise.
Lin’s three year, $25.1 million dollar contract was not matched by the New York Knicks Tuesday night, news that started out as shocking but became increasingly expected as the clock ticked towards 11:59 p.m., the minute which officially marked the conclusion of the team’s three-day period it was granted to match the deal and with it the end of Linsanity at Madison Square Garden.
“Welcome to Houston @JLin7! We plan to hang on this time. You will love #RedNation,” Morey tweeted Tuesday night.
It had been widely expected, if not presumed, that New York would match any offer for the restricted free agent who captivated its fan base and the nation in a startling February and March run that saw him score more points than any player in NBA history over his first five starts, land on the cover of Sports Illustrated in back-to-back weeks, and become one of the most popular athletes on the planet almost overnight.
But all that changed late Saturday night, when the Knicks reacquired Raymond Felton via a sign-and-trade, adding the former floor general of their own to a revamped group of point guards that includes the newly-signed Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni and all but signaling the end of Lin’s time in the Big Apple.
Just a week ago, Lin's departure seemed unthinkable, even more so after the Knicks surprisingly won a court case that granted them Lin’s early Bird Rights. The point guard was initially said to have agreed to a four year, $28.8 million dollar contract with Houston, which last Tuesday Knicks coach Mike Woodson said his team would “absolutely” match, because “Jeremy Lin has always been a big part of what we're trying to do as we move forward with our franchise.”
But all that changed when the contract Lin actually ended up signing included a far larger “poison pill” in its final season then the Knicks’ brass had expected. After making $5 million in the first year of his contract and $5.225 million in the second, the third year of Lin’s deal will pay him $14.8 million, a number that could have cost Knicks’ owner James Dolan over $45 million in luxury tax payments thanks to the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.
Whether because Dolan was unwilling to pay the tax, angry at Lin and his representation for changing the terms of the initially-agreed upon contract, or simply not a believer in Lin’s potential as a player—all of which have been rumored in the days leading up to the Knicks’ deadline—Lin is now headed back to Houston, where he will count for approximately $8 million against the Rockets salary cap all three years of the contract thanks to a loophole in the CBA that Morey exploited to his advantage.
On Tuesday night, Lin appeared happy to be headed back to Texas, tweeting “Extremely excited and honored to be a Houston Rocket again!! #RedNation.”
But the startling turn of events had broken the hearts of many Knick fans who the point guard had captivated during his unforgettable run, including over 14,000 who signed a petition this week pleading the Knicks to match the offer sheet. Though some felt it was unwise for New York, with a recent history of economic imprudence, to give a contract that large to a player with such a small sample size of success, others argued it was nonsensical for the Knicks—well over the salary cap for the next three seasons anyway and possessing just one player (Iman Shumpert) younger than 25 on its roster—to let an asset with Lin’s potential walk without compensation.
On Tuesday, the former group got its wish, forcing Lin to leave a parting message to the team and the city that changed his life forever.
“Much love and thankfulness to the Knicks and New York for your support this past year...easily the best year of my life #ForeverGrateful,” he tweeted.