|Lin's mega marketing value is a major reason why New York would consider matching Houston's offer sheet. (US)|
UPDATED 11:24 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON -- On the eve of their deadline to match the Rockets' three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet for Jeremy Lin, the Knicks have yet to tip their hand. Multiple people involved in the process told CBSSports.com Monday that New York has not communicated its intentions to Houston or to Lin's camp.
But there was a school of thought in league circles Monday that the Knicks matching the massively back-loaded offer for Lin should not be ruled out. Doing so would require that one of the Knicks' big salaries would have to be moved in the next two years or the team would face a potentially massive luxury-tax bill in 2014-15.
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If they matched Lin's offer sheet, which calls for him to be paid $5 million next season, $5.225 million in 2013-14 and $14.9 million in 2014-15, the Knicks would have $80 million committed to five players in the balloon-payment year of Lin's deal. Viewed another way, if the Knicks added the necessary players between now and then through the draft and other means, Lin's nearly $15 million salary in 2014-15 would cost them $43 million, including $28 million in luxury tax under the new tax rates that take effect with the 2013-14 season.
That's a massive poison pill, likely too big even for the Knicks to swallow. But Lin returning to the Knicks got a surprising endorsement Monday night from Carmelo Anthony, who days earlier had ridiculed the Rockets' backloaded offer for the point guard.
"I hope we can get it done, man," Anthony said after Team USA beat Brazil 80-69 in the Americans' final tuneup on home soil before the London Olympics. "I would love to see him back. Honestly, I would deflinitey love to see him back. But knowing the business of basketball, it's kind of a tough situation for both parties. For Jeremy, I know that he definitely wants to be back in New York and (Madison Square Garden chairman) James Dolan definitely wants him back. But it's just a matter of figuring it out at this point."
Anthony said he wasn't surprised at the backlash he received after calling the Rockets' offer for Lin "ridiculous." In addition to Anthony, another Knicks teammate, J.R. Smith, told SI.com that Lin's $15 million salary in the third year of the deal would be a problem in the locker room.
"I always get backlash; it's nothing new," Anthony said. "It was ridiculous for them to do what they did as far as throwing that out there and making it tough on us to sign him back. That's why it's called free agency, though."
What Knicks management is said to be weighing, according to league sources, is Lin's enormous marketing value and whether enough players currently under contract could be traded before the third-year spike in Lin's contract hits. Although Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler are on the books for a combined $62.4 million in 2014-15, all three would be on expiring contracts -- and thus possibly tradeable to a team eager to clear massive amounts of cap space. More realistically, Raymond Felton and/or Jason Kidd also would be on expiring contracts and would have trade value, although their relatively meager salaries would barely make a dent in the room New York would need to clear to avoid huge tax penalties.
There also is a belief among league sources that the Knicks' acquisition of Felton was partially for insurance in case they let Lin walk, but also simply a matter of time running out to convert free agent Jared Jeffries and non-guaranteed Dan Gadzuric into an asset -- both on the court and in future trades. The Knicks' surrendering a second-round pick and the draft rights to two Greek prospects signaled that there was more urgency behind the Felton trade -- an urgency for the Knicks to protect themselves in the event they decided not to match the offer for Lin.
If nothing else, at least this is clear about Lin's role: Rival executives view him as virtually untradeable with $15 million next to his name on the 2014-15 salary books. So whether Lin is a Knick or a Rocket at 11:59 p.m. ET Tuesday -- New York's deadline for matching the offer sheet -- his team will have to be prepared to move other pieces or face enormous tax consequences.
Nobody knows for sure what the Knicks will do, and these are just some of the issues the New York front office is wrestling with as the matching decision looms. The only sure thing seems to be that, as with all deadlines, this one will go down to the wire.