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Dumb Move, Dolan

Trying to understand why the Knicks let Jeremy Lin walk away from Madison Square Garden

Question No. 1

Why does anyone care what James L. Dolan does with his money?

Maybe it’s the lingering effects of all those Ayn Rand books I read when I was a kid, or maybe it’s the “death of compassion” in these modern times, or maybe it’s just my inability to invest much emotion in the fates of trust fund kids, but I cannot understand why anyone would care what James L. Dolan does with his money. Today’s decision to not match Houston’s three-year, $25.1 million offer to Jeremy Lin, allowing him to walk out of Madison Square Garden, was not about Knicks fans or what Carmelo said or even about identity politics and the Great Yellow Hope. Jeremy Lin is now officially a Houston Rocket because Jim Dolan didn’t like the way Lin was handling his business and decided that he didn’t want to pay an employee who would have the audacity to field a competing offer.

Lin’s back-loaded salary is not what will prevent the Knicks from wooing LeBron James in the summer of 2014. Amar’e, Melo, Tyson Chandler, and the amnestying of Chauncey Billups have already rendered that scenario impossible. The $43 million the Knicks could potentially spend in year three of Lin’s contract ($14.8 million in salary plus roughly $28 million in luxury tax) does not spell certain fiscal doom for the Madison Square Garden Company, which has seen a $600 million spike in value since the start of Linsanity. According to Nate Silver of the New York Times, rumors that the Knicks would let Lin go to Houston have already caused MSG’s total stock valuation to drop about $50 million.

Worsening matters for Dolan, the Knicks, and the good name of logic is that the $43 million figure isn’t set in stone. Yes, it’s true that if Jeremy Lin had played fully to expectation and the Knicks had chosen to keep him for year three of his contract, they may have had to pay that much. But according to CBA wizard Larry Coon, if Lin ended up being a complete bust or suffered a severe injury, the team could have diluted the “poison pill” with something called the “stretch provision.” This option allows teams to lessen the blow of potentially disastrous luxury cap hits by spreading out the cost of single contract years like Lin’s $14.8 million over several years, thus letting the team avoid the luxury tax’s progressive penalties.

The failure to re-sign Jeremy Lin, despite months of guarantees, seems to be the latest in a line of silly, PR-inspired bumblings by a man who has continually thought, out-thought, rethought, and then un-thought himself.

Here’s how Jim Dolan would play pocket aces in a game of Texas hold ‘em:

Sweet! Pocket aces! Come on, JD, don’t mess this up. … Why is this asshole dealer looking at me like that and why is that dude in the cowboy hat smiling? Oh man, I think he knows. … Nah, he doesn’t know, he’s so stupid with his stupid hat and his stupid accent. Shit. He does know. Maybe I should call Isiah? Nah, cause if they see me calling Isiah, they’ll all laugh. Play it cool, Jimmy. What would be the only thing they’d never expect from you? What would Isiah do? WWID? Fold, Jimmy, fold!

DOLAN: I fold.
DEALER: Sir, it’s not your turn to act.
DOLAN: Don’t tell me what to do.
MAN IN HAT: Folded aces again, huh?
DOLAN: It was the right move, dickface.

Again, I ask: Why does anyone care how Jim Dolan spends his money? Unless Dolan releases MSG’s annual earnings report with a manual and a DVD that explain exactly how much more expensive tickets will be if the Knicks sign Jeremy Lin, none of us should speculate ourselves into agreeing with Jim Dolan.

As a side note: When, exactly, did fans start to believe that their best interests and the best interests of team owners were the same? When did, “Well, I don’t think [INSERT NAME OF REALLY RICH GUY] should spend his money in a way that would provide maximum entertainment value for me, the paying fan” become the go-to response? We have no idea how much money Jim Dolan stands to lose and how that affects the Knicks’ future. And Knicks fans shouldn’t care. They should just want the most entertaining, best product on the court. A team with Jeremy Lin is a better product for consumers than a team without Jeremy Lin. That should be 99 percent of every fan’s calculation. Furthermore, the statement “Jeremy Lin isn’t worth $14.8 million as a basketball player” is shortsighted. It assumes that marketing dollars don’t exist and that every athlete is paid entirely based on his ability to go left or defend the pick-and-roll. No contract in the history of the NBA has been signed within such a vacuum. So why has “Jeremy Lin isn’t worth $14.8 million as a basketball player” suddenly become the “smart and rational” response? Those statements assume a world that does not exist. They are the opposite of rational.

Question No. 2

Did Jim Dolan actually choose to let Lin walk out of spite? Wait, really?

Here’s some information by way of a source inside the Knicks organization, as first reported by the New York Daily News.

From Frank Isola: “The Knicks were already upset with Lin for hiring a publicist without consulting with them first.”

From a “person who has had business dealings with Dolan”: “I don’t think this is about the money as much as it is Jim feeling that a player isn’t showing the Knicks the same loyalty they showed Lin. Don’t forget, the Knicks gave Jeremy Lin a chance. Then Jim has his basketball people telling him that Felton is every bit as good if not better than Lin so it makes the decision easier for him to make. Jim can be vindictive but sometimes that’s a good thing in the NBA.”

From Ian O’Connor of ESPN New York: “According to a source close to the situation, Jim Dolan, a notorious grudge-holder, feels betrayed that the Harvard kid took him to school after the Knicks gave him his big shot.”

WHERE TO BEGIN? At the start of all this silliness, the Knicks told Lin to go out and get whatever he could get on the open market. They guaranteed that they would match any salary offer because — wink, wink — Jeremy Lin is worth a ton of money and there’s like a ton of people in China who will now buy Lin no. 17 jerseys and post videos of themselves lip-synching along to the Backstreet Boys. Or whatever.

Now, because Lin went out and got his money — like every other player in the history of the NBA — a jilted Dolan lets him walk for nothing? There are teams in the league that are in better positions than the Knicks to absorb Lin’s back-ended salary. Those teams would probably benefit from having one of the league’s top draws playing on their rosters. If you’re really mad at Jeremy Lin, why not sign him, wait until the restrictions pass, and then trade him to the Anaheim/Seattle Kings?

Also … really? Jeremy Lin owes Jim Dolan? In what America does that make sense, except in the America where every employee owes every rich guy undying loyalty for life because the rich guy happens to sign his checks? Especially when said employee was the linchpin in a TV contract and when his popularity was the leading factor in a $600 million increase in the value of said rich guy’s company? Oh, wait, that’s exactly what Jim Dolan’s America looks like. We are all just paying witnesses.

Even if Jeremy Lin doesn’t play well next year, he’s an asset for enough non-basketball reasons that another team will always be willing take a risk on him. This isn’t Jim Dolan folding pocket aces. It’s Jim wiping his ass with pocket aces, paper-cutting himself repeatedly with them, and then devouring the whole mess, like Cronos and his babies, in front of a horrified audience.

Of course it was out of spite. Nothing else makes sense.

Question No. 3

Wait, does nothing else really make sense?

If we give the Knicks the full benefit of the doubt and assume that all James Dolan cares about is building a championship team, there’s an argument to be made that Jeremy Lin might not be a championship-level point guard. Let’s not forget that Linsanity came crashing to a halt in a regular-season game against the Heat, when Mario Chalmers, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade seemed to go out of their way to hassle, outmuscle, and embarrass Lin.

This argument gains some steam when you consider that Amar’e Stoudemire’s best, or even mediocre, days appear to be behind him, and that if the Knicks believe they can build a championship team around Carmelo Anthony, they should try to keep as much roster flexibility as possible. Ponying up what could potentially be somewhere in excess of $60 million for a player who could become a backup 40 games into a 246-plus-game contract could severely hamstring the team’s ability to improve via free agency.

But then again, let’s not forget what Jeremy Lin did accomplish in his 25 games as a starter. There’s no denying that this isn’t enough time to warrant a three-year commitment. But given the level of skill he displayed, the outcome of games he directly affected, and the revenue he generated (not to mention the ability to mitigate the salary-cap hit via the stretch provision and the attractiveness of a $14.8 million expiring contract as an eventual trade chip), why not take a gamble that Jeremy Lin is at least 70 percent as good as Linsanity? What, exactly, did he do in those 25 games to convince everyone that he was going to fall flat on his face next season?

Question No. 4

How did the Knicks not see the poison pill coming?

On April 2, a certain blogger for a certain sports and pop culture outlet speculated — mostly wrongly — that the Raptors might try to give Lin the poison pill contract. How the hell did this blogger, who has predicted so few things correctly in his life (which is why he needs this moment to grandstand and also why he fills out the “gambling losses” section of his tax form every year), know that a team would screw the Knicks over in this exact fashion? And if this blogger could figure it out, why didn’t the Knicks just go ahead and offer Lin a fair contract? Reports came out soon after NBA free agency opened on July 11 that Lin wasn’t happy about having to shop himself around. The Knicks told him to entertain other offers. He did. Then everything got Dolan’d.

Of course another team was going to offer Lin a massive, back-ended contract. At worst, it would make the Knicks overpay a player they were always going to overpay. At best … well, I think this debacle might qualify as the best.

Question No. 5

Does it seem weird to anyone else that the one team willing to take on Lin’s now-huge salary is the one team that has direct knowledge of just how much money an Asian star player can bring a franchise via international marketing?

I’m just asking.

Question No. 6

Are the Knicks a better basketball team without Jeremy Lin?

Last year, there were 259 NBA players who used more than 300 possessions. Of those players, Jason Kidd ranked 242nd in points per possession. That was four spots higher than his new teammate Raymond Felton. Lin ranked 192nd.

Jeremy Lin had a well-publicized turnover problem last season that became a talking point for every talking head who wanted to point out something bad about a player who had saved a dismal season, ignited interest in the NBA among millions of people worldwide, and dropped 38 against Kobe Bryant in the Garden. It’s true — of those same 259 players who used over 300 possessions, Lin ranked 252nd with a 21.4 turnover percentage. Raymond Felton ranked 244th at 19.6 percent. Jason Kidd? 257th at 24.2 percent. Guess who was 256th? Rajon Rondo. 258th? Steve Nash.

Maybe it’s time to stop worrying about turnover numbers and examine whether or not those turnovers came within an aggressive system that created a lot of open shots, and, more important, generated wins for the team.

Did the Knicks win with Jeremy Lin as their point guard? Have the people of Portland ever encountered a person they hated more than Raymond Felton? Is Jason Kidd old and terrible? Between Lin, Felton, and Kidd, whom do you trust to adjust to playing with Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, a.k.a. FLAT (Fucked-up Leg And Talented), for a full season? What, exactly, am I missing here?

Also, outside of his immediate family, friends, and maybe a few crazed UNC alums, nobody has ever paid for a ticket to watch Raymond Felton play basketball.

But hey, adding salary money when you’re already paying the luxury tax for FLAT, Melo, Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby, and others doesn’t make “basketball sense,” right? And spending Jim Dolan’s money wisely has become the burden of every Knicks fan, right? And the logical move, empirically speaking, would be to blindly side with the one rich owner who has done more to disgrace the good name of logic than anyone else in the history of the NBA?

From a logical fan’s perspective, the decision to keep a wildly popular, potentially transformative player should never be about money. It’s true that Jeremy Lin started in only 25 games for the Knicks, but I challenge anyone to come up with a more telling, dynamic 25 games. More important, we — meaning everyone who is not Jim Dolan and his investors — are not paying the luxury tax. If ticket prices go up, it’s not because of Jeremy Lin. It’s because Knicks ticket prices always go up.

After years of busted flushes, missed flops, and general bad play, Jim Dolan finally got dealt a great hand last season. In true Dolan fashion, once he saw that the cards were getting a little uppity, he pushed all his chips into the center of the table, folded, and stormed out the door.

Which, actually, for Jim Dolan, is completely logical.

Filed Under: Jeremy Lin, New York Knicks, People, Teams

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