How the Knicks Played the Jeremy Lin Fiasco Brilliantly (Yes, Brilliantly)
I never imagined myself saying this, but the Knicks played this PR game brilliantly even though they are getting blasted in the public arena.
The Houston Rockets presented a three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet to former New York Knicks point guard sensation, Jeremy Lin. The Knicks declined to match the offer sheet, allowing Lin -- arguably their most dynamic player and attraction -- to leave the team. Still, the Knicks played this brilliantly. How so?
First, let's look at all the choices that the Knicks made leading up to their decision not to match the offer sheet to Jeremy Lin. Going down the list, it looks pretty bad.
1. Rather than offer Lin a reported four-year, $24 million contract at the beginning of free agency -- one that he likely would have signed -- they dared him to test the free agent market.
Do you think that Knicks should have matched the Rockets' offer sheet?
2. When a reported Houston offer sheet of three years at $20 million became public, Knicks owner James Dolan brazenly announced that the Knicks would "absolutely" match the offer. This, of course, forced the Rockets to up their offer significantly. The genius of the Rockets' offer is that it is a back-loaded contract, one in which the final year of the contract would be worth nearly $15 million. This is critical, because, three years from now, the NBA will be instituting a luxury tax for teams whose payroll exceeds a specified amount. Given the lucrative contracts of other Knicks, this $15 million would put them over the luxury tax. But, so what? They're the free-spending Knicks...!
3. The biggest supposed gaffe, though, is the fact that the Knicks made known that they would not pay that luxury tax. In other words, they gave the Rockets the exact recipe for creating an offer sheet that the Knicks would not be able to match!
4. They then trade for Raymond Felton.
Put these nuggets together, and you have a recipe for failure: a team not giving its start point guard an initial offer that he would have accepted; a team publicly and brashly telling the league that it would match any offer that the player would receive; and a team also telling the league that it would not pay a back-loaded contract. This seems like an almost comical PR disaster!
So, how did the Knicks win the PR battle? It's quite simple: they never wanted Jeremy Lin back in the first place. Why? Again, it's simple: the style-of-play of Knicks star Carmelo Anthony -- for whom the Knicks traded a hefty price to obtain -- and of Jeremy Lin are vastly different. They are so different, in fact, that the two cannot co-exist. Thus, Dolan and the Knicks ultimately had once basic choice to make: do they mold their team around Anthony or around Lin? They chose Anthony, understandably both from a marketing perspective and a practical perspective given what it took to obtain him (though possibly unwise from a basketball perspective, but that's another story...). Once that obvious determination was made, it meant that Lin could never come back to the Knicks. Hence, the Knicks did not want him to return!
Of course, this put them in a difficult PR position: New York fans love Lin and his "Linsanity" craze. So, how do you sell to an adoring fan-base that you would just let the guy go? You can't. That's why Dolan put on the show: bluffing his dare of Lin to test free agency; brashly promising to match any offer; and letting everyone know that they wouldn't go over the luxury tax in three years. When Houston made a "ridiculous" offer -- to quote Anthony -- Dolan had his out. And, once it became clear that the Knicks would not match the offer sheet, Anthony could publicly announce that he would want Lin back. Thus, everyone looks good!
Certainly, there are critics of the decision not to match the offer sheet to Lin. But, Dolan can now preach -- and only be criticized -- for financial sensibility. Unlike the unending and unforgiving PR damage that would have accompanied telling the New York Knicks fan base that he simply did not want Lin back, the PR battle of financial prudence is one that he can win. Dolan brilliantly (I still can't believe that I'm writing that...) forced the public to focus on money instead his desire to let Lin leave. That's brilliant.