The Knicks cut ties with Lin on Tuesday night, ending a brief, spectacular and now-bittersweet love affair between Lin, a 23-year-old point guard, and an adoring fan base. Lin will play next season for the , who signed him to a three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet that the Knicks chose not to match.
The Knicks conveyed their intentions to Lin sometime after 10 p.m., less than two hours before the deadline to make the decision, and several hours after The New York Times reported that Lin would be let go.
After hours of silence, a Knicks spokesman ended any remaining suspense with a brief statement around 10:45 p.m., saying simply, “I can confirm we are not matching.” The Knicks offered no explanation or further comment. It was unclear when, or if, team officials would address the matter, but the Rockets said Lin would be introduced as a member of the team at a news conference Thursday.
The final decision for the Knicks rested with James L. Dolan, the Madison Square Garden chairman, and Dolan was the only one who could reverse it as the final hours ticked away Tuesday. But by midafternoon, a person briefed on the situation said the deliberations had ended.
“It is done,” the person said.
The decision was said to be financial, not emotional. Lin’s contract contains a third-year balloon payment of $14.9 million, which would have cost the Knicks another $35 million or more in luxury-tax penalties. This so-called poison pill was devised by the Rockets to dissuade the Knicks from matching, and it proved effective.
“We were comfortable with the money we were going to give Jeremy, and we hoped they wouldn’t match,” Daryl Morey, the Rockets’ general manager, said in a telephone interview. “But it’s hard to know what was the key to their decision.”
Because the Rockets are well below the luxury-tax threshold, Lin’s contract will cost them only its face value. Also, under the N.B.A.’s arcane rules, the Rockets will be charged an average of the salary, $8.37 million a year, for salary-cap purposes, instead of taking the $14.9 million hit in 2014-15. Thus, the deal is more manageable for the Rockets than it would have been for the Knicks.
Knicks officials ultimately concluded that it made more sense to pay two veteran point guards, Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton, a combined $7 million in 2014-15, than to spend $50 million or more to keep Lin, who has yet to play a full season as a starter.
So the Knicks’ most popular player in more than a decade, who rose from obscurity, saved their season and became a global sensation, is gone. He will join a young, rebuilding Rockets team that is pushing hard to land Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic’s disgruntled star center.
Lin spent just 26 games as the Knicks’ primary point guard last season, but it was a memorable, often spectacular run, filled with buzzer-beating shots, dazzling passes and bold drives to the rim. It began with a seven-game winning streak that electrified the Garden and spawned a household word: Linsanity. Along the way, Lin outdueled Kobe Bryant in a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and outshone Dirk Nowitzki to beat the Dallas Mavericks. His fame grew exponentially because of his unique profile: a Harvard graduate and Taiwanese-American who went undrafted and was waived twice before finding his niche with the Knicks.
A knee injury, and subsequent surgery, ended Lin’s magical run in late March. He averaged 18.5 points and 7.6 assists in that run — statistics that would place him among the N.B.A.’s top point guards if he had sustained them for a full season. Yet Lin also had an above-average turnover rate, and he struggled against some of the league’s top defensive teams, notably the Miami Heat, who harassed him into 1-for-11 shooting and eight turnovers on Feb. 23.
Despite Lin’s great promise, his portrait remains incomplete. He is clearly better than the scouting reports suggested when he went undrafted in 2010. Still unknown is whether he will be a star, a flash in the pan or merely a very good point guard. He was brilliant in the former coach Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system, but it was unknown how he might fare in the more traditional offense of D’Antoni’s successor, Mike Woodson.
Whatever he may become, it will happen with the Rockets, who have placed a great deal of faith and money in Lin.
Nate Taylor contributed reporting from Las Vegas.