The answer, as of midnight, was anything but clear.
In a surprise move, the Knicks struck a deal to reacquire Raymond Felton, the veteran point guard, sparking immediate, furious speculation that the franchise was ready to let Lin leave for Houston.
While fans were bemoaning Lin’s possible departure on Twitter and on blogs, no one associated with the Knicks or with Lin would confirm anything late Saturday night. Speculation and anxiety ruled the evening.
Lin, a restricted free agent, signed a three-year, $25 million offer sheet with the Rockets on Friday. The paperwork was delivered to the Knicks on Saturday, starting a three-day clock for the Knicks to either match the offer or let Lin go.
The deal to reacquire Felton — who played 54 games for the Knicks in 2010-11 — was taken by many as an indication that the Knicks would let Lin depart, despite his wild success on the court last season and his global marketability.
Felton will receive a three-year, $10 million contract in a sign-and-trade deal with the Portland Trail Blazers, according to a person briefed on the details. The Knicks will also receive Kurt Thomas, another former Knick, in the deal. In exchange, Portland will receive Jared Jeffries (in a sign-and-trade arrangement), plus the nonguaranteed contract of Dan Gadzuric, the Knicks’ second-round draft pick in 2016 and the rights to two overseas players.
It has been widely assumed that the Knicks would match Houston’s offer and keep Lin, despite a salary increase to $14.9 million in the third year of the deal. Team officials have said as much for weeks, both before and after the Rockets made the offer.
Two reports late Saturday cast doubt on that assumption. The first came via the Twitter account of a South Carolina television reporter, Mark Haggard, who said that Felton had told him that the Knicks planned to let Lin leave for Houston. A short time later, Yahoo Sports reported that Lin “appears close” to joining the Rockets, in light of Felton’s deal.
Knicks officials declined to comment on the reports. Felton’s agent, Tony Dutt, could not be reached.
Coach Mike Woodson said earlier this week the Knicks would not only match Houston’s offer, but that Lin would be the team’s starting point guard. He reiterated that point even after the Knicks signed Jason Kidd, a 10-time All-Star. Woodson said that Kidd would be the backup.
Felton signed with the Knicks in July 2010 but was dealt to Denver the following February as part of the trade for Carmelo Anthony. He averaged 17.1 points and 9 assists in the former coach Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense.
The arrival of Felton does not necessarily spell the end of Linsanity in New York. It may simply telegraph concerns with the Knicks’ point-guard tandem. Kidd is 39, and the 23-year-old Lin is unproven over a full season. It is conceivable that Knicks officials simply want a proven veteran in case Kidd breaks down and Lin goes bust.
Teams rarely play three point guards. However, Kidd has played off guard, and it is not inconceivable that the Knicks could use all three, especially after losing Landry Fields to Toronto and given the uncertainty over Iman Shumpert, who is recovering from knee surgery.
The Knicks let Fields leave Saturday, after choosing not to match his three-year, $18.7 million offer sheet from the Toronto Raptors. That decision came after nearly three solid days of silence on the matter, in keeping with team policy. The Knicks had until Saturday night to decide on Fields, who signed his offer sheet on Wednesday.
Fields, a second-round draft pick in 2010, has started at shooting guard the last two seasons, although he struggled badly last season, averaging just 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds a game. J. R. Smith, who re-signed with the Knicks last week, will most likely slide into Fields’s spot.
James White, who played the last two years in the highest level in Italian professional basketball, also signed a one-year contract with the Knicks. Eventually, Shumpert will return to the rotation as well, after recovering from knee surgery; he is expected to be out until January.
Rockets officials were frustrated in repeated attempts Saturday to deliver Lin’s offer sheet to the Knicks and to get the three-day clock started. The Knicks appeared to be avoiding the delivery, according to people involved in the process. The Rockets finally succeeded Saturday evening. The Knicks have until Tuesday night to decide Lin’s future.
The Nets found their backup point guard, signing C. J. Watson to a two-year deal at the veteran’s minimum. The second year is a player option. Watson, a five-year veteran, averaged 9.7 points and 4.1 assists for the Chicago Bulls last season, including 25 games as a starter when Derrick Rose was injured. Watson will play behind Deron Williams, filling one of the Nets’ biggest needs. The Nets are still searching for a backups at center and small forward and are working to re-sign Kris Humphries, their starting power forward.