The have until Tuesday night to match a three-year, $25.1 million offer to Lin, the 23-year-old point guard sensation, or lose him to the . The contract devised by Houston contains a $14.98 million balloon payment in the final year: a provision that could cost the Knicks three times that amount in luxury-tax penalties under the N.B.A.’s restrictive new system.
So the debate now rages: to pay or not to pay. To invest in Lin’s enticing potential and popularity, or to let him leave.
Suddenly, everyone is a salary-cap expert, an economist, a scout and a chief executive.
“Got to let him go,” said Joe Anthony, a 38-year-old Brooklyn resident, speaking outside a sporting-goods store at 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue. “While he has all of the potential in the world, I think there’s a lot of question marks.”
Lin electrified Madison Square Garden and became a global star in February when he seized the Knicks’ point guard job and sparked a seven-game winning streak, saving their season. His made-for-Broadway story was irresistible: Harvard-educated. Undrafted. Overlooked. Waived twice. The son of Taiwanese immigrants. An Asian-American in a league with no others.
Lin’s No. 17 jersey became a top seller in days. “Linsanity” T-shirts flew off the racks at local sporting-good stores. Sports Illustrated put him on back-to-back covers. “Saturday Night Live” devoted skits to him. Restaurants named sandwiches and shakes after him. Creating Lin puns became a sport unto itself.
But Knicks fans are a tormented, anxious lot, scarred by years of bad basketball, bloated payrolls and underachieving players. The thought of devoting $25 million to a virtual rookie with a 26-game résumé strikes some fans as less than sane. Others cannot bear to see Lin leave, no matter the cost.
“I think for the last 10 years, people have had nothing to get excited about for the Knicks,” Nelson Park, 29, said while taking a smoking break outside a Midtown office building. “And finally, after one year, we have something. I mean, how many millions of dollars have they spent on other players?”
Outrage and despair filled blogs, message boards and Twitter timelines over the weekend, when word circulated that the Knicks were likely to let Lin go. Fans threatened to stop watching games, to cancel their season tickets, even to — gasp — switch allegiances to the Brooklyn Nets.
When the Knicks struck a deal Saturday night to acquire Raymond Felton, a veteran point guard, the prospect of losing Lin seemed more real than ever. A person briefed on the team’s thinking said it was highly unlikely the Knicks would match.
Two petitions aimed at reversing that fate were begun Sunday. One referred to Lin as “the best thing that has happened to New York Knicks basketball in the last 20 years.” It had 7,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
The emotions may be even stronger in Chinatown, where Lin-watching parties flourished in February. Wilson Tang, the 33-year-old owner of Nom Wah Tea Parlor, hosted some of those gatherings.
“The whole Linsanity thing was great,” Tang said. “It was great for New York. It was great for the Knicks. It was great for sales. It was great for Asian-Americans like myself, to see someone like that make it.”
Although Tang said it would pain him to see Lin go, he said his loyalty to the Knicks would not change, “because I’m a New York Knicks fan, not a Jeremy Lin fan.”
Another fan, Jeffrey Wong, said in an e-mail that he was “probably a little more caught up than most fans” when Linsanity erupted. He called the contractual debate “a little confusing and frustrating.”
“But I think in the end, if the Knicks don’t re-sign Jeremy, and even if they do, they come off looking like bumbling idiots,” Wong wrote.
Of course, Knicks fans are sadly accustomed to bumbling, ill-fated decisions.
Ken Belson and Tim Rohan contributed reporting.