On the phone with a basketball executive Tuesday to go over the mechanics of how the Knicks could keep Jeremy Lin beyond this season, the notion of how surreal the conversation was came up more than once.
But in answer to your question, Knicks fans: Yes, if Lin continues to perform at anything close to the level he's displayed so far, New York will have the means and the inclination to retain him for next year -- and most likely, beyond.
Here's the deal: By virtue of the Golden State Warriors signing Lin to a two-year contract before waiving him in December, Lin becomes a restricted free agent after this season. Under typical circumstances, Lin would be eligible to receive a qualifying offer from the Knicks worth approximately $1.1 million.
These, obviously, are not typical circumstances. Several factors are at play, including a new provision in the collective bargaining agreement that allows players who achieve certain playing-time benchmarks (dealing with games started and minutes) to be eligible for a higher qualifying offer. In Lin's case, the maximum qualifying offer he could get under these new rules would be about $2.7 million -- the equivalent offer for the 21st pick in the 2008 draft.
Given Lin's absurd level of production so far, chances are this provision won't matter. Even if Lin's productivity drops off, as is widely expected, he's still shown enough to warrant multi-year offer sheets from rival teams.
"He's had five games that LeBron James would be jealous of," one NBA general manager told me Tuesday. "So he's outplaying his time in the D-League right now. It’s happened, but it’s pretty rare for a guy to play better in the pros than in the minor leagues. It's also rare for someone who's had a five-game stretch like this not to turn out to be an All Star."
Even if Lin settles somewhere in between All-Star and rotation player, the Knicks can expect the offer sheets to roll in. But due to the so-called Gilbert Arenas rule -- instituted in the 2005 CBA to prevent teams from being outbid for their own restricted free agents with two or fewer years in the league -- the Knicks will be insulated from such potential poachers.
The maximum that another team could offer in the first year of a multi-year offer sheet will be the non-taxpayer mid-level exception of $5 million. The second year of the offer sheet would be subject to the 4.5 percent raise for non-Bird free agents. After that, the offer sheets can be back-loaded up to the max -- 25 percent of the cap -- but the Knicks would be able to match under league salary rules. In any event, it likely will cost them their mid-level exception for next season.
The Knicks could use up to their full mid-level ($5 million) to match any rival offers. Under the new rules with different mid-level thresholds for tax-payers, non-tax payers and teams with room, the Knicks would not, under the new rules, be able to exceed the cap to sign another free agent and then use the full mid-level to retain Lin. In that case, they'd be relegated to the room exception ($2.5 million).
So basically, Lin, who was in danger of getting waived again before he unleashed this five-game tirade in conjunction with his non-guaranteed contract (worth a lockout-prorated $613,474 this season) becoming guaranteed, has a big pay day ahead of him. And the Knicks need not worry about him finding a new team for the foreseeable future.
And Lin, who was sleeping on his brother's couch on the Lower East Side of Manhattan when all of this took off, will be able to afford all the couches he wants. Not to mention an apartment of his own.