By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
(AP) - This would have been such an obvious decision in February.
Jeremy Lin was Kobe Bryant's equal on the court and at the souvenir stand during a mesmerizing stretch that Commissioner David Stern said he had "never quite seen anything like."
No way the New York Knicks were letting Lin get away back then, when he was the biggest thing in basketball.
Things are different now.
Lin no longer plays for a coach whose offense seems designed for him. He's coming off knee surgery and would come at a monstrous cost _ thanks to an offer sheet from the Houston Rockets he signed _ even for one of the league's richest teams.
So what once would have been an easy answer now creates so many questions.
Do the Knicks want Lin back?
Does Lin want to come back?
When will it be resolved?
The last one should be easiest, but this being the Knicks, isn't exactly. Teams have three days to match an offer sheet for their restricted free agents, so the Rockets believe the clock expires at 11:59 EDT on Tuesday night.
Except the Knicks have never confirmed if they received the offer sheet from the Rockets on Saturday, so it's possible they have a different deadline in mind, which could even lead to some kind of dispute or protest.
The contract is for three years and about $25 million, an enormous figure for someone who has made 25 starts. After paying Lin about $5 million per year the first two seasons, it balloons to nearly $15 million in the final year but would cost the Knicks more than twice that in luxury tax payments under the harsher penalties in the new collective bargaining agreement.
The terms of the original offer Lin had agreed to were four years and about $28 million, creating speculation that he went back to the Rockets and asked for something that would be tougher for the Knicks to match.
A number of fans want them to do it anyway, more than 5,000 signing an online petition at Change.org asking the Knicks to keep him. Team officials, who repeatedly said they intended to keep Lin before he signed the offer, won't comment on their plans now.
"I hope we get it done, man. I hope we can get it done," Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony said. "I would love to see him back, honestly, I would definitely love to see him back. But knowing the business of basketball, it's kind of a tough situation, kind of for both parties. With Jeremy, I know he definitely would want to be back in New York, and with the team, (owner James) Dolan definitely wants him back. But it's just a matter of figuring it out."
Anthony had called the Rockets' offer a "ridiculous contract" on Sunday and said he wasn't surprised by the backlash that followed.
"It was ridiculous for them to do what they did, as far as throwing that out there and making it tough on us to sign him back," Anthony said.
Maybe the Knicks could have avoided this by making Lin an offer right away. Instead they let him find one elsewhere first, which is what many teams do with restricted free agents.
Given his popularity in New York and all the opportunities that affords, it's difficult to imagine he'd want to sabotage his chances of returning. Yet maybe he doesn't see the same potential for himself under Mike Woodson as he showed in Mike D'Antoni's pick-and-roll offense. Or perhaps he's one of the many who sees the futility of the Anthony-Amare Stoudemire pairing and doesn't want the burden of being the point guard charged with making it work.
And maybe the Knicks don't believe he is, anyway. They made a veteran point guard a top priority in free agency, missing out on Steve Nash but signing Jason Kidd. Then they agreed to a sign-and-trade with Portland to bring back Raymond Felton to New York in a deal that was completed Monday.
None brings the marketing potential of Lin, whose story of undrafted Harvard graduate to unexpected NBA star was a hit around the world. (How many other players went into free agency with "Time" magazine list of top 100 most influential people on their resume?)
That gives Houston plenty of reason to want him back. The NBA's first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese decent would continue to grow the popularity the Rockets already enjoy in Asia thanks to their retired star, Yao Ming.