Star point guards kept flying off the market — one to their crosstown rivals, one to Hollywood, one to Dallas — and all the Knicks could do was grit their teeth, cross names off the board and wait for some improbable twist of fate.
That moment, and the point guard, at last arrived Thursday afternoon.
Jason Kidd, who was set to rejoin the Dallas Mavericks, made a late and stunning reversal and agreed to join the Knicks instead. Negotiations were continuing Thursday night, and it was not yet clear whether the Knicks would sign Kidd outright or acquire him in a sign-and-trade deal.
Just as Kidd committed, the Knicks learned that Jeremy Lin, their promising 23-year-old point guard, had agreed to an offer sheet with the Houston Rockets, complicating the picture further.
The Rockets’ offer could be worth as much as $28.8 million over four years, with backloaded payments in the final two seasons, according to a person who was briefed on the details. The fourth year is a team option. Because Lin is a restricted free agent, the Knicks have the right to match the deal.
The offer sheet cannot be signed until the N.B.A. moratorium ends next Wednesday, at which time the Knicks will have three days to either match it or let Lin walk. The Knicks are determined to keep Lin, even if the contract costs them millions more in luxury-tax payments.
Under the Rockets’ offer, Lin would earn $5 million next season, $5.2 million in the second year and balloon payments of $9.3 million in the third and fourth seasons — a structure that is designed to dissuade the Knicks from matching the offer.
Houston is in desperate need of a point guard, having agreed to trade their starter, Kyle Lowry, to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday. The Rockets will receive a first-round pick that, under the terms of the trade, is guaranteed to be in the lottery in one of the next four drafts.
Houston also lost its highly regarded backup point guard, Goran Dragic, who agreed to terms with the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.
In trading Lowry, the Rockets appeared to be going all in for Lin. It will be another week before they know if they have him.
Kidd, a 10-time All-Star, would be an ideal mentor for Lin, as well as a proven playmaker who can organize the Knicks’ disjointed offense and make sense of the clunky Carmelo Anthony-Amar’e Stoudemire tandem. Even at age 39, Kidd has the skills and the credibility to make a difference.
Landing Kidd takes some of the sting out of losing Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers a day earlier. It also gives the publicity-minded Knicks a modest boost after they watched the Nets celebrate Deron Williams’s decision to stay with the team when it moves to Brooklyn.
Signing Kidd — who led the Nets to consecutive N.B.A. finals in 2002 and 2003 when they were in New Jersey — adds yet another layer to the budding rivalry.
Kidd helped lead the Mavericks to the championship only 13 months ago and is a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame. But he is about to enter his 19th season. His days as an elite point guard are over. The Knicks simply hope he can provide quality minutes every night, whether as Lin’s backup or as the starter.
The most the Knicks can offer Kidd is $9.7 million over three years, by using the so-called mini-midlevel exception. They could pay him more through a sign-and-trade arrangement with Dallas, an option that was being explored Thursday, according to a person involved in the talks.
Kidd had all but committed to the Mavericks and was closing in on a three-year, $9 million deal. But at 4:45 p.m., ESPN.com reported that Kidd had changed his mind and was heading to Madison Square Garden, where he will join a crowded marquee of stars.
Even as reports circulated early in the day that Kidd was heading back to Dallas, a person familiar with his mind-set said that Kidd “so much wanted to get to New York” and was clearly conflicted about his decision.
The Knicks snared Kidd just one day after losing Nash — another elite-but-aging point guard — to the Lakers. The Knicks had been negotiating with Phoenix on a sign-and-trade deal for Nash, but Nash instead pushed for a trade to Los Angeles, to compete for championships alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Before landing Kidd, the Knicks were considering an array of second-tier options, including Raymond Felton, who played a half-season for them in 2010-11 before being traded to Denver in the Anthony deal. Felton could still be an option if the Knicks let Lin leave.
Derek Fisher had also been in talks with the Knicks, but he is now expected to look elsewhere.
The Nets are now among the front-runners to sign Fisher, along with the Mavericks, the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Fisher, who won five titles with the Lakers, joined the Thunder in February and was a key part of the rotation for Oklahoma City, which lost to the Miami Heat in the finals.
Five days into free agency, this is already shaping up as the Summer of the Point Guard. It began with Williams and Nash, two of the most prominent on the market. It continued with Kidd, Lowry, Dragic and Lin.
On Thursday, Chauncey Billups agreed to a new deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, while Jameer Nelson reached terms to return to the Orlando Magic. Two others have deals to stay put: Andre Miller with Denver and George Hill with Indiana.
A handful of solid point guards remain on the market, including Felton, Aaron Brooks, Ramon Sessions and Kirk Hinrich.