Here are two things we’ve learnt over the past few days:
1.The on-the-court/off-the-court phenomenon that is ‘Linsanity’, is alive and well. Lin’s contract drama was able to usurp column space that might have been used for the never-ending Dwight Howard saga, as well as Team USA’s Olympic preparations. He hasn’t played in a while, but make no mistake, people are still very interested in Jeremy Lin.
2. James Dolan is as willing as ever to incur the hostility of Knicks fans by making very questionable decisions.
The decision in question was, of course, to officially end the oh-so-brief ‘Linsanity’ era at MSG. The Knicks declined to match Houston’s back-loaded offer sheet to Lin, a contract that will pay the point-guard $25 million over the next three years, despite an unnamed source stating that the Knicks would match any offer “up to one-billion dollars”.
Instead, they have allowed a player who lit up The Big Apple for 26 games last year, and who made their games must-see television across the globe, to walk away for nothing.
Knicks fans aren’t happy. The majority of them are livid. So livid in-fact, that there is currently a debate among some vocal segments of Knicks Nation, as whether this might finally be the right time to jump off a ship that’s been sinking for more than a decade. And not only to jump ship, but to swim to that new, shiny, and seemingly watertight vessel, owned by those new fellows in town: the Brooklyn Nets.
Of course, those are extreme sentiments, expressed by a minority of Knicks fans. The fact that those types of discussions are even taking place, however, speaks to how fed up the Knicks faithful are in general. Letting Lin go is seen as the latest in a long list of blunders, and downright irresponsible decisions, made by an incompetent Front Office.
Before I spit my own vitriol at the Knicks’ Front Office, for making a very shortsighted decision, the other side of the story needs to be examined. The decision to allow Lin to walk isn’t quite as black and white as some are making it out to be—the situation is more nuanced than that. Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment, and put ourselves in James Dolan’s very expensive shoes.
What Were the Knicks Thinking?
As great as Lin was last year, and he was very good, the fact remains that he only played 26 games. That’s a small sample size with which to evaluate a player’s worth. The Knicks may feel that they didn’t see enough of Lin to assess whether he wasn’t simply a flash in the pan. Based on what they witnessed, they obviously weren’t sure that he should be paid like a top-15 point-guard.
Secondly, the jury is still out as to whether Lin can mesh with the Knicks’ main man, Carmelo Anthony. That really says more about Anthony than it does about Lin, however. Melo is a volume-shooting ball hog. That’s just the objective reality. He’s exceptionally good at what he does (probably the best pure scorer in the league), but there’s no getting around the fact that he needs the ball in his hands. Problem is, so does Jeremy Lin.
Nothing that we’ve witnessed over the years tells us that Anthony is going to be happy standing around on the perimeter, or setting picks and rolling to the basket for Lin. Anthony may act like he’s willing to play in any system, but when all’s said and done, he wants his point guard to give up the ball at the 3-point line and allow him to go to work. He wants to play hero-ball.
Dolan probably feels that he gave up too much to acquire Anthony, and is paying him way too much now, for Anthony to play second fiddle in New York. Lin isn’t going to win the battle for the ball against Melo, and there is a definite worry among many in the organization, about the offensive cohesion.
Lastly, there’s the actual contract and the way it’s structured. The Rockets were very savvy in placing the bulk of Lin’s potential salary in the 3rd year—a year that the Knicks would be heavily over the cap, and would have to pay a hefty luxury tax penalty. $5 million in years 1 and 2 is nothing, but the Knicks would be on the hook for $14.8 million in year 3 (and a lot more in fines), something that made Dolan particularly reticent to match Houston’s offer.
There is also a feeling, optimistic as it may be, that if the Knicks can shuffle the deck, they may be able to clear cap space for soon-to-be free agent, Chris Paul. Re-signing Lin, in their eyes, kills those chances.
So those are some of the reasons that may have swayed Dolan and the Front Office towards their decision not to re-sign Lin. Unfortunately for them, however, there are plenty more compelling reasons that lead the majority of the basketball world to believe the Knicks have made a big mistake.
Why They Were Wrong
Let’s get right to the crux of the matter: the contract. Is $25 million too much money to pay a 23-year old point-guard, who only started a quarter of the NBA season? Maybe. But Jeremy Lin isn’t just any point-guard. Jeremy Lin is a commercial sensation.
Love it or hate it, in his brief time leading the Knicks, Lin made them an international brand. Last season, other than Derrick Rose’s jersey, Jeremy Lin’s replica sold better than any other in the NBA. Nate Silver of the New York Times wrote recently that “the Madison Square Garden Company, added about $250 million in value in February alone, and has gained roughly $600 million overall since Lin’s first start”. (http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/16/keeping-lin-should-make-financial-sense-for-the-knicks/) Don’t tell me that that kind of financial upside doesn’t more than make up for paying luxury tax penalties down the road.
It may sound cynical, and unfair to Lin, to discuss him in terms of a commercial commodity, but the facts speak for themselves. The Knicks made a lot of cash when Lin was playing for them last year, and they would’ve made even more had they held onto him for another 3.
The Houston Rockets know all about the benefits of breaking into the Chinese market, as they did when Yao Ming led their team for 9 years, as they’ll do again with Lin. The commercial opportunities for the Knicks in Asia were massive, and are now squandered.
And even if Lin had turned out to be a disaster, and things just weren’t working out with Carmelo, the option to trade him after a year would’ve been realistic. The Knicks would’ve only spent $5 million in one year of having Lin on the books, and many teams would’ve been willing to take a chance on him, given the enormous commercial revenues at stake.
It’s also worth pointing out that when the contract is averaged out over the 3 years, the Rockets will only be paying $8 million a year for Lin’s services. That’s what a point guard with Lin’s upside is worth in today’s NBA. If you want talent, you have to pay for it.
And on the subject of paying Lin, allow me a quick tangential rant on the issue of ‘getting paid’. It’s been said by some in the basketball media (*cough* Stephen A. Smith) that Lin is being greedy, and disloyal, in accepting Houston’s offer, and not re-signing with New York for less money. That is absolutely ridiculous.
Here’s a player who wasn’t drafted. A player who was cut by 2 NBA teams, and was on the verge of being cut by the Knicks. A player who must have thought, on multiple occasions, that his NBA career was hanging by a thread. He’s kept battling against the odds, and kept trying to make the pros when the sensible thing might have been to give up and go and find a normal job. Now he’s finally being offered a good payday and some job security. He’s got every right to take Houston’s offer.
And I truly believe that Lin’s skillset warrants the offer he received. Granted, he didn’t play enough for analysts to make a foolproof evaluation of the player he’ll become, and fine, he’s coming off a nasty knee injury that makes everyone a little jittery, but what did we see in those 26 games?
We saw a player who is pretty darn good at basketball. His numbers were very impressive (18 points per game and 7 assists). He showed exceptional basketball I.Q, and was able to run the offense and get everyone involved. The Knicks turned their rapidly crumbling season around with Lin at the helm. He made the players around him, Landry Fields, Steve Novak, and Tyson Chandler, all better on offense, and the team played their best basketball under his leadership.
Everyone can pick apart his faults—he had too many turnovers, and his defense was questionable. Those are fair criticisms. The fact is, however, that Lin is just 23 and has a lot of time to learn the game and improve. His ceiling is a lot higher than Raymond Felton’s, the player the Knicks acquired to replace Lin—a guy who hit his peak a couple years ago, and was frankly awful last year in Portland.
Give me a young, talented point guard with the potential to get better, over an overweight Felton, and an ageing, past-his-best Jason Kidd, any day of the week.
James Dolan As Fiscally Responsible Owner
Perhaps what gnaws at Knicks fans most about this fiasco, is the fact that Dolan has never been shy about throwing money around previously—and in the past, has done it to the detriment of the team.
The Knicks have always been willing to pay through the nose for ‘names’ who are past their primes, and become crippling financial burdens on the team once they reach New York. The Knicks don’t have a recent history of developing young players within the organization, but here they had the opportunity to keep hold of a good young player, with tremendous potential, and they decided to suddenly create the façade of being a thrifty, fiscally responsible organization.
Stephon Marbury got paid. Keith Van Horn got paid. Eddy Curry got paid. But not Jeremy Lin? It seems like Dolan is trying to correct years of overpaying players by not paying the one player it actually makes sense to spend a bit of money on.
Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z will be very happy about the Knicks’ misguided financial concerns. The Knicks can no longer afford to rest easy, assuring themselves that they will dominate the New York basketball scene, regardless of whatever mediocre product they put out. The Brooklyn Nets are coming hard; both commercially and on the basketball court. The Knicks let go of a major asset that could’ve kept their noisy neighbours at bay in both of those equally important facets of the sport. They made a big mistake.