[Editor’s Note: I promise that this is the last time I use a Lin-based pun in a headline on this space. No mas. You have my word and my word is bond]
Have you taken enough time to get over losing Jeremy Lin? Have your eyes dried? Have you exhausted your resources from which you draw forth venom to spew at James Dolan? Before you answer, let me first apologize for the clumsiness of that last sentence. Why didn’t I delete it and start over? Because, like Mr. Dolan, I am a glutton for punishment. Anyway, if the answer to those first few questions is no, please allow me this chance to cure what ails you…
Jeremy Lin is not worth the money. More importantly, he’s not good enough yet to be anointed the starter for the next three years. Not to this team, anyway. Not now. Not when they are in the proverbial “win-now” mode. Even if, like me, you don’t believe that this Knicks team is a legitimate title contender barring catastrophic injury to Wade/LeBron/Durant/Westbrook/Kobe/Nash/Pau/Bynum-Howard, you can still understand the win-now mentality under which management is operating. They have paid, through the nose, for star players and a deep bench. When you have a team that is constructed in that manner, you can’t afford to commit big money (and guaranteed starters minutes) to a guy who may take a while to reach his ceiling, if he reaches it at all.
What we saw during the peak of Linsanity was nothing short of amazing. It reinvigorated the team and fan base and provided us with the most thrilling stretch of basketball we’ve seen in New York since the ’99 Eastern Conference Playoff run. But when you take a step back, you see a young point guard with a lot to learn who has yet to endure the rigors of an 82 game NBA schedule. In essence, Jeremy Lin played the equivalent of an NCAA season: 35 games, only 25 of which saw him play starters minutes. And what was the end result? A season-ending injury and a drop-off in performance even before the injury. So, if we accept the win-now mentality, if we understand that the front office had already made the decision to try and make a title run with this being Melo’s team first, STAT’s team second, and relying on their nearly unparalleled depth to make up some of the difference between Miami’s superior big three and their own, is it so crazy that they went with more of a sure thing over potential greatness? Is it so ridiculous that they chose the steady-if-unspectacular Ray Felton over the young guy still learning the tricks of the trade? Can you not make the argument that Felton’s defense, physicality, and ability to be effective in Woodson’s more traditional, set-play offense, makes him a better fit for this roster than Jeremy Lin’s turnover-prone, ball-dominating, free-wheeling style? I certainly can.
[Also, as a side note here, people are making way too much out of Ray Felton’s miserable season last year. He showed up out of shape, a fact which he has readily admitted, and played on a terrible team for a coach who lost faith in him early. If you scrub last season from Felton’s resume, he’s carved out a very nice career as a good-not-great NBA point guard]
Moving on, the beef that so many Lin fans have, and that countless members of the media have articulated in the immediate aftermath of the decision not to match the Rockets offer sheet was that this decision was purely made to save James Dolan luxury tax dollars. That, due to the “stretch provision” in the new CBA, if Lin fell flat on his face, the Knicks could simply waive him and stretch the 15 million dollar cap hit in year three over a three year period. Furthermore, it was cited by numerous pundits that the value of a 15 million dollar expiring contract was undeniable. In short, the idea was that the Knicks could simply get out from the contract easily if Lin didn’t pan out in the way that they hoped. This is a little more than wishful thinking. First off, using the stretch provision would mean that for three straight years, the Knicks would be committing 5 million dollars worth of salary cap space to a guy who wouldn’t even be on the team. Second, just because a large, expiring contract has value, doesn’t mean a legitimate trade partner would materialize. Every year in the NBA multiple teams have expiring contracts that they would love to deal for assets but those deals do not go down with any kind of regularity. Remember this: these types of cost-cutting deals require the team sending out the expiring contract to take back long term salary commitments. This is the nature of that type of transaction. So in order to assume that a deal of that ilk could and would likely take place, you need to make the assumption that there would be a team out there looking to shed long-term contracts that add up to close to 15 million and that have value to the Knicks roster construction. That’s a pretty big leap of faith.
Let’s ignore the luxury tax issues for the sake of this argument. I, for one, don’t care one bit how much money James Dolan saves by not paying the exorbitant luxury tax that would have been attached to that “poison pill” in the third year of the Lin contract. Let’s also put aside all of the emotions that arose from Linsanity: the underdog story, the ethnic barrier breaking, etc. Let’s just view this move through the prism of roster management. In so doing, what I see is the Knicks front office making a shrewd move that complements the current roster and gives this team the best shot possible at hosting, and winning, a couple of playoff series next spring. It also provides at least the potential for long term roster flexibility, even if the Knicks would be approaching the luxury tax threshold with or without the Lin contract.
Could this all backfire horribly? Yes. Could Jeremy Lin become an elite point guard? Possibly. Will Jeremy Lin become an elite point guard in the next two years? Highly unlikely. So to all the real Knicks fans out there still lamenting this loss; dry your eyes. This team is better off today than it was at the end of last season and that is all that should matter.