It was Tuesday, July 17th. The Daily News tabbed tonight’s choice by the New York Knicks on whether or not to match the Houston Rockets backloaded contract offer sheet to restricted free agent point guard Jeremy Lin as, “The Most Important Decision Since ‘The Decision'”, in reference to LeBron James’ July snubbing of the Knicks and hometown Cleveland Cavaliers two years earlier. The Knicks whiffed on this season’s MVP and Finals MVP then, and rumor had it, would be letting their sensational point guard from out of nowhere walk all the way to Houston for nothing in return.
From a value perspective, it was purely Linconceivable. I was at work wearing my Jeremy Lin jersey t-shirt that I had bought at the Madison Square Garden Store on the day they became available. They sold out by the end of the first half of that game.
People preach that that is his value, in addition to basketball, the first Asian-American born NBA success story is a marketing dynamo. He’s basketball’s Tim Tebow. Fans not only of Asian descent, but from all walks of life, including yours truly, gravitate to this Linderella man.
Even though he didn’t crack the regular rotation until early February, he had the NBA’s number one selling jersey since Christmas. He missed the final month of the season with a torn meniscus and didn’t play in any of the Knicks five playoff games versus James and the eventual champion Heat.
He hadn’t played under 30 games in this lockout shortened season, but going into the off-season with the Knicks having the ability to match any offer Lin got, it seemed simply impossible for #17 not to be in a Knick uniform come October.
It was a little after four o’clock in the afternoon on Tuesday that Howard Beck, former Knicks (now Nets) beat writer for the New York Times tweeted that it was over—a decision had been made—Jeremy Lin would not be returning to the Knicks next year as the club elected to pass on matching the Rockets “poison pill” $25 million dollar offer sheet. I felt like I had swallowed a poison pill myself. I wanted to throw up. I was angry and confused. ESPN’s Marc Stein tweeted that the Knicks would match any offer on Lin up to a billion dollars quoting a source within the organization just days earlier. My world was turned upside down with one refresh of my Twitter feed.
This wasn’t just about a point guard. This was the guy who almost single handedly ended the Time Warner vs. MSG Network dispute allowing New Yorkers to watch their beloved Knicks after a six week hiatus in early 2012. The same guy who I watched steal the hearts of New Yorkers the night before the Giants won the Super Bowl coming off the bench against the Nets.
I was at his first start and uploaded his introduction to youtube. I felt the buzz in the arena when he outdueled the greatest player of my generation, Kobe Bryant, on national TV. He led the Knicks without their two main stars, (Amar’e Stoudemire & Carmelo Anthony) take down the defending champion Dallas Mavericks at home just two days later. On VaLINtine’s Day it felt like his three pointer to win the game in Toronto forever sealed his legacy and fans were wondering if the number 17 could actually be hanging in the rafters someday next to a few championship banners.
I had bought a framed portrait of Lin’s reverse layup over Lakers forward Pau Gasol and hung it in my living room. I had shelled out money for a Lin authentic jersey in addition to my Lin t-shirt. I was heavily invested in Linsanity, but as I sat at work in that very Lin shirt on Tuesday, I realized it was over. Of course I was bitter and upset with Jim Dolan, Glen Grunwald and Knicks management, but as one of my favorite radio show hosts, Colin Cowherd always says, “Take the emotion out of it.”
Jeremy Lin is not the best point guard on the Knicks for the system they run, and the Knicks will be a better team with Raymond Felton bringing the ball up for them this season.
In the 90s classic, “Jerry Maguire” says, “It’s not show friends, it’s show business” and while we can watch our hardcourt heroes light up the Broadway stage, the cruel reality is that basketball is a business. The first two years of Jeremy Lin’s contract are very reasonable paying him $5 and $5.25 million in years one and two, respectively. Year three balloons to $14.98 million, which would put the Knicks way over the salary cap to the point where they would be paying almost another $30 million dollars in luxury tax. But this isn’t about tax payments. MSG has been said to almost print their own money. They have been the biggest luxury tax paying team since the luxury tax was implemented.
This decision came down to Lin and flexibility. With Tyson Chandler, Stoudemire, and Anthony, the Knicks will have very little flexibility over the next three seasons. With Lin, they would have less than less. It would have been doubling down on the current roster with too many limitations to improve, and fact is, it wasn’t a championship product.
If they Knicks were to make a commitment like that, they would have to think Lin is a top 10 point guard in the very least, but he should really be top five to justify that. Now, taking the emotion out of it, here are point guards I feel are better than Jeremy Lin in the league right now (in loose order):
1. Rajon Rondo
2. Chris Paul
3. Deron Williams
4. Russell Westbrook
5. Derrick Rose
6. Kyrie Irving
7. Tony Parker
8. Steve Nash
9. Brandon Jennings
10. Ricky Rubio
11. John Wall
12. Jrue Holiday
13. Jose Calderon
14. Jameer Nelson
15. Jeff Teague
16. Ty Lawson
So according to my rankings, I’d rank Lin as the 17th best PG in the league right now. Now you could argue he’s better than Lawson, maybe Teague, but the rest of the guys are proven guys who have been consistent performers in the league. I’m also being generous leaving out Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic, both of whom preceded Lin in Houston and were more sought after than Lin this off-season.
So at best he ranks anywhere from 14-19. While fans can grow discontent with Chandler, Stoudemire, & Anthony, there is no doubt in anybody’s mind they are all top 5 players at their position. And everyone wants the Knicks to lose all flexibility over the next three years for the 18th best point guard in the league?
A lot got made out of “Lin isn’t a good fit in this offense” because he thrived in then-Coach Mike D’Antoni’s speedball offense, while posting more modest numbers in now-Coach Mike Woodson’s isolation heavy offense. Woodson preaches defense, much more than his predecessor and that is not Lin’s strength.
While talking to Knicks fans that aren’t old enough to have enjoyed the glory days of the early 70s, they all point to the 90s Knicks as the standard. The team was full of tough guys who played defense and pushed opponents inside. If a player came down the lane, he was risking bodily harm.
Those teams had a run of success getting all the way to a deciding Game 7 in 1994 and making another appearance in the Finals in 1999. Over the past decade, Knicks fans have dealt with a lot, but even when they were winning with Stoudemire and Anthony, Knicks fans still clamored for more toughness and defense. With the addition of the bulldog, Raymond Felton replacing Lin (who once gave up 26 points to Jose Calderon in a half) at the point, the Knicks are certainly closer to that.
Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler will anchor the middle flanked by Anthony and Stoudemire. With the he additions of former Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, both of whom were part of that 1999 Knicks team, this team is looking to fit the mold of those beloved 90s Knicks.
They should certainly contend for the Atlantic division and are looking to make a run at the defending champion Heat. After Mike Woodson took over, the Knicks were the best defensive team statistically in the NBA and all their additions this off-season improved their defense, including the departure of Lin.
They say defense wins championships and winning cures all. This year’s Knicks squad will absolutely play defense and also has the pieces to win, which would be the perfect cure for Linsanity.