By John Schmeelk
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NEW YORK, N.Y. (WFAN) – With reports all over the place that the Knicks won’t match the Rockets offer sheet on Jeremy Lin (none of that officially or even unofficially from the Knicks or Lin’s camp by the way), the right basketball move is still to bring him back. I don’t stand with the people that think he is the second coming of Steve Nash, but I also don’t sit with the people who think he is a flash in the pan prima donna that won’t succeed anymore outside of D’Antoni’s system.
The common argument out there is simply that Jeremy Lin is not worth 15 million dollars in his final season. No, he isn’t, but that doesn’t matter one lick from a basketball perspective. First of all, if you average out the deal it comes out to a little over eight million per season, which isn’t completely insane. Second, the money DOESN’T MATTER to the Knicks from a basketball perspective. They will be WAY over the cap with or without Lin in the next three seasons. Matching this offer sheet will not affect their flexibility at all.
It was assumed the Knicks would match the old offer sheet. The new offer sheet puts an additional five million dollars into the third year of the deal. With luxury tax penalties that could turn into an additional 15 or 20 million or more depending on what bracket the Knicks fall into. Am I to understand James Dolan has reached his spending limit? Is he really that hesitant to spend 20 million on a cash cow like Jeremy Lin after he willingly gave guys like Jerome Jordan and Eddie Curry the moon and the stars? I’m not buying that. Lin will make most of that money up with his popularity.
The Garden would also be jettisoning their most popular player the same year the Nets start in Brooklyn and try to take fans away. No one in their right mind would do that. In fact, the blowback from potentially letting Lin leave in the next couple days might sway the Garden towards bringing him back. The Knicks will lose the casual fan to Brooklyn if they let him leave. That’s a fact and one that would hurt the Knicks economically in every way (rating jersey sales, etc). This cannot be a financial decision. It just doesn’t hold any water.
Others think the Knicks will refuse to match because they are mad at the Rockets and Lin for changing the initial offer sheet and adding more money into the third year of the contract. If the Knicks really decide to not match this offer based purely out of spite they are dumber than anyone ever imagined. In order to have a better chance to win, they need to swallow their pride and do it anyway. This is a win at all costs league and I think the front office understands that. There’s too much on the line to be petty.
That means it is a basketball decision, and it’s a bad one. The Knicks are a win now team, and with their failure to acquire Steve Nash, the only way they catch the Heat is by internal improvement. The best way they can improve internally is by getting their young players (Lin and Shumpert) to improve their individual games. Raymond Felton played terrible basketball last year. He is not going to put the Knicks over the top at ANY point in the next three years. If Lin blossoms, which is no guarantee but a possibility, maybe he could. The Knicks are removing one their potential ways of getting better by trading someone like Lin.
Dealing Lin also negates one of the biggest benefits of the Jason Kidd trade. Kidd was brought in to mentor Lin and make him a better point guard over the long haul. Without him here, a lot of the benefit of Kidd’s signing disappears. Averaging only six points, five assists, and four rebounds last year it’s pretty obvious Kidd doesn’t have much left to give as a player on the floor. The days of him being a difference making point guard are over. Felton is no better, who played his worst season as a pro last year, scoring only eleven points per game, dishing six assists and shooting 40%. (30% from three) People argue Lin won’t have any success without Mike D’Antoni’s system. That MAY be true. We KNOW it is true with Raymond Felton, considering the arc of his career before and after D’Antoni. He’ll be closer to the player he was in Portland last year than he was in New York two seasons ago playing under Mike Woodson.
Even after the Felton trade, Lin’s return can still work with Kidd, Felton and Prigioni on the roster. JR Smith is the team’s only shooting guard, and the Knicks can use Raymond Felton to provide depth there while using Kidd and Lin at the one. Even when (if?) Shumpert returns, a team can never have enough depth. The more chips a franchise has the more flexibility they have in future trades and moves. Lin, worst case scenario, could be a valuable chip. Rules regarding resigned restricted free agents could affect Lin’s ability to be traded for a year (unless he consents to the trade), but it would still be an option down the road.
I honestly believe Jeremy Lin will be as good as or better than either Jason Kidd or Raymond Felton this season. No one can argue he is the only one of the three with room to get better. I just don’t believe the Knicks will give up a valuable player and asset on and off the floor, simply because of luxury tax payments. James Dolan has thrown around so much dumb money over the years to bad players on bad teams, it’s now when his team finally has a chance to win that he decides not to spend? I don’t buy it. James Dolan has never operated that way and I don’t think he’ll start now.
The team will let this go down to the wire because they can. They’ll keep Houston and Lin on a razor’s edge because that’s what they did to the Knicks. It took them forever to get the Knicks the offer sheet, and then it ended up being changed. They played with the Knicks and now the Knicks will play back. But in the end, I believe Jeremy Lin will still be a Knick next year, and he should be. It’s the right move to win more basketball games.
I’ll continue to provide coverage of NBA free agency on twitter, and you can follow me at https://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk