By John Schmeelk
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In the end, all the hemming, hawing and drama surrounding Jeremy Lin’s departure last offseason turned out to be almost inconsequential. As is evidenced by their record and strong point-guard play, the Knicks do not miss Jeremy Lin. So far this year, Lin certainly hasn’t shown much to make anyone think that the Knicks did the wrong thing by letting him go, either.
I thought that the Knicks would be in far more trouble than they’re in for passing on Lin. I did not anticipate Mike Woodson holding over so much of Mike D’Antoni’s offense, which has allowed Raymond Felton to return to the production he had in his first run with the Knicks. I didn’t think that Jason Kidd had this much left in the tank. I didn’t think that Pablo Prigioni would be as solid as he has been — not only on pick-and-rolls, but also on defense. Those three guys have made it very easy to say goodbye to Jeremy Lin and not look back.
With all that said, it is very important to note that it was never a choice between Jeremy Lin and any of those three guys.
Even after the Felton acquisition, the Knicks could have easily retained Lin and it would have cost them absolutely nothing other than some cash out of James Dolan’s wallet. They could have had everyone they have now, plus Jeremy Lin. Their future salary cap or flexibility would not have been affected.
Even if Lin didn’t earn significant playing time, he could have been used as a valuable trade chip considering his marketing value to teams struggling to draw fans. The Knicks could have gotten SOMETHING for him, rather than letting an asset walk away for nothing. Worst comes to worst, he could have been a developing young player that allowed Kidd to keep his minutes in the 25-per-game range.
Lin’s stats aren’t nearly as terrible as everyone is making them out to be, either. His one truly awful stat is his shooting percentage, which sits at .395. His 11 points per game and six assists is average. His 2.7 turnovers per game is not all that bad for a point guard and he is averaging nearly two steals a game. His assist-to-turnover ratio puts him at 36th in the league, and he is 20th in assists per 48 minutes. Four rebounds per game is respectable for a guard.
If you are looking for an overall number, his PER sits at 13.24, certainly not a great number. But he is in the same neighborhood as J.R. Smith, Gerald Wallace, Ronnie Brewer, Joe Johnson, Andre Iguodala, Arron Afflalo and Jason Terry. He is in the top half of the league, after what even Lin himself called “terrible” basketball.
Can it be better? Certainly, but it isn’t the train wreck that most people think.
Last season I estimated that if the Knicks retained Lin and he played roughly 30 minutes a game, he would average around 15 points and eight assists. He is off those numbers, but not dramatically. At worst, I considered him a top-notch backup point guard. If this is his worst, then that’s almost exactly what he is. He is also very young, and can certainly improve over the course of the season and moving forward. We still don’t know his ceiling.
Re-signing Lin was always as much, if not more, about the future as it was about the present. But now with all their veterans, the Knicks are all about now, and not the future. It makes their decision to let him walk even more palatable.
I know a lot of fans will say they would love to have him, but the price is just too high! Well the first two years of the contract are extremely reasonable.
If he turned out to be a bust, the damage of the third year could have been significantly dampened by the use of the stretch provision. The Knicks could have also dealt him mid-contract for an asset, even if just a late first-round pick. His contract would not have been nearly as destructive to another team that was not a repeat salary-cap offender. He was — and is — movable as not only a basketball player, but especially as someone who fans will pay to see. His jersey is still among the NBA’s top sellers.
So in many ways I was wrong. The Knicks have strived without Lin and might very well be the best team in the NBA right now. Their crop of point guards have been great, and maybe Lin’s presence would have bothered some players on the team so much that it would have screwed up the chemistry. For all those reasons, the Knicks did the right thing in letting him walk. I’ll cede that point.
The point that I won’t cede is that the Knicks’ front office did a poor job allowing a young and improving player — and a valuable asset — walk without getting anything in return. But that’s just a minor footnote on an otherwise unbelievably successful body of work, and it really doesn’t matter when push comes to shove.
The Garden was just about as crazy as I’ve ever experienced when I sat there as Lin tore up the Lakers and the Mavericks. This year, with the Knicks on top of the Eastern Conference, it’s been even better. What made “Linsanity” special was that he helped win games.
They are winning games now at an even better rate, and that’s why it is easy to say goodbye to “Linsanity.”
It was replaced by winning.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
How many of you realistically thought that Kidd and Felton would make you completely forget about Lin? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…