By John Schmeelk
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Every part of the Knicks’ decision-making process has been dissected ad nauseam over the past few days. You can read my very detailed breakdown of the Jeremy Lin contract saga here. But today isn’t the day to parse details and go through the same arguments that Knicks fans have debated all week long. It’s important to see the forest for the trees here.

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I don’t know what Lin is. I don’t know what he will eventually be. Nobody does. He could be anything from a bust to an All-Star. I happen to settle on a very healthy area in between: he’ll be a solid starter in this league for a long time. No one can argue this young player has a ton of talent, skills and an unknown ceiling.

Bad NBA players don’t just show up and dominate the league for a month. He didn’t just score points and dish out a lot of assists. He won basketball games as the leading man, surrounded by role players. He made his teammates better. He hit big shots. He revived the Garden. That was the most buzz I’ve felt at MSG since the Finals run in 1999. He stayed humble throughout.

That doesn’t happen in the NBA.

A flame doesn’t glow so bright only to go out a moment later. One way or another, Jeremy Lin’s game is here to stay.

Were his number inflated by playing in Mike D’Antoni’s system? No doubt about it. So were Raymond Felton’s in 2010-11. We’ve seen Felton flounder outside the tutelage of D’Antoni. He is an average point guard on his better days. We don’t know what Lin is and what he could be. Might he be Felton or even something worse? Sure. But there’s just as good, if not better chance that he is something much more.

He could be a starting point guard in this league for a decade.

He could make All-Star teams.

The Knicks just gave up that player for nothing. Lin, without whom the Knicks don’t make the playoffs last season, was allowed to simply walk away. There was no compensation. Glen Grunwald can’t use that money elsewhere. There are no draft picks. All Knicks fans have to show for Jeremy Lin is the memory of 25 starts in the winter months of 2012 that they will never forget. It’s a story that wasn’t supposed to end this way. It’s tragic.

This decision is one the Knicks might rue for a long time. If Lin proves to be the real thing, fans won’t forget this. Every time Felton shows up to camp 20 pounds overweight, Jason Kidd plays like he is 40, and the offense looks stagnant, fans will remember Lin. They’ll wonder, “What if?”

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Every time Carmelo Anthony fails to lead this team to the promised land, they’ll wonder if things would have been different if Jeremy Lin was still a Knick. Fair or unfair, it’s the truth.

Worst of all, this only took place because of money or hurt feelings. James Dolan, who has a virtual monopoly with Cablevision, and raised some ticket prices by as much as 80 percent over the past two seasons, doesn’t want to write a check. The Garden was just renovated and more suites will bring in even more money. Dolan’s one saving grace as an owner was a willingness to spend, many times overspend, to make this team better. That’s gone now.

The situation would be even worse if it wasn’t money, but instead something like hurt feelings that made the Knicks decide not to bring Lin back. To forsake the chance to retain an asset and make the team better just to show a player how angry you are is childish and foolish. It’s unprofessional and unforgivable. Dolan won’t think twice about Lin’s renegotiation when he’s wowing the fans with a virtuoso performance on opening night against the Nets. It wouldn’t matter anymore. That’s not how a franchise is supposed to be run.

Instead, those same Knicks fans that would have been cheering for Lin will be wearing Brooklyn black and white. Casual basketball fans flocked to the Knicks last year after Lin came onboard. His phenomenon single-handedly got the Knicks back on Time Warner cable and made the Garden millions in the process. Ticket prices on the secondary market soared. TV ratings doubled and online video views went up three fold. The Knicks chose to let all that go away yesterday.

It doesn’t seem sane.

Whatever Jeremy Lin is going to be, we know that right now he is an asset that whether as a player or a trade chip, would make the Knicks better over the next three seasons. Whether he is worth 15 million dollars is a worthless question. His financial burden in year three could have been avoided by limiting other free agent moves, using something like the stretch provision in the CBA, or simply by James Dolan writing a check. There is no cap impact. The Knicks were better yesterday when they still had the rights to Jeremy Lin. Today, they are worse.

The fan base is furious. No one is better off in any way. In the end, that’s all that matters.


This is going to appear a bit self-indulgent and I apologize for that in advance. I took a lot of pride being the first one to report the potential use of the “stretch provision” on Tuesday regarding the final year of Lin’s contract. Evan Roberts mentioned it in his monologue and it slowly filtered through to many other written and broadcast outlets (including the MSG summer league broadcast). Unfortunately, only Evan and a couple other people in the media (Jaime O’Grady of the LoHud Knicks blog was another) decided to credit the guy who dug it up first.

I’ll continue to provide coverage of NBA free agency on Twitter; follow me @Schmeelk.

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Where do you stand on the Lin debate? Did the Knicks just chuck up an air ball? Be heard in the comments below…