The Knicks are already all-in, so why not all-Lin?

I keep hearing about the Knicks weighing whether to make a basketball decision or a marketing decision. To me, this is an oversimplification in many ways. It’s not just that they would be losing out on marketing opportunities by letting him go, it’s also the fact that Lin represents one of the most exciting periods of being a Knick fan ever.

These last couple of weeks I feel that a lot of people have applied an almost TOO sober approach to Jeremy Lin, questioning whether he will really be the player he seemed to be during Linsanity, suggesting he may somehow revert to the perpetual end-of-the-bench guy he previously was. Watching Jeremy Lin back in February was fun to the point that it transcended basketball. I literally shrieked with pure astonishment when I saw Lin hit the game-winning three against Toronto. This story was incredible in itself but that it should happen to the most cursed franchise of the last decade, my Knicks, just made it seem more like a dream than anything else.

Ok, so fine, I too thought that Lin should have played in the Miami series, if he truly was as he said, at 85%. And he is not yet proven over a whole season, so the third year of his contract is obviously, as Carmelo said (rather unnecessarily), ridiculous at this point. But one naturally cannot blame Lin for seeking the most possible money, and frankly, the marketing opportunities he brings to a team means that any potential luxury tax hit he triggers will likely be covered anyway. Which brings me to the decision the Knicks are facing; financially, retaining Lin cannot realistically be a problem. And with that in mind, since the team is way over the cap either way, not matching Lin would make no sense whatsoever, as they are unable to sign any players for more than the veteran’s minimum going forward. Do they really think they’ll find better players – or assets if you will – by hunting for veteran’s minimum players?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly – the Knicks must have been able to anticipate that at least one team would swoop in and give Lin this kind of offer when they let him test the market. That being the case, if they truly won’t match the Rockets’ offer, why would they not have made any effort to sign-and-trade Lin for any kind of assets? I absolutely want Lin to return to the Knicks, but what would really annoy me would be to see the league’s most marketable player leave for absolutely nothing in return.

I really hope the front office matches Lin, because that to me would keep their heretofore impeccable offseason intact. Otherwise I will be left wondering if there really wasn’t a much better way to handle this whole Jeremy Lin saga.

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WIN NOW

As a fan, any time things don’t go your way, you often have to assume a glass half-full approach, if only to preserve some semblance of sanity in the long run. Examples of this include how I in July of 2010 rationalized that beating LeBron might be more fun than having LeBron on your team anyway, or how I now feel that the Knicks actually might be better served having Lin/Kidd/Shumpert than Lin/Nash, pointing to Shumpert’s potential and how this setup will define everyone’s role more clearly (with Lin as the obvious starter and Kidd the clear backup). Make no mistake though, the truth is I wanted Nash even if it would have cost us Shumpert, and the reason for this is very simple: WIN NOW.

First of all, constantly hearing things along the lines of “we’ll get better next year, and then the year after that, who knows?” isn’t quite what you’re looking for if you suffered through the near misses of the 90’s and (at least part of) the rebuilding plan of the late 00’s. Secondly, and more importantly, with upwards of 60 million a year committed to 3 players, the Knicks are by default in win now-mode. Whatever makes the team the best it can be over the duration of those contracts has to be done, attempting some sort of middleground where we also develop draft picks and bank on that ever-deceitful word POTENTIAL to give us a better team down the line is flat out stupid. I’d rather be the Celtics (a contender that should never be overlooked) for 3 years and then take my chances, than be the Hawks (a surefire second round exit, no more, sometimes less) for 5 years. Don’t get me wrong, keeping Shumpert is definitely a positive in my opinion, though not because “IN THREE YEARS HE COULD BE AN ALL-STAR!”, but because he’s already proven to be a valuable player, for example in being able to defend the likes of Derrick Rose effectively.

Also, let’s not forget that the more the Knicks can form a true winning culture over the next few years, the more the perception of the franchise will change and the easier it will be to re-tool on the fly, just look at teams like the Lakers and Spurs – they routinely have seemingly no assets outside of their star players and yet they somehow tweak their rosters and remain competitive year after year. The only way to do that is never accepting mediocrity, and for that reason I’m glad that the front office did everything they could to make a move they felt would improve the team significantly right now, regardless of whether it would have looked just as good five years from now or not.

Who’s to blame?/What kind of players do I want on my team?

How can a team with this roster be this bad? We are now 42 games into the season and at that point the “we just need time to gel as a team” starts to get old, right now there is just no reasonable explanation as to how the Knicks are 18-24 and currently out of the playoffs. I’ve gotta agree with Andreas and say that my patience with D’Antoni is finally wearing thin, because the way the team has been struggling to execute on either end lately (although to be fair, the Bulls game, aside from giving up 287 offensive rebounds, wasn’t horrible), a lot of the blame has to be shouldered by the coach. My previously unflinching commitment to D’Antoni has mostly been based around the fact that I haven’t seen any particularly tempting replacements anyway. But by now “generic coach” would seem like a better option, and not even because I think D’Antoni is a bad coach, but because he just won’t work out for this team. Him and Carmelo never seemed like they would be a good fit, since D’Antoni’s “system” is predicated on free-flowing ball movement, and always dominated by the point guard, whereas Melo thrives when he can go to work in isolations. D’Antoni’s system is at once his greatest claim to fame and something of a curse, because it provides players with a built-in excuse for playing poorly. A system doesn’t make you miss open jumpers or lay-ups or fail to understand the mechanics of “boxing out—>rebound”, but that is still how any discussion of this particular coach will be framed. Aside from the triangle offense and the so-called Seven Seconds or Less offense, does anyone know the offensive coaching philosophy of any single coach in the league?

My problem at this juncture is mostly that I can’t decide who I’m most annoyed with, D’Antoni, Melo or Stoudemire. Carmelo has more or less career-worst averages in every category except assists (including .400 FG%) and Stoudemire has played nothing short of terrible 90% of the season. It’s so annoying as a fan to see every other team in the league seem more pumped up and eager to win on any given night than the Knicks are, and to see every single team get more out of their franchise players than the Knicks do. The really maddening part is once again, when I look at the roster and come back to why I seriously thought this team could hang with anybody just a couple of weeks ago… Sure, Linsanity came against relatively weak teams… but this team without Carmelo, Amar’e, Baron Davis and JR Smith won seven in a row. Adding two perennial all-NBA players and two players who at the very least can provide major sparks for the team maybe 10-15 minutes a game should push such a team near championship level, not push it out of the playoffs. I know the saying goes that you need stars to win it all, and I would definitely agree with that. But in the midst of this terrible underperforming from our two 100-million dollar players, hearing that Lou Williams’ 28 points was a team high for the 76ers for this entire season, kind of seemed refreshing. I wouldn’t want the Knicks to be more like that team, because that Philadelphia team is never winning a title, but stars are only stars if they win, especially if their supporting cast equals that of the Knicks (you can’t really blame someone like Deron Williams for not managing to win with that horrendous New Jersey roster). It’s time Melo and Stat start playing even remotely like the players their contracts suggest they are, and if that means “generic coach” needs to be brought in, so be it.

One final thought though, whatever happens with the Knicks during this season or the next, don’t trade Tyson Chandler. Obviously credit is due to Jeremy Lin for the most exciting time as a Knick fan in over 12 years and for that he should definitely be held on to as well, but Tyson Chandler is exactly the kind of player that you have no trouble rooting for no matter how the team is playing or what the game is like. He fights hard on every possession, plays within his limits, gives you about three easy dunks every game, and plays with a passion always highlighted by the ensuing roars on those dunks. He’s like Kevin Garnett, only if Garnett actually still seemed like a nice person. I don’t even want Tyson Chandler traded straight up for Dwight Howard, and while that may seem totally irrational, to use an oft-used Carmelo expression, “at the end of the day”, you need to feel like you actually WANT to root for the players on your team. I have never liked Dwight Howard and his recent trade request antics haven’t improved my opinion of him, whereas Chandler is exactly the kind of player I want on my team, and in the end, that stuff really matters too.

Once bitten, twice shy

Any time you can turn the a player’s (L)incredibly unlikely rise to overnight stardom into a problem, you gotta do it. I am now referring to the recent rumblings around the internets regarding how Melo will fit in with what Jeremy Lin has done with the team in his and Amar’e’s absence. Some fans are even spouting the same bullshit as Swedes have been saying about Zlatan Ibrahimovic over the last decade, that he’s “too selfish” and that our otherwise mediocre squad would be better off without him, because then they would play more as a team. You know what? In both these cases, statistics could prove these people right, the Knicks have won 5 straight now and floundered before that and the Swedish national football team has something like a 10-game streak of no losses when Ibrahimovic is out of the lineup. But when you really get down to it, like Andreas somewhat ironically proved in an earlier post, stats can make any point you want them to make. One could just as easily argue that the woes of both these transcendent players on their respective teams have been directly correlated to an unreasonable burden being placed on them in terms of running their team’s offense. And, let’s be honest, as bored as I was watching the pre-Linsanity Knicks and as thoroughly entertained as I’ve been watching the last five games, I realize that the team without STAT and Melo is not a championship-caliber team. I’m not entirely sure whether it is with those two players either, but it damn sure is closer to one, and for a franchise having waited almost 40 years for a title, the ability to truly compete for one is what ultimately matters.

All of this being said, I sincerely hope that Lin will continue to perform at a high level and in the process make Amar’e and Carmelo better, at least better than they’ve been during this season so far. If our stars could only so much as play to their averages while Lin delivers even 70% of what he’s done over the last five games, the Knicks will be dangerous… and since we’re basically a lock to re-sign Lin after this season, this team only stands to get better over the next couple of years (I think STAT has at least two more great years in him, anything else would be an overly pessimistic view in my opinion, given the fitness freak he is).

I understand that people can’t believe this is happening, I sure as hell can’t either (see my post from about 10 days ago on “The Curse”), but just because this franchise has been so burned in the past, let’s not be so quick to worry that this immensely fortuitous development is just some kind of mirage and that everything will be back to “normal” (i.e. dreadful) as soon as we get back one of the top 15 players in the league from injury. For now, let us all just enjoy that it’s fun to be a Knicks fan again.

Linconceivable

Through the first 23 games, I wondered how it was even possible for the Knicks to be as bad as they were. If you’re in the Eastern Conference and you’ve got Amar’e, Melo and Chandler, I could maybe understand 10-13 at worst because the team has to learn to play together, but being tied with NEW JERSEY at that point in the season just seemed unreal to me. But thanks to Jeremy Lin, no one cares about that right now. For the Knicks, a team that has been so plagued by near misses in the 90’s and egregious management during the last decade, this kind of feelgood story seems doubly inconceivable. Last night was against the Lakers, who may well be past their championship window, but dismissing them as an inadequate test for whether Lin is the real deal would be an overly glass half-empty approach. I figured going into the game that the Lakers would be exactly the kind of team that Lin, with the skillset he had shown up to that point, would want to avoid facing. Twin towers at the rim stopping his drives to the basket and Kobe’s assassin mentality, determined to put an end to Lin’s dream streak. Turns out I managed to underestimate him yet again, as he put up a performance for which no superlatives seem sufficient – 38 points, 7 assists in a 92-85 win. In every post-game interview so far he has deflected attention from himself instantly, instead lauding the team effort, saying everything we see on the court is just the product of teamwork. No wonder his teammates look ecstatic for his sake every time he pulls off another highlight (seriously, check out some of his 4th quarter stuff from last night, or the spin move in the second quarter). I’m still struggling to believe this can be happening at all, let alone to the Knicks, but for right now, Lin has in my opinion saved the entire season. Not since the 90’s has anything as magical as this come the Knicks’ way. Earlier this season I watched the games more out of duty than actual interest, as the team was totally without spark or competitiveness. Now, I can’t wait to see the magic continue, as Lin faces off against Rubio and the Wolves tonight.

Linning and winning

In a season where two perennial All-Star/All-NBA players had carried us to an 8-15 record and overall simply horrendous basketball, it seems almost fitting that the Knicks’ saviour this year looks to be an undrafted, twice waived second-year Asian-American player who also spent some time in the D-League. Check, check, check and check in terms of factors creating prejudice as to whether the guy could play if given the chance. And, at the risk of jinxing it, I’m gonna go ahead and say that he really can at this point, three straight games of 23 and 7 or better is no fluke – now, granted, it would seem extremely unlikely that he can keep up the kind of production he has had in the last three games all season, but the Knicks do not really need him to have that kind of impact scoring-wise anyway. As long as he continues to play even reasonably well as a true point guard, that will be a major upgrade for the team. I especially like how Lin seems to make a concerted effort to get the whole team involved and set up teammates where they are most comfortable getting the ball. That is the kind of thing that will be very important regardless of what kind of stats he’ll be putting up. What remains to be seen now is whether he can keep the offensive flow going when Melo and Amare return. Those two should be able to see what a positive impact Lin has had through moving the ball and make sure to not be the ballstoppers they are so often accused of being.

The curse

The Knicks just seem cursed somehow, granted I don’t really follow any other team but it’s just ridiculous the way so many games end in losses after the Knicks have led all the way, or more importantly, how teams manage to score timely hoops every single time against them. Opponents need to stop a run yet the Knicks are playing great defense? No worries, a contested bailout 21+-footer is sure to fall at the end of the shot clock. Fields has finally found his confidence this year and gets an open corner three to win the game after being the best 4th quarter 3-point shooter in the league last year? Not to worry, he’ll still airball it. I’m a lifelong video game fan and staying up late at night, watching the Knicks, seeing these games unfold the way they do, I can’t help but think of this classic message from the old NES game Simon’s Quest:

Last night, just like almost any other night this Knick season, was indeed yet ANOTHER horrible night to have a curse. Let’s hope they can at least beat perennial punching bags New Jersey tonight… in truth, the Knicks have played well in their last two games and if they can sustain this level of play against the dregs of the league, they’ll likely get a lot of easy wins down the road.