LAS VEGAS — Jeremy Lin wasn’t ever going to play on the Knicks’ Summer League team here, but he did miss out on some valuable competition and conditioning time with the USA Basketball Select team. Lin’s next real competition will come in October, when training camp opens. While the Knicks are all but expected to match the hefty three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet he signed with the Houston Rockets on Friday, that only raises the expectation levels for the 23-year-old point guard.
Overall, however, Knicks coach Mike Woodson has raised expectations for everyone, not just Lin. And it starts with conditioning, which is something he stressed in every exit interview with the players at the end of the season and it’s a theme that continued into the Summer League practices, which have been run at an exhausting pace.
“That’s how it’s going to be when we start back up next season and Melo and guys like that are going to have to get used to it,” Woodson said.
Carmelo Anthony should be well-prepared. His energy level has been impressively high during his workouts with the U.S. Olympic team and he had a strong performance in the exhibition game against the Dominican Republic here on Thursday night. Tyson Chandler is there, as well. Amar’e Stoudemire has been training hard and will eventually spend time with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon this offseason to work on his post-up game.
But where is Jeremy Lin? Right now, he’s been sequestered during the free agency period, with brief appearances during a visit with the Rockets and, of course, on the ESPYs.
The fact that Lin pulled out of the USA Basketball commitment is understandable and certainly not unprecedented. Deron Williams said he wanted to get his free agency status set before he reported to camp here. No player wants to take a risk of getting injured without a signed contract and no agent should ever advise his client to do it. As a restricted free agent, it wasn’t Lin’s call, however. He had to let the process play out and that meant waiting for the NBA free agency moratorium to end (Wednesday). The Rockets made him a lucrative offer and he signed it, making almost $1 million for every start he had last season. Linsanity was a good business for everyone.
But what faces Lin come October is not only the weight of expectations of a Linsanity Encore, not to mention a massive contract, but a training camp that will set the tone for what is a critical season for the Knicks. This team isn’t built for patience; it’s built to win now. And that means no time will be wasted in training camp for conditioning when it needs to be used for developing this group and getting it ready for the season opener.
“I’m stressing that with everybody coming back . . . they’ve got to be ready to go in camp,” Woodson said. “They can’t use camp to get into shape.”
Lin missed the last five weeks of the season with a knee injury but has said he is healed and ready to go. With 39-year-old Jason Kidd ready to play a backup role, Lin holds the starting position and, with that, the key to the success of this team. Both Kidd and Marcus Camby on Thursday spoke of a championship aspiration for this coming season and Lin has to be ready to play up to that level.
Knicks GM Glen Grunwald, who arrived here today, and his staff will meet to discuss matching Lin’s offer sheet, along with matching Landry Fields’ offer sheet. There could be a decision made on both by the time the Knicks open their five-game stint in the NBA Summer League on Saturday afternoon at UNLV.
SUMMER OF 2015?
By including a fully-guaranteed $14.5 million balloon payment in the third year, the Rockets definitely attempted to create a “poison pill” contract offer to dissuade the Knicks from matching; it still isn’t exactly a payroll killer for the Knicks. What it does is cost the franchise millions in luxury tax payments for the 2014-15 season.
If the Knicks indeed match the offer sheet, they will have four players under contract that total $76.7 million for the 2014-15 season. Along with Lin, Chandler will make $14.5 million that season, with Anthony ($24.3 million) and Stoudemire ($23.4 million) leading the way. Both Melo and Amar’e have Early Termination Options (ETOs) for that season, but right now it seems unlikely they would opt-out.
What you have is a situation where the Knicks will have to swallow a major luxury tax charge, but then they would have the potential to see $76.7 million cleared off the cap, as all four contracts will have expired.
A rebuilding year? Try re-load. The Knicks could enter the Summer of 2015 as major players in free agency, with rising stars such as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love scheduled to be on the market by then.
Also, consider this: If Lin isn’t worth that $14.5 million by year three, he will be a very valuable expiring contract come trade deadline that season.
SUMMER OF 2012 OUT IN VEGAS
Spero Dedes and I finally rolled into Sin City last night and, yes, they gave Daddy the Rain Man Suite. Catch us, along with the legend, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Saturday for the Knicks Summer League opener against the Memphis Grizzlies at 4 p.m. (ET) on MSG Network.
Generally, Summer League teams have one or two players from the regular season roster — draft picks and young players looking to take the next step — but with Iman Shumpert (knee) out and no other rookies left after the Camby sign-and-trade, this squad will have some training camp hopefuls to watch. I’ll give you three for now:
— James White: He’s not a training camp hopeful, he’s already signed for the coming season. The 6-7 swingman with ridiculous hops decided to play because he wanted to get himself acclimated with Woodson’s system. Don’t look for White to try to dominate against a group of mostly kids and D-Leaguers, but look for subtleties, such as defense, a consistent shooting touch and, of course, finishing at the rim. He’s not fighting for a roster spot, but he does need to prove himself worthy of a rotation spot.
— Chris Copeland: A EuroBasket veteran who has had stops in Germany, Holland, Spain and Belguim throughout his career, but never played in the NBA. The 6-8 forward had a brief stint in the D-League in 2006-07 but carved out a solid career overseas built on post scoring and agility. Copeland has impressed Woodson so far in practices and his versatility and experience could earn him a roster spot. He signed a non-guaranteed contract, so it’s a good bet we’ll see him in October.
— Chris Smith: J.R.’s little brother, who is one of those prototypical AAU combo guards. Chris doesn’t have the size or length that J.R. possesses, but he plays very strong, is a tenacious defender and can shoot the ball. He’ll also surprise you with his vertical from time to time.