LAS VEGAS — How fitting to be here, in the City of Sin, this oasis of unapologetic pretentiousness, of extravagant novelty, of alluring adventure and the pursuit of the endless experience, to consider the value of Linsanity.
While we rode that euphoric wave through February and March, the New York thing to do was predict its demise. We are a society of equal parts builders and destroyers. Jeremy Lin was a chalk masterpiece on the sidewalk just there to be washed away by the next rain. But Lin admirably proved time and again that he had staying power.
That staying power is being tested once more.
There was never a question about Lin’s future with the Knicks. The intention always was to re-sign him, regardless of the Bird Rights issue. The Basketball Gods had already gifted the franchise with this unheralded prodigy out of the dregs of the waiver wire and another minor miracle emerged in June when an arbitrator awarded Lin his Early Bird Rights, which should have cemented his future in New York.
Still, as a restricted free agent, it was in Lin’s rights to test the market and find the best value he could get. The Knicks did not engage in contract negotiations on July 1 because they were focused on shoring up other needs on the roster. Lin was considered a given. No matter what someone offered him, the plan all along was to match.
When reports emerged about a four-year offer sheet from the Houston Rockets, the reaction was measured. Lin didn’t have to sign it, of course. He could have simply declined and the Knicks could have used it as the framework of a deal. But the responsibility of his representation is to guarantee the highest price possible and not deal in winks and handshakes. Still, the Knicks, based on the reported figures — a third year at $9.3 million and a fourth year that wasn’t fully guaranteed — had no hesitation about matching.
Granted, Lin shouldn’t have signed anything if he had no intention, or interest, in playing for the Rockets. So let’s make it clear: Lin wants to play for Houston, a franchise that still maintains a strong connection to the Asian market from its ties to Yao Ming. What we can only assume is he would be equally happy to remain a Knick.
What you’d rather confirm is that he’d prefer to be a Knick.
That, however, can be fairly questioned by the move to set this false sense of security within the Knicks organization after the original offer sheet numbers were leaked to the media and then turn around and sign a much more challenging deal that reportedly has a fully guaranteed $14.8 million payout in Year 3. When you consider the payroll for this Knicks team that is attempting to build a championship contender, Lin’s third year could cost the Knicks as much as $40 million when you factor in potential luxury tax payments.
The Knicks have until Tuesday night to match. Several reports have suggested the team has abruptly changed its stance on Lin and will not match the deal. Lin’s camp is already putting out word through media outlets that he would like to stay in New York, which is sounding somewhat disingenuous in the wake of this offer sheet strategy.
And while the clock ticks, a despondent fan base is torn in two by a debate that has set off another version of Linsanity. Those in favor of matching the contract have an argument that ranges between the importance of preserving a young talent on what is a much older roster to the idea that Lin’s marketing and commercial appeal will recoup most of the hefty cost that incurs by Year 3.
Those opposed argue that Lin, with just 25 starts in his career, is not worth such an exorbitant amount of money and has more to prove. One of the most passionate debates has one side saying the Knicks have historically overspent for marginal players (see: Jerome James) so money suddenly shouldn’t be an issue in regards to keeping such a popular player as Lin, while the other side says the days of being fiscally irresponsible need to end.
Just the fact that there is this much passion being generated over this debate proves just how massive Linsanity is for the Knicks. One fan emailed me upset about the potential of losing Lin because, “My wife says she’ll never watch another Knicks game if they don’t sign Jeremy Lin.”
I would hope she would watch just to see me on the pre and postgame shows. Or, you know, Clyde.
During our broadcast here of the Knicks’ Summer League game against the Suns on Sunday,Walt Frazier and I both agreed that the team should match the contract. “Worry about later, later,” Frazier said, with the idea that if Lin proves to not be the value you hoped before Year 3, he can be traded as an expiring contract for one or two players. In fact, if the Knicks match, they can trade Lin after Jan. 15 with his consent, which means before this year’s deadline, he could be moved. They can even ship him to the Rockets — so Houston can enjoy that balloon in Year 3 — next summer.
The idea is, just as an asset alone, Lin is too valuable to let walk without any compensation. In the NBA, if you don’t match an offer sheet for a restricted free agent, you do not receive any compensatory draft picks as in other sports. You just lose the player. Even if Lin isn’t part of the plan going forward, especially with Raymond Felton back to run the point (more on this later), Lin should be retained just so the franchise can get some type of return.
Though several scouts have told me they still don’t see Lin becoming more than a very good backup point guard in this league, I’m a strong believer in his potential because of his ability to get to the rim, finish, hit clutch shots, galvanize teammates and, most of all, his impressive will.
The only thing I question is if that will to remain a Knick is still as strong as it was on Feb. 4, when he entered a game against the Nets hours from being placed on waivers.
CONTRACT ALREADY AN ISSUE?
Carmelo Anthony, before USA Basketball practice in Washington, D.C., on Sunday morning, had just finished saying he would “love” to see Jeremy Lin back with the Knicks and added that “I think he has to do what’s best for him right now,” which prompted a reporter, mindful of Lin’s status as a restricted free agent, to say, “It’s up to you guys to match.”
Melo then laughed and said, “It’s not up to me!”
He then added, “It’s up to the organization to say that they want to match that ridiculous contract that’s out there.”
Many others have said it, but the fact that it came from the star player on the team created a major controversy before breakfast was served in Las Vegas.
There have been suggestions that Melo was resentful of the attention Lin received last season and also that Lin’s interest in remaining a Knick has waned because he doesn’t want to play with Melo. The two went out to dinner in June, along with Tyson Chandler, in an attempt to develop a better understanding of each other, discuss the future and air out any lingering issues. Apparently it didn’t work.
Still, Melo’s strong words about Lin’s impending big payday were troublesome and created a media firestorm that motivated Melo to fire back later in the day.
“I’m tired of people trying to blame me for the fact that the Knicks might not match,” he said to Yahoo! Sports. “I want everybody to get paid if they have the opportunity.”
If you know Melo, you know he is big on having players earn their stripes when they come into the NBA. He orders rookies to carry equipment and, occasionally, his bag. He believes status is something you earn over time, as you prove yourself in the league over the course of a season or two. So Lin’s ascension into stardom and as a main face of the franchise is, without question, something Melo has tried to counter with some humble pie. That’s been going on in the NBA for decades.
But J.R. Smith pointed out another underlying issue that has existed in all of pro sports that Lin could face next season: He, with just 64 games of NBA experience, will be making more than other far more established and accomplished players in the league.
“I think some guys take it personal, being they’ve been doing it longer and haven’t received reward for it yet,” Smith told SI.com. “I think it’s a tough subject to touch on for a lot of guys.”
Smith, for one, returned to the Knicks at $2.8 million, which is slightly more than half of what Lin will make in the first year of his deal.
RETURN OF RAYMOND
Among the host of Knicks who suddenly found themselves in Denver after the Carmelo trade in Feb. 2011, Felton was the most shaken by it. Danilo Gallinari heard the rumors for months, as did Wilson Chandler. But Felton never expected his run in New York would have ended that quickly. He admitted to confidants that it soured his attitude and negatively affected his game, which quickly disintegrated after an impressive half-season with the Knicks.
It came to a head in Portland, his fourth team in three years, when Nate McMillan was furious over Felton’s weight. It was an issue with the Knicks, as well, as I recall Donnie Walsh being upset when Felton showed up before training camp in 2010-11 overweight. Felton assured Walsh and the Knicks that his practice is to come in heavy and use training camp to get to the weight he needs. The reasoning, according to Felton, is he likes to feel strong and the rigors of a regular season cause him to lose too much weight and it makes him feel weaker.
That theory will certainly be put to the test this season, as we’ve already told you how Knicks coach Mike Woodson has warned his players to show up for training camp at weight and in shape. Those who know Felton well believe Woodson may be just the right coach for Felton, who is a fiery competitor. But McMillan is the hard-driving, motivational type, too, and Felton did not respond well. At one point last season, Felton expressed his frustration with McMillan: “Never in my days playing basketball have I felt like a coach wasn’t confident in my ability.”
Felton was putting up career-best numbers (17.1 points per game, 9.0 assists per game) with the Knicks before the trade but what must be noted is that he was playing as the primary ball handler in Mike D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll system. Felton and Amar’e Stoudemire developed good chemistry — though it took time — and the belief is the two should be able to reconnect again in Woodson’s offense.
AGE AIN’T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER?
When Toney Douglas was sent to the Rockets in the sign-and-trade for Marcus Camby, it created a fact that is certainly a sign of the times. The most tenured player on the team, by consistent years, is now Stoudemire.
Stoudemire will always be remembered as the pioneer free agent in 2010, which set the first stone of the foundation of this new era. Of course the roster does have several players who have played for the Knicks before (Camby, Felton and Kurt Thomas), but for current tenure, Stoudemire is now the franchise’s mainstay.
Iman Shumpert remains the team’s youngest player, at 22, but after him there isn’t a single player 25 or under. Two seasons ago, the Knicks were the seventh youngest team in the NBA with an average age of 24.6 years. That was also the fifth youngest team in franchise history.
Last season, the Knicks average age was 26.5, which is still relatively young. But with the additions of Thomas (40), Jason Kidd (39), Camby (38) and the reported signing of Argentinian point guard Pablo Prigioni (35), the Knicks will have an average age of 31.4 years at the start of the regular season. Six of the 11 players on the anticipated roster will be 30 or older.
“I haven’t seen a young team win an NBA title in the last 10 to 15 years,” Woodson said last week. “It’s the veteran guys who are winning NBA titles.”
Woodson is correct in that the more veteran teams have won in recent years, no team has won a championship with an average age over 30 in 15 years. The last over-30 team to win an NBA title was the 1997 Chicago Bulls, who had an average age of 30.07. And they had Michael Jordan.
The last six champions, by average age:
2012 – Heat (28.4)
2011- Mavericks (28.4)
2010 – Lakers (27.6)
2009 – Lakers (26.2)
2008 – Celtics (28.4)
2007 – Spurs (29.4)
[NOTE: Average age isn’t really relative because you can have older players on the roster who aren’t factoring into your rotation (i.e.: Juwan Howard on the Heat), but jack up your average age. This would be the case for the Knicks with Kurt Thomas, who isn’t expected to play a regular role. A formula was established by Hoopism.com two seasons ago to determine “Effective Age,” which takes age and factors in minutes played. We won’t be able to determine the Effective Age of this current Knicks group until at least one month into the season, but with a few more roster spots to be filled, the average age could dip below 30. Unless Grant Hill signs, of course.]
The Knicks Summer League contingent hasn’t done much to distract anyone from the off-the-court news the team has made since the NBA Summer League opened on Friday. The team is 0-2 after losses to the Grizzlies and Suns. Two veterans that are expected to factor into training camp are James White and Chris Copeland and both have been mediocre at best. Copeland is leading the team in scoring, along with Wesley Witherspoon, at 12.5 points per game. Copeland, the European veteran, is shooting at a 44 percent clip in 24.5 minutes per game.
White, who already has a guaranteed contract for training camp, clearly isn’t playing full speed as we haven’t seen many flashes of his trademark athleticism and vertical leaping ability, not to mention the scoring he showed playing in Italy last season. He’s averaging 4.5 points on 25 percent shooting in 22 minutes per game in two games so far. His plan was to appear in only three games, with the intention to use the Summer League as a means to get acclimated with Woodson and his system to prepare him for camp in October.
The Knicks will be back on MSG Network for the team’s third game, Tuesday, at 4:00 p.m. (ET).