By JORDAN IKEDA
However you feel about the situation, how it played out, how “ridiculous” the contract was or how “ridiculous” it was for James Dolan to put his foot down on spending at this particular moment of all moments during his tenure as the New York Knicks owner, the bottom line is that Jeremy Lin in a Houston Rockets jersey will probably work out best for all involved.
In the short term, Knicks fans that were invigorated by Linsanity or started watching hoops because of it are undoubtedly crestfallen and/or angry—all of those petitions to keep him in New York having been signed for naught. But true fans will eventually find their way back to the Knicks just as the bandwagon fans will eventually jump back off.
While much has been made of the future financial implications of re-signing Lin, news on Monday regarding Madison Square Garden Inc. showed that the Knicks’ owner lost $49 million of market capitalization. Whether that was all due to Lin’s departure remains to be seen, but Wednesday, shares continued to fall. The keen eyes out there will recognize that $49 million would have paid in full the luxury tax hit the Knicks were facing in Year 3 of Lin’s “poison pill” contract.
Of course, stocks rise and fall for a variety of reasons, while Lin’s third-year $14.8 million salary (even if he is waived) is set in ink.
Knicks brass had said all along that they would match any offer for Lin, but appeared to radically change their tune when Lin went back and restructured what was a four-year, $28 million offer sheet to a three-year, $25 million deal with that tough-to-swallow third-year salary. Whether that was Lin who pushed for the change, or the Rockets who really wanted him, the fact of the matter is that Lin signed the only offer sheet he was ever presented.
I’ve never been offered a salary of $15 million for a year. So I certainly am not going to sit here and say that I would have the stones to turn an offer like that down. No soapbox here. But I will say that with great money comes great responsibility. Or as Notorious BIG put it nearly two decades ago, “Mo money, mo problems.”
Like jealousy, for one.
Carmelo Anthony, who sold his soul to become the man in New York, must be happy to see Lin go. He already called the contract “ridiculous” (as if his $19 million per year salary isn’t?) and then tried to backtrack by saying he “definitely” wanted Lin to come back. But, all one needs to do is look at how he played alongside Lin, rarely hustling on offense and still not playing defense (a stretch he admitted he wasn’t trying his hardest), to how he played when Lin went down and he averaged 29 points, 7 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 49 percent shooting.
Then there’s Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith, who told Sports Illustrated that Lin’s contract wouldn’t go over so well in the locker room because “some guys take it personal, because they’ve been doing it longer and haven’t received any reward yet.”
This from a guy who can’t help but give large portions of his salary back to his employers. Like in March when he posted a naked picture of one of his lady friends on Twitter and ended up giving back $25K to the NBA because of it. Or how he gave back nearly $1 million of his salary playing in China this past season because he couldn’t be bothered to show up to practice. And while he’s certainly been doing it longer, he’s also been suspended seven games, arrested and jailed for 30 days, and reprimanded for tweeting gang-related content. So yeah, grain of salt and all that.
But Smith is right about money creating problems.
And Lin would have had a target on his back. The New York fan base and media are fickle beasts, and the team he led on that magical run last February is vastly different today.
Remember, the Knicks at the time were sans Melo and Amare Stoudemire. Instead, Lin was rolling with Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert, Jared Jeffries, Steve Novak, Tyson Chandler and Mike D’Antoni at the helm.
Jeffries and Fields are now gone, replaced by geriatric but accomplished veterans Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby. Shumpert is coming off knee surgery and will miss half the season. Raymond Felton, signed as a preemptive safety net against Lin leaving, is now the starting point guard and Melo and Amare will resume their roles as the alpha dogs on the team.
When Melo came back, the entire team became less effective — his isolation-heavy, ball-dominating play a stark contrast to Lin’s pick-and-roll heavy, spread-the-floor attack. As a result D’Antoni left and Mike Woodson, famous for his Iso-Joe offense in Atlanta, stepped in.
So, the Knicks got rid of players that were successful with Lin, brought in players more suited to playing with Melo, brought in a coach more suited for Melo, and let Melo create a certain level of uneasiness with his comments.
This is what the Knicks would have been even if Lin came back and will most assuredly be now that he’s not. Melo-centric.
In this situation, the absolute best-case scenario is that everyone learned how to play together and the team made the playoffs — something they’ll do anyway riding Melo’s coattails. After all, if there’s one thing you can say about Melo, it’s that he’s never missed the postseason in his nine-year career.
Any notions of a championship are Lin’s-third-year-salary ridiculous. Something else you can say about Melo, in his nine-year career, he’s never been to the Finals.
Which brings us to the worst-case scenario. Lin and Melo struggling to play together, leading to Lin being benched in favor of Kidd, and/or the team not making the playoffs at all.
It was going to be tough enough for Lin to live up to his stellar play last year, let alone try to dodge all of the potential pitfalls and landmines that litter the Knickerbocker landscape.
And here’s where the story looks so much brighter.
Lin is going to a city starving for a star. He’s going to a franchise that has a history of success (two championships), a savvy general manager (Daryll Morey), and an excellent coach (Kevin McHale).
Lin’s going to a team filled with young talent, tons of cap room, zero expectations, and a coach that just maximized the potential of two point guards, Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic, who both had career seasons under his watch and who play a style absolutely conducive to Lin’s skills.
And if Lin thought it was fun throwing alley-oops to Chandler, think of the fun he’ll have if Howard or Andrew Bynum end up in Houston…
So, while there is plenty of heartache in Gotham at the moment, in the end Lin to Houston was a good move for everyone involved. The Knicks were not going to be a championship contender with Lin. There are just too many pieces that don’t fit together. So, eating $45 million in salary tax penalties in two years doesn’t make any sense.
Likewise, Lin wasn’t going to be able to fully maximize his potential on a team centered around Anthony.
The Knicks will do just as well without Lin as they would have with him and Lin gets the opportunity to shine in a city with a team that will be all his.