Since the Heat dispatched the Knicks a few days, Knicks fans, as they are wont to do, are annoyingly abuzz about what they perceive to be the myriad possibilities for their beloved squad over the coming months. I write “annoyingly abuzz” because, sometimes we all have a tendency to take a relatively simple situation and overthink it – and that’s precisely what seems to be happening (either that, or pretending Phil Jackson is coming to the Knicks makes for good copy and lots of page clicks).
Let’s start with the most overthought issue: Jeremy Lin. Look, he’s coming back. There’s no real question as to whether he’s coming back. Lin is too valuable both on and off the court (he’s sold 14 linfinity jerseys, ended a cable impasse, and sent MSG shares to new highs out of a multi-week accumulation pattern after nearing its 50 week moving average, or something) for the Knicks to let him walk.
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Since this season was essentially a multi-volume telenovela let’s break Lin’s performance down segment by segment:
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Performance level: Linsane.
Numbers: 25 ppg, 50% fg%, 33% 3pt%, 9.2 assts, 2.2 stls, 3.7 rbs, 38 mpg, in 9 games.
Return of ‘Melo, D’Antoni coach: 2/20-3/12/12
Performance level: Not as Linsane but still like, WTF.
Numbers: 16.2 ppg, 39% fg%, 33% 3pt%, 7.8 assts, 2.5 stls, 3.5 rbs, 34 mpg, in 11 games.
D’onetoni, Woodson: 3/14-3/24/12
Performance level: Least Linsane, but also least minutes. Still very good.
Numbers: 13.2 ppg, 43% fg%, 30% 3pt%, 5.4 assts, 1 stl, 4 rbs, 28 mpg, in 7 games.
All told, from Linsanity onward (a total of 26 games), Lin averaged 18.4 points on 45% shooting while racking up 7.6 assists per game. And to the people who watched every single one of those games (and who wish to be honest with themselves) it was pretty clear that the kid can play.
The above breakdown should give us both a ceiling and floor from which to evaluate Lin’s worth. To placate Lin’s ubiquitous doubters lets shave 20% off his averages (except his shooting, since there’s no basis from the above to suggest he’d ever shoot as low as 36%). How much should the Knicks be willing to pay a point guard who is would average 14.7 ppg, 6 assts? Well, to answer this question consider what you would pay Kyle Lowry, who averaged 14.3 ppg and 6.6 assts in 47 games this past year. Or Ty Lawson, who put up 16.4 and 6.6 assists?
Is it more than $5 million per season? Good. Now put down your abacuses abaci calculators and breathe a sigh of relief because the Knicks only have to worry about matching offers that are worth up to $5 million in the first year. You know what’s worth $5 million? The mid-level exception. Good. Give it to Lin.
But what about this Nash guy? I hear he loves SoHo. Well, who doesn’t? Would he sacrifice tens of millions of dollars to live there year-round instead of just in the Summer? I’m not convinced. You see, the realities of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement being what they are, it turns out the Knicks only have one mid-level exception. Shucks. Well, ok. So take it back from Lin and give it two time MVP Steve Nash who 1) wants to win, and 2) doesn’t care about money.
Well if Nash wants to win and doesn’t care about money then he’ll sign with the Heat or the Lakers. If he wants to win but he actually does care about money then he’ll sign with Dallas. If he just cares about money then he’ll sign with Brooklyn or Phoenix (which will reportedly offer him a 2 year $20 million contract).
But he loves SoHo, remember? Well then, I guess if he loves SoHo, and he wants to win, and he doesn’t care about money, then he’ll be happy to take the veterans minimum to play in New York so that the Knicks can match any offer for Lin in order to retain the depth that will help him win in New York. Word is he’s managed his money well but it’s hard for me to fathom that he would leave from $15-$30 million on the table to sign with New York and make less money than his backup. Especially after his recent divorce.
But that’s neither here nor there because the Knicks are built to WIN NOW (RIGHT NOW! DO IT!) at all costs and so they should get Nash, even at Lin’s expense, because if they do, they’re basically guaranteed a championship like when the Heat cashed in all their chips for Shaq and won it all. (They were never at risk of this gambit not working, despite at one point being down 0-2 to the Mavericks in the ‘06 finals. In fact, it wasn’t even a gambit, they were in WIN NOW mode and they were guaranteed a title just like we will be.)
Ok so we’re back to throwing Lin overboard.
But, BUT, hear me out here…what if – and again, just humor me here – what if the Knicks don’t win a title with a 39, 40, or 41 year old Steve Nash running the show? Now it’s 2015/16 and they’ll have Iman Shumpert and five silhouettes with question marks over their faces (a 2012 second round pick, a 2013 first round pick, a 2014 second round pick, and 2015 first and second round picks).
Well, good job, the exchange nets a fading star for a rising one who could still be a building block years after Nash walks/limps/wheels off into the sunset. By the time Nash is 50, Lin would be 35 and potentially still in the league.
Chances are we’ll be thanking Mr. Nash for a services and offering him a seat next to the other geezers and scrubs for whom New York’s teams have exchanged their raw talent, draft picks, or payroll flexibility, like Steve Francis, Antonio McDyess, Eddy Curry, Othella Harrington, Mirsad Turkcan, Mo Vaughn, Victor Zambrano, and Roberto Alomar.
Let’s also just ignore that Lin’s run evoked comparisons from some very smart observers to some historically great players. John Hollinger (Insider) studied Lin’s performance and concluded that his closest statistical comparators were Isiah Thomas, Kevin Johnson, and Russell Westbrook. Carl Bialik undertook a similar exercise and found similarities to John Stockton, Chris Paul and, erm, Steve Nash. And blog buddy Jamie O’Grady saw some Kidd in Lin. As it turns out, “gambit” actually might be the right word to describe the risk of tossing Lin’s potential aside for a few years of Nash’s twilight.
And none of this even addresses how Nash would mesh with the Knicks’ current players. While I have no doubt that Amar’e Stoudemire (“Just have to see what Coach Woodson’s going to do to make it work.”; “I love Steve. It would be great to have him here next year”) and Tyson Chandler (“We have to find a way to get everybody involved, get everyone an opportunity,”; “We have to elevate our teammates,”; “I think we have to do a better job of getting everybody involved, getting everybody playing at a high level and get everybody focused on what we’re trying to accomplish.”; “When you play as individuals you don’t get very far.”) would be thrilled to have Nash aboard, I have a hard time believing that Carmelo Anthony will feel the same way, since, you know, Nash is only effective with the ball in his hands, deciding who gets to shoot, when and where.
Here’s a refresher as to what happened the last time someone tried to take the ball out of ‘Melo’s hands:
When Anthony first returned — and it still appears to be the case — Lin would bring the ball upcourt and try to run D’Antoni’s system. When Anthony would abandon the offense, Lin would not pass him the ball, which irritated Anthony, sources said. So when Lin tried to talk to Anthony on the court, Anthony would turn his back to the point guard and tune him out. The two never had heated exchanges, though, and the players tried to come to a compromise, agreeing to run D’Antoni’s system while also mixing in post-ups for Anthony.
Well, that didn’t work. D’Antoni’s gone now and so is any notion of liberality with the ball. But that is precisely the reason to bring in Nash, who would demand that ‘Melo do some stuff he is not comfortable doing. As the man himself explained during the epic collapse that occurred after Linsanity (which he spectated), but preceded D’Antoni’s demise:
I think anytime you go from the early part of the season, just having the ball and me just having the ball and being the distributor, and now just running the wings and waiting for the ball to come to me, that’s quite an adjustment for myself.
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