Understanding New York's decision to let the phenom go the Houston Rockets
Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic) discuss Jeremy Lin's departure from New York.
Linsanity has left the building, everybody. Don't forget to tip your waitresses, bartenders, and Jimmy Dolan at the door.
Point guard, YouTube sensation, and budding cultural icon Jeremy Lin is going to the Rockets after the Knicks chose not to match Houston's backloaded, three-year offer to Lin. The so-called poison pill in the deal—a $14.8 million salary for Lin in the 2014-15 season—would have cost the Knicks roughly $43 million in salary and luxury tax penalties for Lin in that year alone. The Knicks were also upset that Lin apparently re-negotiated his offer with the Rockets to make it even more lucrative for him and financially unpalatable for New York.
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Of course, as Grantland's Jay Caspian Kang put it, "I cannot understand why anyone would care what James L. Dolan does with his money." Dolan was born into wealth, has done nothing to earn that wealth, and has been a better bandleader than NBA owner. But Kang takes it one step further, saying: "A team with Jeremy Lin is a better product for consumers than a team without Jeremy Lin."
That's where you lose me, and that's why I think letting Lin walk was the right move. For Knicks fans, who haven't seen their team win a title since 1973, the ONLY question worth asking is whether Lin gave the Knicks a better shot at a title than, say, Ray Felton and cap maneuverability. I say no, because of the Knicks' core of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler. The Knicks need a pass-first point guard who has some shooting ability, knows how to work the pick-and-roll, and plays above-average perimeter defense. When Felton is motivated and in shape (like he was during his brief stint with the Knicks in 2010), he's all of those things. Meanwhile, Lin is an attack-first guard who needs to have the ball in his hands a lot, which is a problem when you play on the same team as Melo.
The Knicks are less interesting on paper now that Lin is gone. But they're more likely to contend for a championship. And that matters more to me.
Am I right, Patrick? Or I have been brainwashed by Dolan & Co.?
I'm afraid you're exhibiting signs of Stockholm Syndrome. Understandably so. As a Knicks fan, you've been subject to unsightly, inept, and just plain bad basketball for so long—Pat Riley's ugly, grab-and-clutch "Force Basketball," which nearly ruined the NBA the way the neutral zone trap nearly ruined the NHL; the entire Isiah Thomas era; all things Stephon Marbury; Anthony's current reign of ball-stopping, hold-jab-step/hold-feint/hold-pivot/hold-shoot terror—that you've lost the ability to tell up from down, black from white, and a shrewd roster move from a petty, deflating, short-sighted one.
Also: James Dolan, better, and bandleader in the same sentence? To quote esteemed late-20th century philosopher John McEnroe: You cannot be serious.
I hate to break this to you, Jake, the Knicks have no shot at an NBA title in the next five years. None. Not if LeBron James quits basketball to play minor league baseball. Not if the Oklahoma City Thunder hire Thomas to run their team. Not if NBA commissioner David Stern rigs—allegedly—another draft lottery. The Knicks, I'm afraid, have become the Washington Redskins of professional basketball: offseason champs, in-season chumps, forever teasing their abused, desperate fans with the promise of a better tomorrow, tomorrow. Stoudamire is halfway to having Brandon Roy's knees. Chandler isn't getting any younger. New additions Jason Kidd, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby—really, Thomas and Camby? Are Spree and Allan Houston not available to party like it's 1999?—are definitely getting older. And Anthony? Does any contemporary basketball superstar elicit a bigger yawn? Sure, he can score. His playoff record is slightly more impressive than Tracy McGrady's. He's also the worst kind of pickup teammate, the guy who would rather pass to an orange traffic cone.
Trust me: as a Washington Wizards follower, I know a hopeless outfit when I see one. And the Knicks—excuse me, The Incredible Non-Shrinking Ray Felton's Knicks!—will be lucky to beat the new-look Brooklyn Nets.
As such, of course the club should have held onto Lin. Who cares if his contract seems a bit steep? Or if he's a mediocre defender? Or if he's a player that "needs the ball?" (Um, hello? He's a point guard. All point guards need the ball, unless the Knicks really are going to hire Phil Jackson and run the triangle offense). Lin is fun. A pleasure to watch. Sure, Lin can pass (7.6 assists per game as a Knicks starter) and shoot (18.5 points per game as a starter). What made him special, though, was the unexpected, utterly spontaneous vibe he brought out in fans and teammates alike. For the first time in forever, Madison Square Garden wasn't a psychodramatic haunted house of thwarted aspirations and dashed expectations, forever mourning the Bill Bradley-era Knicks, a place defined by the next morning's taunting tabloid headlines. It was just a place to watch basketball, have a great time, maybe leave with smile on your face.
And now that's gone. The Knicks blew it. You can't put a price tag on joy. Hampton, what's your take?
One fan's pain is another's pleasure, Patrick. Out here in Flyoverland, hating New York City sports teams is a way of life, and the Knickerbockers' ongoing awfulness is a source of great joy.
Dan Snyder in DC is a solid comparison, too. Both men are not merely bad owners. They are very loud bad owners, spending oodles of cash on marquee free agents, which makes rooting against them that much more fun. Both men also act like they run fantasy teams instead of the real thing, as though flesh-and-blood players are bundles of statistics that can simply be plugged into a lineup, rather than human beings who must play together to win.
In a just universe, the Knicks suffering would be karmic retribution for the team's host of sins against the game. Some of them you alluded to, Patrick. Like giving Isiah Thomas—fresh off destroying an entire professional basketball league—compete control of the franchise. Or the thuggery of Riley-ball—a style which reared its elbows again in the NBA Finals this year when the Heat felt threatened by OKC. Maybe the Knicks are being punished for the shady way they got the rights to draft Patrick Ewing. Maybe it's just that they've spent 40 years making way too big of a deal about Willis Reed.
Losing Lin is just one more plague upon the team. It would be sad if it weren't funny.
There's just no good argument for it, on or off the court, and the whole mess reeks of massive ego. You've got the selfishness of Carmelo Anthony, who didn't seem thrilled about sharing the ball or the limelight with Lin. Plus you have the pouty, impulsive James Dolan, oblivious to his own buffoonery. He just gave up his team's biggest draw and merchandise-mover because, in three years, that player might get paid what Tyson Chandler makes now. Seriously? Over two weeks last season, Lin doubled the Knicks' TV ratings. Doubled! MSG stock shot up, too. Between Lin's first start on February 6th and July 5, MSG stock share price rose more than 30 percent. In the wake of Lin's departure and Jason Kidd's arrest, shares have dropped 9 percent.
Hey, did we even mention Kidd's DUI bust, proving the 39-year-old guard is still spry enough to swing from a chandelier? Who even does that—outside of old movies? Jake, Spike, Woody, and all Knick fans, with or without cool first names, can congratulate yourselves. Your team just got rid of the most exciting player they've had in decades and replaced him with Zorro.