I think I understand what went on with Knicks fans and the media last week. You probably do too. Still, let me give you the rundown on how I see what happened:
Jeremy Lin had a great run last season, galvanizing the Knicks universe and bringing excitement not seen since the team’s run to the 1999 Finals. Linsanity ended prematurely when he tore his meniscus just 25 starts into his amazing run. But that seemed OK because Lin would be back next season. To that point there was near-universal agreement he should sit out the playoffs rather than risk further damaging his knee.
So it was that even before Lin and Novak won their Bird Rights arbitration it was expected he’d be back, even if it took the mid-level exception. After they won, it seemed certain. It didn’t matter that he was going to sign a $30 million offer sheet with Houston. Coach Woodson said it. The front office signed an obvious mentor in Jason Kidd. Even when the deal changed to $25 million for three seasons with a $15 million “poison pill” in the last year of the deal, we all knew the Knicks would re-sign Jeremy Lin.
Until we started to hear otherwise.
It was shocking. The player who gave us the brightest Knick moments of the last thirteen years was gone. That shock led to anger. Fans talked about jumping ship. About burning things.
I don’t mean to minimize people’s passion. Hell, I also think they should have brought Lin back. But some of the over the top response has to have come from the sudden reversal, the late-on-a-Saturday-night switcheroo. I understand that. It’s perfectly reasonable.
But now that over a week has passed since we found out the Knicks might not match, it’s time to take a look at what the Knicks do have and about some of the positives that might come from their decision. I’m not going anywhere and my guess is neither are you, so we may as well focus on the positive.
The Reaction to the Lin Decision Provides the Knicks’ Veteran Core With A Lot of Motivation
We heard this inartfully put by Felton earlier this week (“I look forward to this year and shutting up everybody’s mouth”). You’ve got half the city talking about how the Knicks gave up their only marketable player and can’t succeed without a guy who’s started less than thirty games. If that doesn’t provide motivation for the Knick veterans, and especially their stars, I don’t know what will.
The Reaction to the Lin Decision Provides the Knicks With Their Unifying Theme
This is really a variation on my first point: Winning teams are often not only motivated but united against the outside. The Heat showed this the last two seasons, the KG Celtics have too. The ’90s Knicks and Bad Boy Pistons did the same thing. The Mavs went with “nobody believes in us,” which is essentially the same thing. The reaction to what the Knicks can’t do without Lin gives them their unifying theme, something they can use to galvanize them over the course of a long season: it’s them against the world, including the fans and the media. I’m comfortable with that. After all, it more or less worked for Patrick Ewing.
The Knicks Don’t Have to Spend a Season Developing Their Point Guard
There is no doubt Lin would have needed time to grow into the role they need him to play, a run the offense point guard who can score when the time is right. Right now he’s a score first point. His decision making and offense-running both need work. Lin might (as in perhaps) have higher upside than Felton, but with the latter they already have the type of point guard they need. Let’s not forget that we had a lesser but not altogether dissimilar reaction to the news that Felton was to be included in the Carmelo trade. I know he just had a disappointing season. I know he got fat and was photographed with a cupcake (twice). But we know he can play. And even his down year last year (11.4 points and 6.5 assists a game) isn’t that far off the production the Knicks will need from him, especially with J-Kidd playing fifteen to twenty minutes a game. And most importantly, we know he can play with Amar’e Stoudemire. Getting Stoudemire right this season is essential to the team’s aspirations. They will go as he does.
The Knicks Have a Personality
The Knicks haven’t quite had a personality for years (since Marbury I suppose, although I’m not sure “psychotic” is a personality. And they came close with Stoudemire, Gallo, Wil Chandler, Felton, etc., but that show closed before it developed enough to have a voice). But with the acquisition of Camby, Kurt Thomas, Kidd and Felton to go with Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert when he returns from injury, the Knicks are going to be tough as nails. They’ll be a halfcourt offense and a grinding defense. Teams aren’t going to be able to run with Miami as no team is better playing in transition than the Heat. Felton fits the new Knick persona. Felton’s a much better defender than Lin. And Lin’s not quite soft, but wild drives to the basket that result in bloody chins aren’t indicative of the kind of toughness I mean. I’m thinking of physicality on defense and swagger. Yes, swagger matters.
Knicks Fans Will Have a Second Team to Watch Every Night
As if we all needed another reason to pay for League Pass, Houston Rockets games are going to be must watch. If you love Lin and hate the decision, you need ammo. If you think letting Lin go was the right move, you need ammo. Rockets games will typically end an hour or more after Knick games. Every night’s a doubleheader!
So there you have it. I’m with you, I think they should have kept Lin. But that doesn’t end the argument. There are plenty of benefits that come from letting Lin walk and bringing in Ray Felton. From now on I’ll be focusing on those. Why don’t you join me?