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The Inbounds: The Knick problem isn’t Lin, it’s consistency

Jul 18, 2012, 11:00 AM EDT

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So Jeremy Lin is  a Rocket, no longer a Knick. That actually happened. The Knicks elected not to match the three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet from the Houston Rockets and for Knicks fans who loved Lin, this is awful, terrible, gut-wrenching stuff. For everyone else, it’s a lot of fun. Why? Because it makes for terrific arguing over whether it was the right move.

“You have no idea if Lin was worth that kind of money! What if he’s a bust?!”

“How can you just let a guy who did what he did for them walk without getting anything in return?!”

“They chose Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton, along with J.R. Smith and Marcus Camby over Lin?!”

“Lin could have returned if he wanted to! It was his choice!”

Yes, the volume will be up on sports talk radio, blogs, and barrooms in New York and all across the land that was made for you and me today as we try and suss out whether letting Lin leave was a good move or a disaster.

But a pretty solid way of finding the truth on this matter is that the decision was both good and bad. It was great in a vacuum and terrible in context.

Look, there’s just not a lot of ways to define Jeremy Lin as a player worth $25.1 million. You can take the marketing angle, which says that Lin will bring in so much revenue that it will vastly outweigh the price of his salary over three years. He’s immensely popular, in a way few players ever reach, because of his story, and his play style. But that was also based on his success. Jeremy Lin wasn’t self-evidently popular (though he was a cult-hero in Golden State, particularly with the Asian-American fanbase) prior to setting the world on fire that month this season. It was the points, the assists, and the wins that made him into the star he wound up as.  If that goes away, outside of New York, outside of last February, outside of the friendly confines of Mike D’Antoni’s system, then the Rockets will have set themselves up for the biggest stretch provision candidate you’re going to see.

You can argue his play warranted it, but Lin was a turnover-prone, isolation-heavy point guard who was surrounded by Tyson Chandler and, laugh all you want, Steve Novak and Landry Fields, players that fit his playstyle perfectly. That isn’t to say the Rockets don’t have shooters like Novak and Fields, they have better ones. But chemistry matters, fit matters, and Lin did have some significant holes in his game, particularly when it came to holding onto the ball. When defenses started to figure out how to more aggressively trap him on the pick and roll, things changed. Can he adjust enough to warrant that contract?

So yeah, as Melo said, the contract is “ridiculous” and on those grounds, the Knicks were absolutely correct in not matching the offer.They showed patience, prudence, and long-term considerations when declining to keep Lin. Good for them.

The problem?

When have the Knicks ever shown patience, prudence, or long-term consideration in anything?

In the past two years, they have taken all the cap space they had, all the flexibility, and brought in injury-prone Amar’e Stoudemire, ISO-so-much-coaches-want-to-fine-me-except-my-agent’s-agency-runs-the-team Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler hurtling towards the end of his career, and then decided to really top off the gas tanks with deals for Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, Marcus Camby, and Steve Novak. Obviously, you have to field a complete roster and they wanted quality players. But if the Knicks are splurging at the rate they are, why was this the dividing line? Why is James Dolan willing to cross any bridge, burn any field, and toss out whatever coin he has the whimsy to toss in order to put players on the Knicks, but the guy who legitimately set the town and the world on fire is too much because of the cap hit in three years, when you can move him?

Keep that in mind. In three years, when the $15 million “poison pill” knocks whoever has Lin’s contract on their butts, there will have been enough time to either determine that Lin is resoundingly worth the investment, or shop him out however they choose. And if you can’t move him, use the stretch provision to ease the luxury tax burden. Guess what? You’re already going to drown in luxury tax then anyway. You know why? You gave Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire a bazillion dollars. There are consequences. And through all that, you’ve brazenly torn through the consequences. The Knicks make more money than God, but this, factoring in the marketing potential scared them off?

So that’s what has to frustrate fans. The Knicks have been willing to throw good money after bad for over a decade and yet they’re unwilling to do so on something that legitimately made the fans happy?

The truth of it likely comes down to a question of practicality and principle. The Rockets upped the offer in the middle of the moratorium, a no-no, apparently, and not matching was how they stood their ground. Every business has to have a threshold of what it’s willing to spend. The Rockets just so happened to find the Knicks’. But when we look at the whole picture, and see the excessiveness of the Dolan era, it has to be baffling to realize that the one time when the Knicks weren’t willing to make a bad decision, it was the one time they could have at least made their fans happy.

Jeremy Lin is a Rocket, no longer a Knick. And despite doing a very un-Knick-like thing, the Knicks are still the Knicks.

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