Knicks Fix

  • Wednesday, July 18, 2012

    With Lin Gone, Pressure Still On

    This was one of those romances that burns hot, but burns out. The break-up was official late Tuesday night when the Knicks confirmed they would not match the three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet that Jeremy Lin signed with the Houston Rockets. This was what Lin wanted, otherwise, why would he and his representation go back to the Rockets to renegotiate a deal that was already completed just to intensify the severity of a match by the Knicks?

    Lin wasted no time putting out the word that he wanted to stay with the Knicks. He told SI.com, "Honestly, I preferred New York. But my main goal in free agency was to go to a team that had plans for me and wanted me."

    He also released a statement to the media:

    "I loved this past year with the Knicks and truly appreciate the opportunity that New York gave me. The way the fans fully embraced me and our team was something I'll always cherish forever. It was an extraordinary and unforgettable time that was easily the best year of my life. Now I am excited to be back with the Rockets. They made a very compelling pitch in terms of what I could bring to the team and for the city."

    There's more, but you get the point.

    It was our belief that the Knicks would -- and should -- match if anything just to ensure this very marketable asset would not be lost for nothing. He emerged from a waiver pick up into an international star and it was like finding a lottery ticket on the ground with the winning numbers. So despite the fact -- and this is fact -- that Jeremy had less interest in returning to New York than he did in returning to Houston, the Knicks could have played hardball, matched the contract, watched the Rockets' franchise crash to the ground and forced Lin to play a backup role to Raymond Feltonuntil the moratorium passed on Jan. 15 and they could explore trades for the marquee prodigy.

    That would, I guess, be considered a spiteful move. That would also create an unwanted Tebow/Sanchez controversy to dominate the conversation throughout training camp and into the season. So the hailstorm of criticism that is teeming over this decision by team management will be endured through the NBA's dormant month of August. Eventually, it will be time to move on.

    Perhaps at this point the Knicks knew they were, if I may use a Vegas term here, playing with house money in regards to Lin. The franchise enjoyed a tremendous windfall from his popularity and the seven-game winning streak during Linsanity vaulted the team back into playoff contention. Jeremy Lin was good for the Knicks.

    And in turn, the Knicks were good for Jeremy Lin. This is where he got his opportunity, where he got his media-inspired fame and since-trademarked name. If you believe in fate, the two were destined to meet to create what we experienced in February. And while myself and many fans wanted to believe otherwise, this was not built to last. Not after the departure of Mike D'Antoni and his point guard-centric system. It is ironic, actually, how many fans fail to make the connection between D'Antoni's depature -- something many cheered -- and Lin's departure -- which is being panned. D'Antoni's offense vaulted Lin's game as it did for Chris Duhon and Felton before him.

    And with Lin growing close to Yao Ming, who was a driving force behind the effort to recruit Lin and his family back to the Rockets, which still have many connections to the Asian market, it is easy to see how he could be lured away from New York. Now Lin is exactly where he wants to be: the centerpiece of a massive rebuild. Meanwhile, the Knicks move on toward building for a long-awaited championship, with a decidedly veteran team in win-now mode, with one less future asset in the cupboard for when this era is over.

    The departure of Lin removes a popular player from the roster, but not a leader from the locker room. It does not severely diminish the talent level or potential of this roster in the immediate future. What it does, however, is raises the pressure for these Knicks to make some magic of their own for the 2012-13 season. Carmelo Anthony was challenged by Lin for the position as the team's most popular player, but now he maintains that status. He may also now have replaced LeBron James as one of the games most scrutinized players. Based on reactions published on Twitter and Facebook, Melo has a lot more work to do this season to re-establish himself with this frustrated fan base.

    Felton, too, has his work cut out for him as he focuses on bouncing back from a poor season in Portland while others focus on if he can be an upgrade over Lin. Amar'e Stoudemire is certainly seeking redemption after a troubled season, as well.

    Overall, the franchise is at a very critical point in time. This coming season marks the 40th anniversary of the last championship. While it's a time to celebrate that great team, one of the NBA's all-time best, it should also be motivation to play up to a higher standard.

    Jeremy Lin is no longer a novelty on the roster. Now, the only novelty for the Knicks is to win.

    WHAT'S NEXT?

    The team has 12 players officially under contract, with one, Chris Copeland, signed to a non-guaranteed deal. Argentinian point guard Pablo Prigioni has reportedly agreed to terms, but has yet to be officially signed. With 13 players in the plan, that leaves two roster spots left to be filled. The Knicks will likely look for one more wing player and one more big out of the remaining pool of free agents. They have only veterans minimum contracts to offer.

    Names such as Carlos DelfinoMarquis DanielsC.J. MilesRasual ButlerMatt Barnes andMo Evans are still out there as potential wing players. And, hey, Knick-killer Matt Carroll is also still looking for a team, too. A candidate to consider at power forward include Lou Amundson, who could provide great energy and effort off the bench behind Stoudemire.

    James White doesn't want anyone to overlook him as a potential rotation player to fill that wing position behind J.R. Smith while Iman Shumpert recovers from his knee surgery. In my interview with him on MSG Network after Tuesday's summer league game, White said his goal going into training camp was to earn that spot by proving he can be an effective defender and role player. White, a former high school phenom who has spent the last few years in Europe after some failed stints in the NBA, seems enthusiastic to embrace this role and finally establish himself as an NBA player.

    "Definitely, especially on the defensive end," White said. "I'm a veteran now, I pretty much understand the game now. That's the key for me getting on the court is defense. So that's what I'm going to focus on, playing defense and let the other stuff fall where it may." SUMMER LEAGUE CONTINUES White's run with the Knicks summer league team is done after three games (he only planned to play in three here), but the team continues Thursday against the Raptors at 4 p.m. (ET) on MSG Network. Amar'e Stoudemire, who arrived into town on Tuesday, promised he'd join us on the broadcast. It will be interesting to hear his thoughts on Lin, reuniting with Felton, the Knicks' other offseason moves and his own plans this offseason (which include working with Hakeem Olajuwon). We may even get him to rock an MSG polo.

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