NEW YORK — Basketball in the city that never sleeps has been dormant since the Knicks were unceremoniously ousted from the NBA Playoffs at the hands of LeBron James and his Heatles, who are having some unceremonious issues of their own right now.
It took only five games for dreams of partying like it was 1999 to result in a rude awakening: The Knicks need more if wins are to ever result the next time they take their talents to South Beach.
The question that most have been asking since the beginning of Linsanity is whether or not Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony, and Amar’e Stoudemire could form a triumvirate worthy of cooling the Heat.
And that’s a question that only time will answer.
But a trio of Anthony, Stoudemire, and Steve Nash? You’d be crazy to pass up on that opportunity, and as I told Tommy Dee back in March on one of our TKBtv episodes, if I’m the Knicks and I had the opportunity to pair Nash with Anthony and Stoudemire, I’d have to do it, even if it meant I couldn’t keep Lin.
Obviously, the Knicks hope that they wouldn’t have to make such a decision, and if they’re lucky, they won’t. By now, you’ve probably heard that the NBPA will seek arbitration to determine—once and for all—whether Bird rights travel with a player who is claimed off of waivers. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, read this piece by the New York Times’ Howard Beck, he explains everything magnificently.
If the NBPA succeeds, the Knicks will have Lin’s Bird rights and can match any offer for him this summer without spending any of their $5 million mid-level exception. In theory—if the NBPA wins—the Knicks could re-sign Lin and then offer Nash $5 million for up to four seasons.
Obviously, we don’t know if Nash would choose to play for the Knicks, but we do know that he has a summer residence in Manhattan, plays rec league soccer in Central Park over the summers, maintains a very close relationship with Stoudemire, would consider playing here even without Mike D’Antoni, and is well aware that the Knicks need a floor general of his caliber.
If the NBPA loses the pending arbitration, though, the Knicks could probably only afford to keep Lin by using their midlevel exception to sign him. That would likely cost them the opportunity to court Nash. He has given no indication that he’d be willing to accept the veteran’s minimum salary, which is all the Knick would have left if they had to use their mid-level exception to sign Lin.
So, if the NBPA loses the arbitration, the Knicks could find themselves in the predicament of having to choose one or the other.
If given the option, how do you not choose Nash?
Yes, he’ll turn 39 years old next season, but he is a known and proven commodity. He led a scantily talented Phoenix Suns team to a very respectable 33-33 record this past season and kept them in the playoff race into the final week while averaging 10.7 assists per-game. He’s one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, and is still probably the best pick-and-roll point guard in the league.
From a basketball perspective, Nash is effective with the ball and could create opportunities for Anthony, Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler. But more importantly, he addresses one of the Knicks’ major needs with his ability to catch and hit open jumpers. Depending on the opponent, the Knicks could allow Anthony to isolate against his defender and kick out to Nash if/when a double comes.
As for Lin, he’s proven he’s no slouch, but I’m not sure that he’s headed to the Hall of Fame just yet.
Lin is slender and relatively weak for an NBA starting point guard, and his ball-handling and decision-making are both subpar. And while all three can improve over time, there’s no guarantee that they will. And if time is what you want, I’ll remind you that—especially with Stoudemire’s health concerns—that is not a commodity that this Knicks team has much of. Let’s also remember that by NBA standards, Anthony, Chandler, and Stoudemire are no spring chickens. Their respective ages by the end of next season: 29, 30, and 30.
No doubt, the attrition of Stoudemire is a concern, but there’s also no guarantee that Lin—once the meniscus tear that caused him to miss the season’s final 31 games fully heals—will be the same player that we last saw. The meniscus tear itself is not a serious injury, but I’ve had to laugh at the fact that everyone seems to ignore the obvious: a meniscus tear can be indicative of weak knees and/or a body that simply cannot stand the rigors of playing NBA basketball. The human body isn’t meant to take the kind of abuse NBA players endure. Some guys—like Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, and Ray Allen—can take it, but others like Greg Oden and Brandon Roy simply couldn’t.
Lin missed 36 games over the last 11 weeks. Nash has missed 39 games over the past 11 years.
We might know that Lin is no slouch, but we don’t know if he’s durable.
Does choosing Nash over Lin defy conventional basketball wisdom, and fly in the face of coach Mike Woodson’s comments that he absolutely expects to have Lin back next season?
Well, this Knicks franchise simply doesn’t have conventional basketball wisdom. And they never have. By signing Stoudemire to an uninsured 5 year, $100 million contract, trading a plethora of assets—including first-round draft picks—for Anthony, and subsequently amnestying Chauncey Billups to sign Chandler, the Knicks have mortgaged their distant future for a shot to compete right now.
Ironically, based on where we stand today, acquiring Nash would probably make more sense than any of those aforementioned moves did at the time. It would be the “all in” move that would give the Knicks the best opportunity to compete for more than just a meaningless bottom-four playoff seed.
Pushing Lin out the door for Nash may defy conventional basketball wisdom, but so did sacrificing everything for the chance to sign LeBron James.
Want to talk about defying conventional basketball wisdom? Since the NBA began anointing a Finals MVP in 1969, the award was given out 43 times. Only seven times has the recipient been someone who was not acquired by their team on draft night. So, after electing to acquire all of their cornerstones through free agency, for the Knicks, the ship has sailed long ago.
Those that believe choosing Lin over Nash would be the right move for this Knicks team are probably the same ones that thought Toney Douglas was the point guard of the future, Landry Fields was better than Danilo Gallinari, and that the Knicks didn’t need to go after Chris Paul because they had Raymond Felton.
In any event, at the moment, the Knicks are in the same situation they were in at the end of last season. Their point guard was absent during their first-round playoff loss and there are more questions than answers.
Nash or Lin?