Stanford, UCLA, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and the New York Knicks.
The list of organizations that had Jeremy Lin in their grasp just to let him go again. Each one expressed the deepest regret of using their biased gut, and not taking a closer look and believing in their eyes. The Rockets learned their lesson and made an effort to rectify their mistake, one that seemed futile two weeks ago, but only succeeded when the Knicks made the same mistake as so many have done before them. What makes it so much worse for the Knicks is that they saw Linsanity up close and should have known exactly how much Jeremy changed basketball in Madison Square Garden. The lack of offer from the Knicks came down to three factors, two of which should have heavily favored Jeremy, while the last ultimately trumped both others.
Ticket prices and sales of Jeremy’s jersey (#2 for 2012) are only a glimpse of what he brought to the team. Linsanity also brought prominence to several of his Knicks teammates, most notably Landry Fields, Jared Jefferies, Steve Novak, and Iman Shumpert. Being a public company, Madison Square Garden stock has benefitted greatly from Jeremy and its increase in market value since February 2011 is about 10 times the annual salary of the entire Knicks roster. The reality is that nobody has even begun to truly capitalize on Jeremy marketing value. Since Linsanity, he’s only signed two endorsement contracts, one for Volvo and a renewal with Nike [edit: also Steiner Sports as a 3rd]. A countless number of firms have unofficially used his name and likeness to sell products, but we have only seen the tip of the iceberg due to his flash celebrity. It’s been analyzed over and over again, but the cost of Jeremy’s contract, which would have been a very distant 4th on the team, would be nothing compared to his revenue generating potential. This factors in if ALL of the luxury tax were to be attributed to him solely and his performance regresses to an uninspiring league average despite increased NBA experience. Aside from Jeremy destroying his own image (i.e. Jason Kidd’s drunk driving), which is unlikely given his flawless background, signing him would have guaranteed a substantial net positive income for the Knicks. That being said, it wasn’t about the money.
A popular argument against Jeremy is that he’s still unproven and his limited experience of 35 games last season is a risk. Being good in a competitive sport is about perspective. If the Knicks had gotten Steve Nash, then one could argue that Nash is still producing great numbers consistently and would be a safer bet at greatness next year. Fact is, the Knicks didn’t get Nash, they got Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton. Remember the Hollinger PER stat discussed in previous entries? Jeremy ended the season at 19.97, Raymond Felton at 13.46, and Jason Kidd at 13.11, while the league average is fixed at 15.0. Disregarding Jeremy’s numbers for a moment, his two replacements are both BELOW AVERAGE. The argument will then shift to Jeremy’s “inflated” number since he only played 35 games. In 35 games though, Jeremy’s added value of 125.8, which only accumulates through games played, is more than the added values of Felton (70.1) and Kidd (43.4) COMBINED playing 108 games. For reference, Nash’s added value is 271.9 over 62 games, but again, the Knicks didn’t get Nash. In a good scenario, Jeremy improves as he should, since he’s young, has limited experience, and point guards tend to peak much later in their career. In a bad scenario, Jeremy regresses to league average… which is still better than Felton and Kidd. The last argument will be about turnovers… let’s just say that the four players mentioned in this section had turnover ratio rankings of 10, 11, 13, and 20 in the league this past season (#1 ranking = the most frequent turnovers). If reducing turnovers was the Knicks top priority, it hasn’t been solved by switching between any of these guys. Add it all together, it wasn’t about the basketball.
So if a player is bringing in more money and wins, the only real factor left is whether they like him or not. Despite being wildly popular amongst fans and publicly socializing with teammates, somebody in the Knicks organization clearly doesn’t like Jeremy. The two main suspects are the owner, James Dolan, and Carmelo Anthony.
Despite being encouraged to explore his free agency options, Dolan has been reported to have felt betrayed by Jeremy working with the Rockets. This could have been easily solved (or at least made clear) if the Knicks had made the first move and made Jeremy’s resigning their first priority. Instead, they signed Jason Kidd, Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, J.R. Smith, and Pablo Prigioni before Jeremy even got an offer from the Rockets. Regardless of Jeremy’s allegiance, any decent agent would have gone ahead and secured the best offers possible for their client, just to give them options. In Jeremy’s case in particular, a man who’s danced with unemployment numerous times over the past two years should try to secure as many offers as possible for good reason.
As for Carmelo Anthony, who openly called Jeremy’s contract “ridiculous”, might as well have joined other haters in shouting “overrated”. Every player wants to both win and have the spotlight, but for an all-star that has the worst playoff record in the past 20 years, the spotlight might be the only thing that’s left and Linsanity was about to steal it away on a long-term basis. Maybe the number of fans who taped over the “1” on Anthony’s #17 jerseys to mimic the #7 of Jeremy’s started to get to him.
Perhaps other egos were at play behind the scenes. Coach Mike Woodson has long been an advocate of veterans over rookies, but had been unflinchingly supportive of Jeremy in the past month. Maybe General Manager Glen Grunwald wasn’t a fan of Jeremy either for one reason or another. Ultimately, when Jeremy has the financials, stats, and fans on his side, there had to have been somebody with influence and authority to have said “I don’t like him”. You can’t be the king of New York when Jeremy Lin is more popular than you.
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