With Lin, Two Rights Almost Guarantee a Wrong

Strong arguments on both sides of Jeremy Lin question

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images
    The Knicks are having a hard time spelling out a winning word.

    It doesn't matter how good an idea or product you might have if you can't sell it, and it is hard to believe the Knicks could sell water to a thirsty man at this point.

    James Dolan's tenure as owner has been filled with so many awful decisions that there's no way that Knicks fans will ever trust that the team is doing the right thing as long as he's pulling the strings. Dolan has thrived on the petty and the personal and gotten away with it because Madison Square Garden is a cash cow that never forces him to do business in a different manner.

    With more trust, the Knicks could say that they are letting Jeremy Lin walk to Houston because the three-year, $28.1 million contract the Rockets offered him is too much to pay for a player with his skill set and track record. People might not like to see Lin head off to Texas, but at least they would feel secure that the decision was being made on basketball terms.

    That's a very compelling notion, especially with Mike Woodson now coaching a team that appears far less predicated on the point guard-centric play that Mike D'Antoni used to spring Lin on an unsuspecting NBA.

    As great as that run was, it was brief and against the league's lesser lights before a reckoning came in the handful of games with Woodson at the helm before Lin's knee injury.

    The Knicks could point to Lin's numbers under Woodson and to Ray Felton's nearly identical numbers in Portland -- a season that is roundly and deservedly derided -- as a way to back up their decision to get the same production for less money. Selling that requires everyone to forget about all the other players who weren't nearly as beloved but caused the same nightmares for the salary cap but, again, we're dealing with an alternate universe here.

    Of course, a scenario without conviction that the Knicks were wrong would lessen the need to hold onto Lin in the first place as his arrival on the scene last season wouldn't have been nearly as overwhelming if it came on a team that hadn't spent the previous decade crushing the spirit of New York basketball at every opportunity.

    The emotional allure of Lin comes from the brightness he brought to a building of blight, something Will Leitch of NYMag.com captured well on Monday and something that feels just as blighted as the Knicks argue about the time of the deadline for matching the deal instead of making a choice about whether or not to actually match it.

    In a more trusting atmosphere, the Knicks could also come back and say they were matching the deal because the prospect of paying an obscene luxury tax was worth the prospect of seeing where Lin can go from here. It wouldn't change the risk that Lin will never reach those heights again, but it would make you feel like there was a sober analysis being taken of the basketball and financial ramifications.

    The Knicks could point to the stretch provision in the salary cap as a way to lessen the tax nightmare or to the fact that a $15 million expiring contract is actually an asset, but they can't, because it would easily be spun as the team knowingly making a bad choice because they don't care what they spend.

    They could also point to Lin going back to Houston to make the contract more onerous to the Knicks as a sign that Lin doesn't even want to be here, but that part of the process hardly registers because it is hard to begrudge Lin the right to cash in on his position and because Dolan will always be the villain.

    Instead we have a need for fan petitions to keep Lin in New York battling against more sober analysis of the basketball and financial implications with neither side really setting the Knicks up to do anything but look bad when the final decision comes to pass. This isn't meant to drum up sympathy for Dolan or the Knicks since they made this bed and now have to sleep on it, but it does underscore how far away we've gone from a decision-making process recognizable to well-run organizations.

    Basically, this whole process -- all the way back to that Saturday night when Lin saved the Knicks against the Nets -- has been a case of the chickens coming home to roost. All the alternate universe talk is fun, but the real universe is one filled with regret, distrust and outright rage about the way Dolan has run the Knicks into a corner where they have no credibility with fans or media when it comes to making decisions about the team.

    The easy choice is matching the deal, placating the fans and worrying about the consequences down the road. Letting him walk would be harder, especially with nothing coming back in return, but it could be defended rather easily by a team other than the Knicks.

    That leaves two "right" decisions. We don't know which one the Knicks will choose, but we can feel pretty confident that it will be the wrong one.  

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    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.