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

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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.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders:

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

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Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.