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.

PBT Podcast: All-Star starters mock draft, picking reserves

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The votes are in, and LeBron James and Stephen Curry are your All-Star captains.

For the first time in NBA All-Star history, that means they are picking their own teams, playground style, first from the pool of starters, then the pool of reserves. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports take on the roles of LeBron and Curry and pick their All-Star starters, from James Harden through Kyrie Irving.

Then the pair gets into who should be the All-Star Game reserves — and choosing among the Western Conference guards is brutal. Do they leave out Damian Lillard? Lou Williams? Klay Thompson? And that’s not even getting into Paul George being a bubble All-Star in a deep West.

Kurt and Dan break it all down, plus talk some Kemba Walker trade scenarios.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Aaron Gordon forgoes desperation attempt to win, sinks halfcourt shot instead (video)

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The Magic were in dire straights near the end of their game against the Cavaliers last night. Orlando trailed 104-103 with 0.2 seconds and a jump ball to be tossed at center court. By rule, the Magic didn’t have time to catch-and-shoot, let alone recover the jump ball then shoot. Aaron Gordon had to tip the jump ball through the hoop from halfcourt – nearly impossible, but technically possible.

Instead, Gordon grabbed the jump ball – a violation – then sank a halfcourt shot. What an ironic end.

Cleveland then harmlessly inbounded the ball to seal the win.

Can Kemba Walker save the sinking Hornets? He doesn’t want to jump the ship he’s (barely) keeping afloat

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DETROIT – Around this time last year, Kemba Walker‘s reputation peaked.

The season prior, he led Charlotte to its first playoff-game wins since the franchise reemerged as the Bobcats. The Hornets were on pace to make the playoff again, which would have been their first back-to-back postseason appearances in the second Charlotte era. And Walker made his first All-Star team.

While basking in his personal and team success, Walker found one downer: The NBA moved the All-Star game from his home arena to New Orleans due to North Carolina’s anti-gay law.

“It would have been really special if this had been in Charlotte,” Walker said.

The Hornets have gone south since.

They stumbled in the second half and missed the playoffs last season. They’re even worse this season, 18-25 and 11th in the Eastern Conference. As a result, Walker’s stock has tanked. He’s treated as a fringe All-Star candidate at best.

Yet – as trade speculation emerges – Walker has come to a conclusion similar to his a year ago: His experience would be more special in Charlotte.

“I would definitely be devastated if I was to get traded,” Walker said. “I do want to be here.”

Walker is one of the most intriguing cases as the trade deadline approaches. The 27-year-old is earning $12 million this season and is due the same salary next season before his contract expires. It’s not clear the Hornets would trade him. It’s not clear they should trade him.

Charlotte is bad around Walker, not because of him. The Hornets have played better with Walker on the floor (+5.2 points per 100 possessions) than the Cavaliers have with LeBron James (+0.3), Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo (+3.7) and Pelicans with Anthony Davis (+5.1).

Put another way, using Pythagorean win percentage, Charlotte has played like 55-win team when Walker plays and a 12-win team when he doesn’t. That 43-win-pace drop is the fourth largest league-wide (minimum: 20 games):

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The Hornets have struggled with Michael Carter-Williams at backup point guard and even more with rookie Malik Monk (a natural shooting guard) in the role while Carter-Williams was hurt. Backup point guard was a glaring weak spot last season, too, and Charlotte signed Carter-Williams to stop the bleeding.

But he was a budget choice. The Hornets’ mid-level exception sits mostly unused as they duck the luxury tax.

Using starting shooting guard Nicolas Batum as the primary playmaker when Walker sits has worked better than most alternatives. Staggering those two more often could right Charlotte.

However, even if Batum is the solution to the micro problem, he’s central to the macro problem.

The Hornets’ payroll has become bloated with prohibitive long-term deals. Several players are owed major money after this season:

With those constraints, it will be difficult to build a winner around Walker without paying the luxury tax, which Charlotte has never paid.

Walker is the Hornets’ most valuable asset, and trading him could make their second-most valuable asset – their upcoming first-round pick – even more valuable. Charlotte also use Walker as enticement to unload a bad contract, a tactic Adrian Wojnarowski reports is being explored. Still, the Hornets are in so deep, it’d be difficult to escape salary-cap purgatory, even while shedding Walker.

Because he signed his rookie-scale extension before the national TV deals carried the salary cap into the stratosphere and before he rose into stardom, Walker has a low salary for his status. That could open the door for trades not possible with other stars, especially if the Hornets want to attach an albatross.

Only Isaiah Thomas has a lower salary among reigning All-Stars:

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Of course, teams looking to upgrade at point guard for the stretch run – Pistons? Pacers? Jazz? Nuggets? Cavaliers? Spurs? – would be interested in Walker. But because he has an another season left on his contract, other teams – Knicks? Magic? Suns? – could trade for him as a head start on next year. The best analogue: The Jazz getting out ahead by trading Deron Williams to the Nets before his contract entered its final year.

A team must also prepare to pay Walker in 2019, when he’ll be 30 years old. Though the $48 million over four years he’s earning now is nothing to sneeze at, free agency will be his first opportunity to really cash in on the new TV money. In the extremely likely event he doesn’t make an All-NBA team next season, the largest extension he could sign (starting July 1) would be four years, $64,512,000. That probably won’t cut it. So, Walker’s team – unless it has cap space to renegotiate-and-extend his deal – will likely have to ride out his unrestricted free agency.

“Of course, it would be nice to get a big contract like a lot of the guys around the league are getting,” Walker said. “But, at the same time, I just try to take it one day at a time.”

All these discussions have thrown Walker for a loss. Charlotte drafted him and built around him. He’s not quite sure how to handle this.

“I’ve never really been in trade rumors like that, like I’ve been hearing lately about myself,” Walker said. “But I mean, I don’t know. I don’t even know. I don’t know.

“This is very new, and I really just don’t know.”

Walker said management hasn’t told him anything, and he won’t ask. It’s easy to read the writing on the wall: Walker is a good player on a losing team, and those players are always ripe to get dealt. On the other hand, a team owned by Michael Jordan is probably less inclined to enter rebuilding voluntarily.

“I’m here,” Walker said, “and I’m just trying to play and trying to win and trying to do what I can for this organization and try to get back in the playoff hunt. That’s the main priority.”

The Hornets have won two in a row, and head coach Steve Clifford is back. A surge into playoff contention isn’t out of the question.

If it happens, it’ll probably be on Walker’s shouldeers.

“We put so much pressure on Kemba to do so much,” said assistant coach Stephen Silas, who served as acting head coach in Clifford’s absence.

Too much pressure?

“At times, it can be,” Silas said. “But that’s what he signed up for, and that’s how we’re built.”

For now, at least.

Joel Embiid whacks Jaylen Brown in face while celebrating basket (video)

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Joel Embiid‘s antics – the Instagram victory laps, trash-talking and taunting – can rub people the wrong way.

With Jaylen Brown last night, literally.