Perhaps the most remarkable story of this shortened NBA season has been the sudden arrival of a former D-League player to the biggest stage in the NBA, and the worldwide attention it drew. Jeremy Lin made a splash in New York that even the biggest movie producers or fashion designers would envy. He brought life to a franchise that was struggling with injuries, egos and fan frustration.
His arrival was the stuff of legend. Linsanity swept New York harder and faster than Yankee fever does every spring. Lin started his career with New York by continually scoring in the upper 20s and dishing out 10-plus assists. His monstrous start was capped by a last-second, game-winning three-pointer in Toronto.
Since his torrid start, Lin has fallen back to Earth a bit, but his production speaks for itself. Until he went down with a knee injury, Lin was still averaging more than 14 points and six assists per game. That's a solid line for a player whose main job is to get the ball to his superstar teammates. Even with his lowered numbers, Lin has still been a terrific find for one of the league's historic franchises.
Surely, as the offseason approaches, the Knicks will want to keep their diamond in the rough. However, as a free agent, that might be a little easier said than done.
The Knicks are buried in the salary cap, having to pay massive amounts to players like Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. They also don't have the full Bird Rights for Lin, so they can't take advantage of being able to go above the cap to re-sign their own player.
If they want to keep Lin, who will surely draw major attention on the free-agent market, they will have to get creative with their means (for a detailed description of the Knicks-Lin salary situation, check out this article by Larry Coon).
Assuming that the Knicks offer their mid-level exception to Lin and he decides to opt for more money elsewhere, here's a list of players the Knicks could target this offseason to step in and replace Lin's productivity.
Perhaps the best short-term replacement for Jeremy Lin would be Derek Fisher, the 15-year veteran who is currently playing with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In a new point guard, the Knicks don't necessarily need scoring or a player who needs the ball to operate. They need toughness on both sides of the ball; someone who knows how to win and someone who can hit the open shots they will surely see, as they benefit from teams double-teaming Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Who could fill that role better than Derek Fisher?
Fisher is one of the toughest point guards in the league. He is strong and smart on defense, capable and clutch on offense. Even at 37 years old, Fisher has been able to maintain a high level of play that allows him to be a contributor for his team.
Fisher was a part of the Los Angeles Lakers' most recent title runs. He has hit some clutch shots in big games throughout his career. On teams where he was surrounded by superstars, Fisher was always a go-to player with the game on the line. He would bring that winning experience to the Knicks, a team that so desperately needs to learn how to win big games.
Derek Fisher may not still be the player he was 10 years ago, but for the Knicks, a team that needs a solid role player as a point guard, Fisher could become a major reason for the team to take the next step towards success.
Andre Miller is another veteran player who will be a free agent after this season and who could probably be had for the mid-level exception.
Miller has been a steady and underrated point guard in the NBA for nearly his entire career. This year, Miller is back in Denver and is having another solid year. His scoring is down a bit, averaging about 10 points per game, four points lower than his career average. However, he is still distributing the ball and rebounding as well as he ever has.
Miller wouldn't bring a lot of scoring to the Knicks, but that's not what they need in a point guard. With Anthony and Stoudemire on the floor together, there isn't much room for another big scorer anyways. Miller could bring his exceptional passing abilities to the team and do his best to get the scorers more open looks.
A player like Miller won't just be good for distributing the ball to the Knicks superstars, but he will also make the other role players better. He's already got experience with J.R. Smith in Denver, a shooter like Steve Novak would surely get more open looks and Tyson Chandler would benefit from playing with a tremendous alley-oop passer.
Miller would surely lack in the Linsanity-type hype if he joined the Knicks, but he would be able to contribute by making the players around him better, and the Knicks would be big winners if that happened.
A young option with some serious potential upside for the Knicks would be Jonny Flynn, who is currently the backup to Raymond Felton in Portland.
Flynn, at 23 years old, has shown some tremendous talent and upside during his brief NBA career. As a rookie back in 2009, Flynn averaged over 13 points and four assists per game for Minnesota. Since then, Flynn has battled some injuries and has regressed a bit. However, at his young age, Flynn still has one high ceiling that, if he could reach it, would make him an extremely good point guard in the NBA.
For the Knicks, Flynn would be a bit of a gamble. They should be able to sign him for a portion of the MLE. If that happens, it will be up to the veterans and the coaching staff in New York to start moving Flynn back in a positive direction for his career.
If it worked out, it would be one of the best free-agent signings in the team's history because they will have found their point guard of the future during their window of success. Flynn certainly has the tools to be a very good player, he just needs some motivation from his teammates.
On the other hand, if the Knicks sign Flynn and he doesn't pan out, it would be disappointing—but it won't handicap the team financially, because they won't have to sign him for a huge contract to begin with.
I think the Knicks, if they lose Lin, should take a long hard look at Jonny Flynn and the type of player he could eventually become for the franchise.
Another potential veteran presence the Knicks could bring in to replace Jeremy Lin would be 18-year lead guard Jason Kidd. Kidd is currently with the Dallas Mavericks and has been a main part of the team's recent success.
With the Knicks, Kidd would be asked to play a very similar role to what he plays in Dallas. The Knicks already have their players in place who they want taking the shots and controlling the games. Kidd would be a great presence to step in and make sure everyone stays focused and motivated on becoming the team they envisioned when they added several stars.
Obviously, Jason Kidd is no longer the triple-double machine he was in the past. However, he still proves night-in and night-out that he can still play at the NBA level. Currently, Kidd is averaging six points, five assists and four rebounds per game. Though his numbers aren't eye-popping anymore, he is still one of the best passers in the game and he really toughens up on defense.
Like Derek Fisher or Andre Miller, Kidd would be expected to come to New York and provide a winning attitude and leadership for the players on the court with him. Should Kidd leave Dallas, the Knicks should be able to approach him and sign him to a deal that makes sense financially to the organization.
Clearly, picking up Jason Kidd wouldn't be a long-term solution for the Knicks. However, it would make the upcoming years fun in New York, and they would have him around to groom their next lead guard.
Aside from making a trade or finding a way to sign a blockbuster deal with a new point guard, D.J. Augustin might be the perfect fit for the Knicks.
Augustin is a young player who could contribute to the franchise for years and years to come. He is very much an offensive-minded point guard, who averages over 10 points and six assists per game. Heading into this restricted free-agent year, Augustin's salary number is right in the wheelhouse for the Knicks, but that could change based on demand.
However, if the Knicks did find a way to add Augustin, he would bring a serious quickness that would allow him to run the court with Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, or make moves to free up the rest of the Knicks rotation.
Augustin is a terrific shooter who would definitely get open looks while opposing teams are concerned about Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. His ability to score the basketball, pass the basketball and keep the offense moving, should make him a very logical choice for the Knicks if they lose their current point guard.
An unexpected potential choice to replace Jeremy Lin could be John Lucas, who currently backs up Derrick Rose in Chicago. Rose has had an up-and-down career, but he has really come forward this year and he's shown that he can be a very, very good player in the NBA.
For his career, Lucas is just averaging under five points per game, with little in the way of any other productivity. This year, Lucas is averaging seven points per game in just 14 minutes per game. If Lucas could get any serious and sustained playing time, those numbers could continue to increase and he could become a major part of what the Knicks are building in New York.
However, Lucas doesn't come without issues, just like anyone else on the list. He is a smaller guard who has problems guarding the bigger guys on the other team.
Even with some defensive deficiencies, Lucas can be masterful on offense. He has the ability to hit shots from deep and he can get into the hoop, avoid contact and put the ball in the hoop. Playing with the cast of the Knicks should allow Lucas to get some more open looks and make him a very dangerous player.