Could the Knicks bid farewell to Jeremy Lin?
Once the dust settles on the Knicks season, management will be faced with the ultimate conundrum. Ultimately, the question revolves around what type of combination of players will put New York in the best position to win their first NBA title since 1973.
While many people will make the argument that either Carmelo Anthony or Amar'e Stoudemire need to be unloaded, that is a separate argument. Their salaries far outweigh their production or value at this point, and the Knicks will most likely be forced to build around those two for the duration of their contracts, which expire after the 2014-15 season.
That leaves the rest of the roster.
One of the biggest decisions facing the Knicks front office will be the impending free agency of point guard Jeremy Lin.
Lin is due to become a restricted free agent, and the Knicks have the right to match any offer, which will most likely be the $5 million mid-level exception tag.
Head coach Mike Woodson stated the Knicks will "absolutely" bring back Lin next season. Woodson is not the one paying him, however, and what role they have in mind for him remains to be seen.
In addition, while it may seem like it at times, this is not a fantasy league. The fact is that the Knicks have nearly $60 million tied up to their three stars, and they have the lingering possibility of losing Landry Fields, Steve Novak and J.R. Smith, among others, to free agency.
Which player is expendable?
Are the Knicks best off finding a replacement-level point guard at the veteran minimum with money allocated around the remainder of the roster, or paying Lin the $5 million he will likely receive and having minimal contributions from the rest of the roster?
From an objective perspective, it's hard to not be hypnotized by the remarkable story of Lin. Obviously, it was dissected ad nauseam during his rise to worldwide phenomenon.
Lin started 25 games during the season and did a tremendous job leading the Knicks from obscurity at 8-15 to the thick of the playoff race.
Former head coach Mike D'Antoni was smitten as a school girl during their seven-game win streak, which captured the attention of the basketball world.
Nobody will argue that Lin brings revenue to the Knicks, that nobody—not even free-agent Steve Nash—will bring to the Garden.
The Knicks cannot lose that international fanbase. Well, at least they would be foolish to. Unless, of course, salary-cap restrictions do not grant them the luxury.
Given the current state of the roster, they would be extremely thin and top-heavy once again next season with the re-signing of Lin.
That is something that would be exploited during a full 82-game season, and would leave the Knicks susceptible to athletic fast-break teams.
During the tenure of D'Antoni, Lin was the focal point of the offense. The bread-and-butter was undoubtedly the pick-and-roll in which he and Tyson Chandler ran to perfection.
Lin was able to drive, and he showcased his ability to withstand physicality in the paint and finish the shot—or he was able to dish it out on the perimeter and contribute an assist.
Under Mike Woodson, Lin played in six games prior to tearing his meniscus, requiring season-ending surgery. The Knicks won five of the six games, but it was clear the offense was less focused on point guard play.
In those games, Lin averaged 14.5 points and 4.8 assists on 9.8 shots per game. Granted, that is a small sample size, but the role of Lin seemed to diminish with the head-coaching change.
Is that why Woodson left it unclear who the starting point guard would be?
While Lin and Stoudemire/Tyson Chandler can still be an effective trio, there is the issue of the other star.
Even though he does not have autonomy on the business decisions, Woodson may be more inclined to ask for a veteran point guard who will allow Carmelo Anthony to play his type of game.
Clearly, Anthony is not one to stand in the corner and wait for his turn. He shot the ball 31 times in Game 5 of the Eastern quarterfinals, and is the Knicks closer in the fourth quarter.
Given their contrasting styles of play, the Knicks found it very difficult to allow their stars to co-exist on the court at once—and that was without the presence of Lin for the postseason.
Marc Berman of the New York Post reported that the Knicks are eyeing their former point guard Raymond Felton as a potential free-agent signing if he is available at the $1.4 million veteran minimum price.
Perhaps Felton, who is familiar with playing with Anthony and Stoudemire, would make Lin expendable as well as create more efficiency in the Knicks offense.
Obviously, there is no simple answer for this situation. The root of the problem is that the price tag, durability concerns and declining performance from Stoudemire make him undesirable to the rest of the league, and his inability to co-exist with Carmelo make him undesirable to the Knicks.
In a vacuum, the Knicks' best solution would be to rid themselves of either "Stat" or "Melo"—but that is not a choice. If the Knicks are to compete for a title next season, they need to allocate their money in order to create more depth.
The Knicks cannot break the bank by paying Lin $5 million, and he has his current "superstar" teammates to thank for that.