Will Jeremy Lin be back in a Knicks' uniform next season?
For three weeks in February there simply was no bigger name in all of sports than Jeremy Lin.
The Super Bowl was over, March Madness was over a month away. Spring training had yet to start and the NBA season was actually still young. The NBA lockout had delayed the start of the season until Christmas Day 2011.
Jeremy Lin was the ultimate right place, right time sports phenom.
The former D-League player assumed the starting point guard role on the New York Knicks after injuries and substandard play left the Knicks with no other options.
To say he provided a "spark" would be a vast understatement.
With Lin getting big minutes the Knicks roared into the All-Star break having won 10 of their last 13 games. It didn't last of course. The Knicks would eventually conclude a regular season remembered for streaks both good and bad.
Jeremy Lin? His contributions were much appreciated but he also missed the end of the regular season and the playoffs recovering from a torn meniscus. Now after playing only 35 games as a member of the Knicks and only 25 as a starter Lin is a restricted free agent.
The Knicks are highly likely to use their mid-level exception to sign Lin and keep the wildly popular player in New York. Things don't always go as planned. The Knicks have very little room to expand their payroll. While the Knicks will be given ample opportunity to match almost any deal presented to Lin by another team that doesn't mean they will do so.
If another team chose to back-load a lucrative long-term deal the Knicks would be in tough spot. They can't use that mid-level exception to exceed the salary cap for more than two seasons. They might opt to let Lin walk for financial reasons.
If Lin left the Knicks would be in a desperate situation at the point guard position. Baron Davis is lost for all of next season and his entire career could be in jeopardy. The knee injury he sustained in the playoffs was of the catastrophic quality.
Iman Shumpert is also lost for at least the start of next season. He's not a natural point guard but he's a valuable back court presence when healthy. Mike Bibby is a free agent and Toney Douglas has proven he's not good enough to be a starting point guard.
If the Knicks lose Lin the team would find itself in desperate need of a point guard. Not just a backup, the Knicks would need a competent, durable, skilled point man who could give them at least 30 quality minutes a night over the course of an 82 game season and hopefully some playoff games as well.
Here are six players. If Lin leaves the Knicks will need one of these guys.
Steve Nash would bring experience and star quality to the Knicks.
Steve Nash---Age: 38---Ppg: 12.5----Apg: 10.7
Unrestricted Free Agent
Pros: Nash is great passer, he's one of the most reliable sources of assists in the league. He's also an eight-time All-Star and two-time league MVP. He's averaged double-digit assists in seven of the last eight seasons. In spite of his advanced age he's been very durable. He hasn't missed more than eight regular season games since the 2000-2001 season.
Nash also has an already established relationship with Amar'e Stoudemire. Rarely has a bad word been uttered about Nash from teammates so he's not just good at passing the ball, he tends to make teammate happy.
Cons: Defensively speaking Nash is weak. On some teams that might not be reason for concern but the Knicks already have two players in Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire who are not known for their defense. Mike Woodson might be great defensive coach but at some point the players have to actually play defense and if three members of your starting five are somewhat weak in that arena getting stops could be a major problem.
Conclusion: If Lin leaves the Knicks will need a serious point guard. Nash would blow the budget and opposing point guards may blow by him but the Knicks would score tons of points. He'd be a more than adequate short-term solution but not a long-term fix.
Andre Miller was a match-up problem for the Lakers in the playoffs.
Andre Miller---Age: 36---Ppg: 9.7----Apg: 6.7
Pros: If those number look a tad weak keep in mind they were accomplished while starting a whopping seven games in the 2011-2012 season. He played in all 66 games. That might seem impressive unless of course you've followed Miller's 13-year career. He's pretty durable. Since the start of the 2007-2008 season Miller has missed one game. On a Knicks team coming off a season with multiple injury issues it sure would be nice to be able to just pencil Miller's name into the lineup every night.
Miller has never been much of a scorer but he does just about everything else on the court. He rebounds well for a point guard. He will get steals and block shots. Miller sure can pass the ball. There are only two other active NBA players with more career assists than Miller. Steve Nash and Jason Kidd. He's also a solid free throw shooter and he doesn't take a ton of shots so his lack of scoring doesn't come at the expense of other player's offensive opportunities.
Cons: Miller is getting a little old. He is also coming off a season in which he didn't start and averaged only 27.4 minutes per game. In New York he would be expected to play well over 30 minutes per game. He's also been able to play in relative obscurity for most of his career. How many of you even knew he was third among active players in assists? If he came to New York as the starting point guard he could kiss obscurity goodbye. Some players handle that with ease, for others it can be an issue.
Conclusion: If he's not on the hunt for a long-term deal at a super high price Miller might just be the best option for the Knicks. He plays defense, he's durable and he's a true pass-first point guard. The Knicks don't need anyone to play point and hoist up a ton of shots. They do need someone to play tough D, pass the ball, and hit their free throws. That's Miller's game.
Goran Dragic soared when he filled in as a starter for Houston this season.
Goran Dragic---Age: 26---Ppg:11.7---Apg: 5.3
Pros: Here's a guy who will be very hotly pursued by numerous teams. In four seasons Dragic has started a grand total of 36 games. He was a backup for Steve Nash in Phoenix and when he was able to create some interest in his very limited playing time Phoenix shipped him to Houston in the Aaron Brooks trade on February 24, 2011. Dragic then became a backup to Kyle Lowry who was in the midst of a great 2012 season when he got sick and had to miss over a month.
Dragic started 28 games for the Rockets and averaged 18.0 points and 8.4 assists per game. Those aren't just good numbers, they're very good. He produced those numbers on team who's highest scorer was Kevin Martin at a paltry 17.1 points per game. Dragic would probably enjoy passing to the likes of Anthony and Stoudemire.
Cons: When everyone is already talking about you as someone "under-the-radar" before the free agent signing season even starts then you won't be "under-the-radar." Dragic is a prime candidate to end up fetching a large long term contract. The majority of free agent point guards are aging veterans. The draft isn't stocked with point guards in the same way it has over the past few years. If you want a young point guard then Dragic is really one of the only options out there.
There's no guarantee that he becomes an 18.0 point and 8.4 assist per game point guard when he is starting over the course of an 82 game season. He could break down physically. He will be far more intensely scouted by opposing defenses and any flaw or weakness he has will be exploited. Dragic is not a great defender either.
Conclusion: Will the Knicks pursue Dragic? Probably, will they land him? Doubtful. The Knicks are in no position to be handing out long-term deals to anyone. If you're under the impression that Mike Woodson will be retained it seems unlikely they'd want to hand him another mediocre defensive player on a long-term deal.
Raymond Felton would celebrate an exit from Portland.
Raymond Felton---Age: 27----Ppg: 11.4---Apg: 6.5
Pros: Here's a guy who would probably love to come back to New York City. Felton is coming off a forgetful season in Portland where he feuded with former head coach Nate McMillan. Felton hasn't just played in New York before, he's played very well.
Felton was averaging 17.0 points and 9.1 assists per game in February of 2011 when he was dealt to the Denver Nuggets as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal. He has not been able to replicate that success since but perhaps a return to the Big Apple is just what Felton needs to rejuvenate his game. He's only 27 so there's plenty of reason to expect a fair amount of health and consistency.
Coming off his weak performance in Portland it's not out of the question that Felton could be signed for a relatively low cost which is something the Knicks really could use.
Cons: It's great that Felton played so well in New York for the first half of the 2010-2011 season. It's not so great that he hasn't come close to replicating that since then. The Knicks team he would join in the fall of 2012 would be a far different one than the one he left over a year ago.
Different coach, a go-to scorer as opposed to the balanced scoring attack he flourished in previously. That combination could add up to the Felton that has struggled both offensively and defensively for much of his NBA career.
Conclusion: Felton won't be the top choice, but he's someone the Knicks won't hesitate to make a run at if the other options are either snatched up by other teams, or just too pricey.
D.J Augustin would probably be thankful for a change in scenery
D.J. Augustin---Age: 24---Ppg: 11.1---Apg: 6.4
Pros: There probably isn't another free agent point guard on the market who will be happier to change addresses than D.J. Augustin. He was of course a member of the Charlotte Bobcats last season. Knicks fans frustrated by their team's 36 wins may want to consider what it would be like to win just seven games. That's what Charlotte did.
All kidding aside, Augustin just finished up his fourth season in the NBA and he's showed signs of becoming a fairly good point guard. He's only 24 so there's time to further develop. As a player he'll be limited somewhat by his lack of height. He's 6'0" which is small even for a point guard. He's quick and gets his hands in passing lanes on defense.
Augustin won't be nearly as expensive as the top point guards will be what with his lower price comes lower production.
Cons: There is room for improvement but how much? Augustin may be a classic case of a player with a fairly low ceiling. Given the wealth of talented point guards in the league right now, Augustin could be coming of age at the wrong place in the wrong time.
Conclusion: Augustine may very well be the weakest point guard that the Knicks will seriously consider this offseason. If he's priced accordingly then he may end up on the Madison Square Garden hard court next season.
Deron Williams will be one of the top free agents on the market this summer.
Deron Williams: Age: 27-----Ppg: 21.0----Apg: 8.7
Pros: Williams is the best point guard on the market this summer. He can score, pass and defend. The team that eventually acquires him will improve dramatically at the point guard position. There;'s no question about it.
Cons: Barring a major trade Williams won' be on the Knicks. He's going to be too expensive for them to sign. I'm sure they'll make some obligatory phone calls but the Knicks just seem mismatched in what ever battle develops over one of the league's premier point guards.
Conclusion: As mentioned above Williams will be hotly pursued by many of the leagues wealthiest teams. Would the Knicks just be wasting time by pursuing Williams? They might be and that could have long-term ramifications. The Knicks must kick the tires on Williams but with Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler all signed to long-term, big money contracts there's no realistic means for New York to sign Williams.