“I’m not going to discuss Jeremy Lin."
Well, that makes one of them.
The specter of Linsanity and his much-discussed departure to the Houston Rockets this summer have stomped all over the proceedings like many an unwelcome pachyderm. However the Knicks—specifically, their point guards—fare this season, Lin will likely find his way into the discussion.
Or rather, those who cover the Knickerbockers will feel the urge to inject Jeremy into the conversation like it's some sort of obsessive-compulsive tick.
Whatever the actual split of the blame for Lin's ghost hanging around may be, it's clear that it hasn't yet left the building. His name seems to creep back into the conversation whenever there's an opinion on Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and/or 35-year-old rookie Pablo Prigioni—Lin's de facto replacements—to be offered. Knicks GM Glen Grunwald told Marc Berman of The New York Post that he was glad to have Felton back, but might've been just as relieved to have seen Linsanity swallow Houston's "poison pill":
“We felt Raymond Felton was the best option at the end of the day. We were excited to get Raymond back. We weren’t disappointed at all (Houston changed the offer)."
“It comes down to Houston made a commitment to him we weren’t prepared to make. I’m very happy for Jeremy that things worked out for him personally and his family and wish him the best. But I’m more excited about our team right now."
Said Tyson Chandler to Al Iannazzone of Long Island Newsday of Lin (and Baron Davis) when comparing last season's situation to the current one at Madison Square Garden:
"Baron was hurt and Jeremy was a young point guard who was just learning, trying to learn and figure out an offense. It was nothing against them and it was definitely nothing against Baron."
"Baron was hurt the whole year and giving us everything he had. Jeremy was a young point guard who was inexperienced, who brought a great light to the organization. But as far as being able to run the offense and putting players in the right position he just wasn't there. We got some veteran point guards that are capable of doing that."
Even JR Smith offered a not-so-subtle jab at Jeremy while showing support for Felton and Kidd:
"I knew how good Ray was coming from Denver. You'd always hear about playing with J-Kidd and how smart he is, but you never really understand it until you get out there. These guys are 100 percent better than what I thought. Even a 40-year-old Jason Kidd is probably better than a lot of these 22-, 23-, 24- year-old guys."
The 24-year-old Lin would presumably fit in amongst that group of 20-somethings of which Smith speaks.
As for the Hydra who've been tasked with making Linsanity a thing of the past, each head currently compares favorably to its predecessor. Felton (10.6 points six assists, 2.4 turnovers, 39.2 percent from the field), Kidd (4.3 points, 3.5 assists, 1.8 turnovers, 26.3 percent) and Prigioni (6.2 points, 5.2 assists, 1.6 turnovers, 36.7 percent) haven't exactly set the world on fire this preseason, though their efforts—individually and collectively—are more-or-less on par with (if not superior to) Lin's numbers (5.8 points, 6.5 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 25 percent) in a Rockets uniform.
As far as the Knicks are concerned, though, the only numbers that matter are those corresponding to wins and losses.
The ones that actually matter, anyway. Not those gleaned from exhibitions.
Some in Knicks camp (including JR Smith) have saddled the team with championship-or-bust expectations, which seem a bit overblown at this point, to say the least. The Miami Heat have staked their claim to the top spot in the Eastern Conference by virtue of being the defending champs and improving the supporting cast around their Big Three this summer. The Boston Celtics have done a bit of reloading themselves, while the Indiana Pacers look primed to contend again.
That leaves the Knicks to duke it out with the Brooklyn Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks among teams in the East's second tier who are trying to crack the bigger conversation in the conference.
Emerging from that muddled middle will be no easy task for the Knicks. Their list of questions to answer (Where/how should Carmelo Anthony play? What's the best role for Amar'e Stoudemire? Does anyone realize that Tyson Chandler was the Knicks' best player last year? Etc.) is as long as ever. Their defense, though, should be even better after seeing an upswing once Woodson took over for Mike D'Antoni on the sideline during the 2011-12 season.
As for their flock of floor generals? The success of that endeavor remains to be seen, pending the sorting-out process that's bound to continue into the season. At present, it appears as though Felton will be the starter, with Kidd splitting time between the two backcourt spots and Prigioni mopping up whatever remains of the minutes.
Beyond the distribution of playing time, though, what's most important is that these three—but mostly Felton and Kidd—get the Knicks back on the winning track. Matching the 48 (or even 50) victories of the Jeff Van Gundy-Patrick Ewing Knicks teams of 1999-2000 and 2000-01 (respectively) should be on their radar after steadily improving their winning percentage over the past three years.
But really, the exact figures won't matter. What's more important is that the Knicks look, play and carry themselves like a contender, that they take care of business against inferior foes and hang tough with the cream of the crop while coming together as a team rather than remaining a collection of gifted-but-flawed individuals.
Because that's the only way the Knicks will ever exorcise Lin's ghost from MSG—by proving that they're better off with Felton, Kidd and Prigioni (and, in turn, without Lin) now than they were with Jeremy last season.
Otherwise, the comparisons, the questions, the second-guesses will continue. If the new trio fails and Linsanity rises again in Space City, the whispers and murmurs will turn to indignant screams and shouts, and the nostalgic waxing over those glorious two weeks will hang heavy over the mood on Madison Avenue.
And the conversation—on the streets of New York, on sports talk radio, in the papers, in the Knicks' locker room—will pivot back to a certain No. 17 (now No. 7) who once wore the blue and orange.
Whether Mike Woodson is willing to discuss him or not.