I really don’t like to spend my time on this site criticizing other people’s work. Writing–even about sports–is a solitary profession that is fucking difficult and people are going to have bad days with it. But Stephen A. Smith’s two Jeremy Lin columns this week were at best ideologically lazy and at worst a cynical attempt to trade favortism for access with current Knicks players and management. It’s legitimately unfair to honest journalism lifers that he and Skip Bayless have the status and incomes that they do with ESPN.
These are so bad I hate to even draw attention to them–because getting attention drawn to them, more than advancing legitimate discourse, is the point–but let’s take the columns piece by piece.
Jeremy Lin has been all about the money since the day he burst onto Broadway.
This isn’t taken out of context. This is how the column starts. Can’t WAIT to see where this is going…
Lin was about the Benjamins when Linsanity made the cover of Time magazine. He definitely was overcome by dollar signs when he wouldn’t play at “85 percent” for the New York Knicks in the playoffs, and it was all about the bottom line once free agency arrived.
You know who’s always an excellent judge of their own health? Players! Anyways, the New York Daily News paints a different picture:
“Every single vet on our team that has been in the league longer than five years pulled me aside and told me that I shouldn’t play,” Lin said. “And I had arguments with them about why I should.”
Ultimately, the decision to play was Lin’s, not his teammates. Lin even claims that Dolan told him not to play during a conversation they had before Game 5. That was also the last time they spoke.
“I have plans for you in the future,” Lin says Dolan told him. “This is a long-term investment. Don’t rush back.”
So there’s that.
Back to Smith:
Nobody’s arguing about whether or not Lin can play, because we know anyone who drops 38 on the Los Angeles Lakers, who drops 28-and-14 on the Dallas Mavericks and who averaged more than 14 points and 7 assists in 25 NBA games must bring a little game with him. But that is not the issue here.
SPOILER ALERT: Later in the column, Smith argues about whether or not Lin can play. We’ll get there eventually. For now, though, let’s watch as Smith inaccurately describes the nuances of the salary cap:
The issue is simple in that it can be reduced to one question: Is Jeremy Lin worth more than $30 million for any one season on any team’s salary cap? That’s the hit the Knicks would take, when you factor in the luxury tax, in the third year of this deal.
Jeremy Lin’s making $14.8 million in his third season would count at most that much against any team’s salary cap, including the Knicks’. The reason that it would ultimately cost the Knicks $30 million for that season is due to luxury tax payments for going over the cap. The reason that the Knicks would be over the cap, as later cited by Smith, is that Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler are already due a combined $62 million for that season. More on this later.
To be clear, Lin wasn’t wrong about this at all. For a point guard with a streaky jump shot, a limited left hand, who’s turnover-prone and eons away from being a capable defender, he should be called an astute businessman right now with the deal he swindled out of the Rockets.
Sorry I ruined that part for you before but I SAID SPOILER ALERT SO YOU CAN’T BE MAD!
Meanwhile, the Knicks just signed Jason Kidd for three years and re-acquired Raymond Felton for three years.
They have experience, depth and happen to be two guards capable of running the show for a team with two stars, in Amare and Melo, who will want the ball when they are called upon to step up and play like stars.
Jason Kidd is 40 years old and got a DUI this weekend after he drove blackout drunk for an hour and crashed into a utility pole. Look at the picture of his car. He is lucky that he didn’t kill himself or someone else and should be suspended for at least 20 games. Smith neglects to mention said DUI in either column. Raymond Felton is fat. He may or may not be eating a Big Mac right now. It’s like saying two dollar menu from Burger King are better than a burger from Five Guys. (This analogy is AWESOME because it’s still not the best burger you can find but it’s much better than the sum of two crappier parts.)
Also, I probably wouldn’t jump to conclusions about Amare stepping up and playing like a star in the future. Those days appear to be behind him. Wouldn’t the Knicks be better if they could amnesty him? Read on for some cold hard facts about why they can’t. (If you don’t already know, it’s for a dumber reason than you can fathom. I won’t spoil that part for you yet, though.)
On its own, this column could best be described as a dog crap/congealed baby vomit sandwich but I was inclined to let it go until OH MY GOD HE HAD THE NERVE TO WRITE ANOTHER ONE OF THESE TODAY?!?!?!?!
In the end, it wasn’t about a billionaire whining over losing potential millions, petulance getting the best of everyone or James Dolan and the rest of the New York Knicks exhibiting the same alarming level of ineptitude that has made the franchise a laughingstock for years.
If you change “wasn’t” to “was”, this would be a shockingly eloquent and accurate lede by Screamin’ A.
It was about Jeremy Lin not seeing the forest for the trees, salivating over green instead of orange and blue — choosing to play for a team on a track to nowhere instead of continuing to help his former team position itself for championship contention.
Ooh, let’s call him selfish and greedy again! The fact of the matter is, Jeremy Lin signed the offer sheet that was extended to him. The Knicks chose not to match it because THEY didn’t want to suffer the luxury tax implications that matching would incur. The Knicks would be so hard hit by the luxury tax because of the “same alarming level of ineptitude that has made the franchise a laughingstock for years.”
Nowhere in either column does Smith specifically address why the Knicks find themselves in this situation so allow me to recap:
1. Towards the end of the 2011 season, the Knicks picked up Chauncey Billups’ 2012 CLUB OPTION. Just over six-months later, the Knicks waived Billups, exercising the amnesty clause even though he only had one year left on his contract. This effectively made it so the Knicks could never amnesty Amare, who has three years left on his contract and bad knees that will likely cause his production to steadily regress. (Told you it was really stupid.)
2. Instead of waiting until after the 2011 season to sign Melo–who petulantly made it known that he would only play for in New York–the Knicks traded Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, and Timofey Mozgov to the Nuggets for Melo, Billups, Shelden Williams, Ronaldo Balkman, and Anthony Carter. This culminated in a first round playoff exit, which would have happened anyway without Melo’s help. Savvy!
Because of Melo, Amare, and Tyson Chandler’s contracts, the Knicks will find themselves at least slightly–and possibly severely–over the $70 million luxury tax for the next three seasons. Because of this, they could only offer Jeremy Lin the taxpayer mid-level exception, which, according to CBAFAQ, would have paid Lin about $9.3 million for three seasons (even a non-taxpayer mid-level exception would have given him about $20 million over four years–$5 million less for an extra year). He’s getting $25 million for three years from the Rockets. Why would he want to take $16 million less to stand around while Melo bricks 20-foot contested jumpers with 16 seconds left on the shot clock before scowling and jogging back on defense? How is he to blame for the Rockets’ using the poison pill?
Finally, in what universe are the Knicks championship contenders, with or without Lin? A mythological one where you can ride unicorns across rainbows, LeBron James gets kidnapped like in Celtic Pride, and the Bulls’ window is shut? (Even this scenario completely ignores the Thunder–or any of the five other teams that are better than the Knicks–coming out of the West.)
Anyways, back to Smith.
Stop the tears, please. Just stop it. And if you can’t, get some tissue. But whatever it takes, let’s stop bloviating about how the Knicks blew up their chance at a championship just because they let go of a dude who was a breath removed from playing in the NBA’s D-League.
Jeremy Lin is a slightly above average player — one who excels outside of conventional offenses, primarily when he’s allowed to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, and without the responsibility of being a floor general.
“Nobody’s arguing about whether or not Lin can play, because we know anyone who drops 38 on the Los Angeles Lakers, who drops 28-and-14 on the Dallas Mavericks and who averaged more than 14 points and 7 assists in 25 NBA games must bring a little game with him. But that is not the issue here.” – Stephen A. Smith, earlier this week.
Lost in all this Linsanity is the reality that the Knicks weren’t entirely sure about Jeremy Lin — at least not as much as Lin believed they were. The kid who spent three weeks averaging about 25 points per game and whose outward humility rivaled only that of Tim Tebow was also the dude who undeferentially spewed, “We gotta learn to play together,” upon Anthony’s return, instead of acknowledging he was the one who needed to learn to play with Melo.
First, Lin’s tone at the time was deferential. Second, even if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been wrong for it not to have been. The Knicks were mired in mediocrity before Melo got hurt then went on a run during Linsanity. Why, exactly, would it be so presumptuous to ask Melo, a notorious ball hog who has made it out of the first round of the playoffs once in his 11-year career, to adapt his game to fit a team basketball model that was clearly working in his absence?
Here’s what Knicks fan Brian Koppelman wrote on Grantland about Melo’s “joy-wrecking” immediately following Linsanity:
The Knicks are a winning team without Carmelo, and a losing team with him. I can talk about shots per game, Mike D’Antoni’s offense, Amar’e Stoudemire’s conditioning, but what it comes down to, in the end, is that Carmelo Anthony, on the court, does not care about anything but Carmelo Anthony.
Just watch two quarters and you’ll see it. First few plays, he runs the lanes, has his eyes up, even makes a pass or two. But then it starts, usually after one of his teammates misses a shot or has the audacity to throw the ball to someone other than Carmelo. That’s all the justification he needs to take matters into his own hands — which means dribbling the ball until there are about eight seconds left on the clock before shooting (and usually missing), no matter where he is on the court.
Sometimes, if he’s in an even worse mood, he just dribbles across half court and fires up a 3, without even waiting for anyone else to get under the basket. And let’s not even talk about defense. Because what would there be to say?
Heaven forbid Jeremy Lin have the NERVE to “undeferentially spew” anything about team basketball amidst all that excellent Melo leadership.
BACK to Smith.
It was Lin who then sauntered around the rest of the season acting as if he’d already accomplished all that was required, as if he was the face of the franchise and the Knicks were supposed to feel privileged to have him on board.
This never happened.
If Lin wanted to stay badly enough, he would not have ticked off a billionaire owner who previously had told him, “We have plans for you,” by back-dooring him in the 11th hour.
“Lost in all this Linsanity is the reality that the Knicks weren’t entirely sure about Jeremy Lin.” – Stephen A. Smith, earlier in this same column
Lin did it anyway, and now he’s gone. Melo, Amare, Felton and Kidd are here. If Iman Shumpert comes back healthy and Tyson Chandler comes back from the Olympics with any semblance of a post game, the Knicks will be a team to be reckoned with.
This is almost certainly inaccurate, unless “force to be reckoned with” means losing in the first round of the playoffs.
The fact of the matter is, Knicks fans aren’t delusional enough to believe that they were winning a championship in the next three years with Jeremy Lin. Amare Stoudemire’s contract and Carmelo Anthony’s staggering lack of humility and self-awareness all but guarantee that already. But at least Jeremy Lin was fun to watch. During the monthlong stretch of Linsanity, anything seemed possible even if deep down you knew that it would have to come to an end at some point. For the first time in more than a decade, it was actually fun to be a Knicks fan. If they lost with Lin, at least the story would matter. For at least the next three years, the Knicks will have no likable stars and will not make the Eastern Conference Finals without an extraordinary amount of luck.
This is about a petulant billionaire ruining everything. It’s not about Jeremy Lin, the greedy Harvard economics major.
These Stephen A. Smith columns are either staggeringly delusional or cynical. It’s one or the other. Neither is a good look for someone of Smith’s stature, who has a regular TV, radio, and columnist spot on ESPN.
Photo Credit: USA Today