Posts Tagged ‘houston rockets’

Jeremy Lin’s time in New York is likely up. Stephen A. Smith, J.R. Smith, and Carmelo Anthony think Lin’s new deal is ridiculous, but is it? All three should take a good, long look in the mirror.

We’re still waiting, officially, to see whether the Knicks match the Rockets’ backloaded offer sheet for the services of Jeremy Lin.  Lin, a Taiwanese-American Harvard product, got significant run as the New York Knicks’ starting point guard last season.  And, well, he had some success.  Let’s set the stage: the Knicks were 8-15 when Lin first saw burn at the point for New York.  With Amare out for four games, and Carmelo out for even longer, the Knicks went on a seven game win streak, powered almost completely by Lin.  During his first ten games, Lin averaged 24.6 points and 9.2 assists. 

As Carmelo and Amare leaked back into the system, Lin’s numbers declined, but he was still productive.  The next seven games, he averaged 16 points and 7.7 assists.  And finally, in the last nine games, he averaged 13.6 points and 5.9 assists.  Some of the decline is attributable to less pressure: other players returned to take care of the scoring load.  Some of it is attributable to a coaching change.  Mike Woodson ran many more ISO plays, whereas prior coach Mike D’Antoni favored pick-and-roll situations which highlighted Lin’s abilities.  The kid turned the ball over too much, but he also became the first NBA player to score twenty points and dish out seven assists in each of his first five starts.

If you take seven wins away from the Knicks last season (and at the time Lin started playing, they had lost 11 of 13), they are a really bad team.  29-37. If you take three wins away, they would have been 33-33.  So here are my responses to statements made by Stephen A. Smith, J.R. Smith, and Carmelo Anthony.  Prefaced, of course, with “all due respect.”

An Open Letter to Stephen A. Smith, J.R. Smith, and Carmelo Anthony

To Stephen A. Smith, who authored this article for ESPN: Really? Weren’t you the guy who asked what was wrong with players positing the eternal question: “Where’s mine?” Weren’t you also the guy who pointed out that neither Anthony nor Stoudemire had been to the conference finals in any conference without the help of an All-Star caliber point guard? Are Jason Kidd (he of the recent DWI and 6.2 ppg, 5.5 apg last season) and much-maligned Raymond Felton of that caliber? When you insist that Felton and Kidd make up for the Knicks loss of Lin, are you imagining a world where Felton and Kidd combine powers, making a player capable of producing the sum of both of their on-court contributions? Even at his worst last season, Lin was appreciably better than Felton or (sorry, Jason) Kidd.

Your article today conveniently focuses on the last year of Lin’s contract.  The first two years are fairly reasonable (especially against the background of current Knicks players).  You also manage to call Lin a swindler: “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.” I’m pretty sure the Rockets knew what they were doing.  Since when does anyone on the Knicks meet the qualifications you say Lin lacks? By my count, Carmelo Anthony is a streaky jump shooter who can’t play defense.  But the most irresponsible part of it all might be when you speculate that Lin has always been in it for the money (as if it were about anything else, ever) in a way that makes him seem like a selfish teammate. The irony, with the Knicks, is too rich.  If you are going to speculate as to Lin’s motivations for not playing injured, I’ll speculate as to your motivations for this article: your sole strength as a journalist is insider information.  Your career depends on access to stars, and if ‘Melo thinks the contract is ridiculous, you’re going to fall in line.  Unfair?

To J.R. Smith, who said: “‘I think some guys take it personal, because they’ve been doing it longer and haven’t received any reward for it yet.”  That’s market value, bud. You don’t get paid like that because you’re not very good and you’re not compelling.  $5 million for the first two years is potentially a steal for the amount of money he will bring in, and at least reasonable.  During the last year of the deal, if Lin’s play isn’t at a high level, it’s a big expiring contract. Big, expiring contracts are historically useful trade assets.

To Carmelo, who said “It’s up to the organization to say that they want to match that ridiculous contract.”: If you’re receiving a max contract, you are, for better or worse, being compared to others who receive it.  For context, you are the fifth highest paid player in the NBA (sixth if you count amnesty victim Gilbert Arenas). At $19,450,000, you alone account for over 1/3 of your team’s salary cap space.  In fact, your .500 team has the distinction of being the only non-contender with two of the ten highest paid players in the league. The Lakers are the only other team with two top-ten salaried players, and it’s working for them.

Before trading for you, the Knicks were a .500 team.  After trading for you, they were a .500 team.  Your team’s flexibility is essentially crippled, and they are relegated to signing aging, veteran’s minimum players to “compete for a championship.” Which is of course laughable, because the Knicks aren’t competing for a championship.   As it stands, there are at least seven star-laden teams (MIA, LAL, BOS, SAS, OKC, BKN, LAC) that are more attractive for ring-chasing.

In case you missed it, you get paid more than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, and Derrick Rose.  You get paid significantly more than Josh Smith, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Blake Griffin (especially last season), Ty Lawson, and Danny Granger.  I’m not sure anyone can make a cogent argument that you are more valuable than any of the players from the first list, who are paid slightly less than you annually.  And as for the players listed above who are paid significantly less than you, yet make comparable contributions to teams far superior to your own? These are the players who should, in a vacuum, make your contract look “ridiculous.”

Of course, contracts don’t exist in a vacuum.  Part of Carmelo’s value is the star power, the additional revenue brought in by name recognition, jersey sales, corporate sponsorships, and television contracts.  And these non-basketball reasons are why Jeremy Lin’s contract seems even more acceptable.  He was #2 in jersey sales last season.  Whomever Lin plays for next season will find themselves the lucky epicenter of Asian fan focus.  The Rockets are familiar with the Asian market, and its value due to Yao Ming’s career with the team.  Who better to judge Lin’s “value” than a team familiar with the financial implications associated with television and jersey sales in Asia?

The NBA loves this market share, and has been nurturing it for years.  This preseason, the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers will play two preseason games in China.  Games in which Jeremy Lin plays will air in China, Taiwan, and the Philippines.  There is value in Lin outside of basketball reasons, outside of the vacuum.  And further, at $5 million for the next two years, for a team without (all of a sudden) a starting point guard, Lin is somewhere between reasonably priced and mildly overpaid.  That final, $14.8 million third season? At this point in his career, that is a lot of money. From a basketball standpoint, he probably won’t be worth it. From a revenue standpoint, he probably will be worth it.  And how else could the Rockets pry him away from the Knicks? This contract was designed to scare the Knicks off, and it worked.

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The Houston Rockets are picking at the 14th spot for the third year in a row.  They have picked forwards (two power, one small) in each draft since 2009.  Einstein’s definition of insanity comes to mind: you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.  So here’s a suggestion for the Houston Rockets: pick Austin Rivers, a shooting guard with elite potential.

In one superficial way, Rivers immediately brings a “star buzz” to the team: he is the son of Boston Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers.  This matters because the media will pay attention to whatever team picks Rivers; they will ask Doc Rivers questions about his son’s game; they will play up the father son story and hype every angle; and this kind of attention, in terms of generating interest in a basketball team, is basically a good thing.  So picking Rivers is a smart move for reasons having nothing to do with Rivers actual basketball game and more to do with pop cachet (that’s entertainment, that’s entertainment).

But on to the merits of his playing style.  Rivers hit probably the biggest shot of the season with a game-winning three-pointer over UNC’s Tyler Zeller.  He brings an “I am the guy to take the last shot” mentality to a Rockets team severely lacking a star.   The common criticisms of Rivers tend to focus on his “cocky” attitude and his Carmelo Anthony-esque revulsion to passing the ball; but personally I’d be most concerned about his 66% free throw shooting.  If he can improve this percentage and learn to move the ball more, he could be an NBA all-star.  He has proven that he is a talented shooter; and paired with the emerging talent of Goran Dragic at point guard (more on this later) and the solid performance of Luis Scola (or, more optimistically, Pau Gasol) at power forward, he could really contribute to a team that needs a player with his skill-set.

So bring on the trade rumors.  Kyle Lowry may have inadvertently guaranteed Goran Dragic the starting point guard position next year by making one very puzzling statement: “If things aren’t addressed coaching-wise, I guess I have to be moved.”   That comment comes in the context of this one by Daryl Morey, the Rockets GM: “We plan to sign Goran.”  You might be thinking: “who is Kyle Lowry to make this kind of demand?”–and you’d be exactly right. The skill difference between these two players  certainly isn’t enough to justify the drama and dysfunction of keeping a point guard who might be a delusional head-case.   Lowry isn’t Dwight Howard, though comparisons to the Orlando Magic do come to mind, albeit for an entirely different reason. This panelist believes Lowry is out, possibly packaged with Luis Scola in a 2-for-1 trade for Pau Gasol.  That’s a trade that could make a lot of sense for both teams.

Either way, Austin Rivers is a strong pick for the Rockets.  If Morey can make a few more smart moves (namely, pick wisely at 16 and get the most for Lowry and/or Scola), maybe the Rockets can avoid picking 14th yet again next year.

@nunuspeaks

*Update: The Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks have swapped draft positions with Houston moving up to 12 and Milwaukee moving back to 14. The picks the teams have made remain possible given the parity that exists in this portion of the draft. The panelists have decided, in their infinite wisdom, to keep Austin Rivers to Houston at 12.*