The 2011-2012 NBA campaign was chock full of sub-plots; beginning with the Lockout that shortened the regular season to just 66 games, starting on Christmas day. Among other events, we witnessed an ill-fated trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, vetoed by the NBA front office, ending up with the Los Angeles Clippers instead. LeBron James would win the NBA MVP Award, for the third time in his career; then topped that off with winning his first NBA Finals, as the Miami Heat topped the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love; one of the most dominant inside players in the Association, revealed yet another weapon in his arsenal; winning the three-point contest at the All-Star game. We also played a daily game of “Will He Stay Or Will He Go” until March 15, on whether upcoming Free Agents Dwight Howard and Deron Williams would be traded before the NBA trade deadline (neither were.)
Perhaps the most compelling sub-plot that took place in the Association last season, occurred in New York City, as a young man whom had previously been at best and end of the bench player, captivated the hearts and minds of basketball fans across the country. Point guard Jeremy Lin, an undrafted player out of Harvard University; was thrown into a game by his coach at the time Mike D’Antoni out of sheer desperation and rose to the occasion. The next few weeks were like a plot from a Disney Movie, as the guard cut by two other teams earlier in the campaign, hit heights few imagined he was capable of.
The native of Palo Alto, California is far from your typical player in the Association; and not only because he is the first American born player of Chinese descent to play in the NBA. He and his family are very quiet and reserved people. One can picture him as a teen playing “Dungeons And Dragons” and video games as well as skate-boarding with his buds at Stanford Mall. Except for his basketball skills he most likely has more in common with the quartet from the “Big Bang Theory” than he does with most of his teammates. He was far more relatable to most sports fans and perhaps evoked that bit of “Walter Mitty” in all of us; that if he can make it there maybe hope for me!
The point guard took the previously moribund Knicks on a seven game winning streak, putting the team back at the .500 mark and back in the Playoff race as well. He kept putting up new career highs in points and assists game after game during the streak, peaking with a 38-point performance against the Los Angeles Lakers. NBA Commissioner David Stern and President Obama praised his accomplishments, while gracing the cover of “TIME” Magazine. He was a true overnight sensation; going from obscurity to magazine cover boy in weeks.
The magical campaign came to an end when the second year guard underwent surgery to repair a torn left meniscus, ending his season. He became a restricted Free Agent at the end of the season and at first the Knicks said that they would match any qualifying offers given to the guard by other teams. However, New York started exploring another option; bringing back a former Knicks player who had done well in his first stint with the team.
The franchise worked on a deal that would bring veteran point guard Raymond Felton back to the squad. Former Knicks Team President Donnie Walsh, signed Felton and fellow Free Agent, forward Amar’e Stoudemire to contracts and they helped New York get off to a good start, as well as putting the franchise back into the Playoff mix for the first time in eons. The point guard flourished with the Knicks as he put up the best numbers of his career, starting all 54 games he played in and averaging 17.1 points, 9 assists and 3.6 rebounds per contest. He would not finish the campaign with New York, as he was part of the package that brought All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks.
Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets in full rebuild mode; had taken an interest in Lin, offering him a three-year offer sheet for $25 million, including a reported $14.9 million in the third year of the pact. The Knicks choice was clear, to go with a veteran player who showed over seven seasons that he could lead a team through an entire season consistently, or go with the unknown commodity in Lin.
Although he showed great potential, he was far too unproven to the Knicks management to command that amount of money. The brain-trust realized that in fifteen years, Lin could be on his way to the Basketball Hall Of Fame, or a player that never reached the level he played at last season and left the game a couple of years later. They went the safer route and chose the veteran Felton, allowing the popular player to move onto Houston.
With just about a quarter of this year’s NBA campaign in the books; it is far too early to draw any definitive conclusions on whether Houston or New York made the better decision, but early results do point in the Knicks direction. New York leads the Eastern Conference with a 15-5 mark and Felton has been a major contributor, averaging 16.5 points and 6.8 assists per contest. The Rockets have not been as fortunate, as they have a record of 9-10; leaving them out of the current Playoff picture and Lin has averaged 9.9 points and 6.1 assists per game. Impressive numbers from a player who entered the Association undrafted. but certainly not worthy of the contract he was given.
Long time NBA observers have witnessed a strong stretch or even an entire season when a player looks to be the next break-out player in the Association, only to fall back to earth the following season. Although it is too early to make any valid determinations, odds are that Jeremy Lin will end up being one of those kind of players.