Dolansanity (2012) by Matthew Miranda

DIGIPIX

What is loyalty?

A few days ago, Carmelo Anthony called the offer sheet Jeremy Lin signed with the Houston Rockets “ridiculous.” J.R. Smith, asked if the Knicks matching the offer would be a problem for other players, said, “Without a doubt. I think some guys take it personal, because they’ve been doing it longer and haven’t received any reward for it yet. I think it’s a tough subject to touch on for a lot of guys.”

Last NBA off-season, Jared Jeffries had contract offers from several teams, most for multiple years. Jeffries, who played for the Knicks in the late 2000s during their dark ages, signed a one-year deal to return. He cited the fact that as bad as the team had been before, the energy of playing at MSG appealed, as did the loyalty of the long-suffering, over-paying, “sophisticated” Knick fans.

During the year, Jeffries did what he does: he played defense. He hustled. He drew charges. He was paid the veteran’s minimum, about $1M. This is peanuts by NBA standards: Carmelo Anthony & Amare Stoudemire made $18M each last season, and as Knick duos go, STAT & Melo evoke Clyde & Pearl less than they do Lucas & Haywood, Marbury & Francis, or Marbury & college interns. During the season, Jeffries was being booed with some frequency by some of the fans. After a game where Jeffries played well and the Knicks won, then-coach Mike D’Antoni said:

“Anybody who boos Jared Jeffries has got to re-examine their life a little bit. I am sorry to have to say this — I love our fans, I like MSG, the arena — but here’s a guy who came back to us, minimum contract, he could have gone to a lot of other teams. He plays as hard as anybody could possibly ever play, with injuries, everything you ask of him. He takes every charge, every dirty play, every rebound. He works hard every second and there are people that look at that and go, ‘I think I’ll boo him.’ I have a hard time believing that…you boo what is good about America? To me it’s like, ‘Are you kidding me? Are you serious?’ To me, that’s not good. I love him anyway. He played unbelievable.”

Jeffries’ response to D’Antoni’s comments:

“Me and Coach have a great relationship and I’ll die for him. That’s why I take charges. That’s why I’ll dive out there, because he’s the best coach in the NBA. There’s no coach in the NBA that’s a better players’ coach and you see that with Jeremy Lin. No other coach in the league would have given Jeremy the opportunity that he has now. … The way we played tonight is a tribute to what Coach is able to do in getting the best out of his players.”

 

So. Recap: the coach calls the player “what’s good about America,” and the player calls the coach” the best coach in the NBA” and that he’d “die for him.”

What is loyalty?

Brad Richards works for Jim Dolan.

Carmelo Anthony who works for Jim Dolan.

Rumors persisted for months that to get Richards to NY, Dolan would have to trade half the team, a team on a nice little ascent, and pay Richards top dollar to stay.

Rumors persisted for months that to get Anthony to NY, Dolan would have to trade half the team, a team on a nice little ascent, and pay Anthony top dollar to stay.

Richards came to NY and talked about how came to win, how that’s what mattered to him.

Anthony came to NY and talked about how he came to win, how that’s what mattered to him.

Richards signed with NY rather than force a trade because the team would have to give up so much to trade for him, they’d be treading water ever after.

Anthony signed with NY after forcing a trade that meant the team gave up so much to trade for him, they’ve been treading water ever since.

Last year Richards’ team had their most accomplished season since 1997, winning 10 playoff games and nearly reaching the championship round.

Last year Anthony’s team had their most accomplished season since 2001, winning 1 playoff game.

Jim Dolan is 2nd worse owner in the NBA (Donald Sterling wins on account of the whole racist/slumlord thing). Yet Dolan has always had two things going for him: #1, a consistent history of hiring African-Americans (who he then fires or forces out soon thereafter: Don Chaney/Lenny Wilkens/Anucha Brown Sanders/soon-to-be Mike Woodson, the bell tolls for thee), and #2, a willingness to spend money.

When Linsanity began last winter, many fans couldn’t see it on TV. Dolan’s Cablevision empire was fighting with Time Warner over how to properly divide billions of dollars during a recession. Classy. The conflict grew so ugly and entrenched that eventually TW blacked out the MSG network from its customers, and therefore, blacked out the Knicks. It dragged on for weeks, maybe months; within a week of Linsanity arriving, TW did an about-face and negotiated a settlement with Dolan. MSG stock skyrocketed.

When news leaked initially this week that Dolan, furious at the perceived betrayal of Lin signing a revised & back-loaded offer sheet with Houston, would not bring Lin back, MSG stock dropped to the tune of a $36M loss.

There’s been a lot of spin from MSG about why the Knicks, who a week ago had their head coach telling the world Lin would “absolutely” be back, won’t be brought back:

Lin’s disloyal.

Lin’s manipulative.

Lin’s success came from too small a sample size.

Lin’s success was exclusively the result of the D’Antoni system.

Regarding “disloyal”:

When Carmelo Anthony was still in Denver and begging to come to NY, there were 4 players involved in the trade rumors who made it clear they did not want to be traded.

Raymond Felton had signed with the Knicks that same year and was enjoying a career year. Wilson Chandler & Danilo Gallinari had been drafted as Knicks; they were the only team they’d played for, and after beginning their careers playing for the Knicks when they were rotten, they didn’t want to leave NY on the cusp of improvement and relevance. Chauncey Billups played for Denver and was a local kid from Colorado. He was entering the later stages of his career and was vocal about not wanting to uproot his family. Denver had spoken with Billups about giving him a job with the organization once he retired.  These men are human beings with families, histories, and lives. Dolan didn’t care. ESPN and WFAN didn’t care. Fans didn’t care. When they thought Lebron might come to NY, no one talked about loyalty.

When the trade occurred, there were two men who wanted it to happen: Jim Dolan and Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks coach opposed it. Their general manager opposed it. Half the roster opposed it. Carmelo came to the Knicks only when they agreed to pay him a contract that gave him every last cent he could earn and uprooted a dozen or so other human beings in the process.

Amare Stoudemire left the Suns, perennial winners & the only team he’d ever played for, a team willing to pay him $60M, to come to the Knicks for $100M.  Since then he’s injured himself before a playoff game practicing a trick dunk, knocked himself out of the heart of a playoff series after punching the glass casing of a fire extinguisher, and called a Knick fan a “fag” on Twitter for criticizing him. No reaction from Dolan. No comment from the Knicks condemning the hate speech.

Now that’s loyalty.

Regarding “manipulative”:

From 2002-2010 the Knicks suffered the worst stretch in their 65-year history. No playoff wins. Scandal on and off the court, including a brawl when they played Denver & Carmelo Anthony sucker punched Mardy Collins, who played for the Knicks. Ticket prices went up and up and up. Fans and media were loud and clear about their disdain for Isiah Thomas, who in his time with the Knicks managed to offend their history, their fan base, MSG and non-misogynists throughout the five boroughs. Dolan stood by the human train wreck that is Zeke. Loyalty, you see.

Last year Dolan began to enjoy the fruits of profit from a billion dollar renovation of MSG. MSG does not pay property taxes and hasn’t since the early 80s. 33rd Street and 8th Avenue, for you out-of-town types, is a place that normally has pretty high property taxes. Yet this week the Knicks claim that keeping Lin and paying out an extra $20M-$30M in 2015 in luxury tax is irresponsible business and they won’t be a party to it. Since Dolan took over the Knicks gave Allan Houston a 9-figure contract. They willfully inherited the at-the-time worst contract in the league in Penny Hardaway so they could also bring in fellow monster contract Stephon Marbury. They paid Jared Jeffries (remember him?) and Jerome Jeffries 5 year/$30M contracts, with which the luxury tax at the time were doubled. They paid Eddy Curry $60M to eat his way into becoming Jerome James and sexually harass his chauffeur. In 2015 Anthony and Stoudemire will make about $50M combined. No word on how they’d screw the team’s tax bill even more than Lin does. All of a sudden, the Knicks have found religion when it comes to spending $.

Regarding “small sample size”:

About 5 years ago, at the nadir of the Isiah regime (that’s redundant: it was all one giant nadir), Steve Francis hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer in Washington to put the Knicks a half-game up as the 8th seed in the East. This is the basketball equivalent of winning a free continental breakfast…from a Days Inn…that serves continental breakfasts in already-used letter envelopes. It’s no prize. That day, James Dolan gave Isiah Thomas, public enemy #1 to the fan base, a contract extension. Before that year was over, the Knicks had collapsed again and missed the playoffs. Again.

Regarding “success due to D’Antoni system”:

A lot of clever wags have crawled out of the MSG gutter this week to whisper that Lin isn’t worth re-signing because his success occurred under Mike D’Antoni, who is to point guards what Quentin Tarantino was for John Travolta. Lin’s success came from a 25 game sample, most of which was under D’Antoni, whose system inevitably inflates point guard’s points & assists.

Raymond Felton has put up average numbers for a point guard throughout his 534 game NBA career, 480 of which occurred for coaches other than D’Antoni. The only time Felton has put up above-average numbers were the 54 games he played for D’Antoni. But Lin, the unknown quantity, is being branded a fraud for doing more in 25 games than Felton’s done in 20 times that amount of games.

Is there a racial element involved here?

Anthony calling Lin’s contract “ridiculous” seems more an illustration of Anthony’s myopic self-centeredness than anything else. But JR Smith’s comments about the deal causing problems in the locker room raise the question: is the problem that Lin, an “unproven” player, would be making more than other guys? Or is the problem that Lin, an “unproven” Asian player, would be making more than black guys and white guys?

JR Smith is a talented playmaker and an impact player with the basketball IQ of a basketball. I thought there was no way the Knicks would be able to afford to keep him, but they did, for the reasonable rate of $2.8M. If they re-sign Lin, he’d make this year double what Smith makes. Understandably, this could raise Smith’s eyebrows. But when Steve Novak signed a 4 year, $15M deal—and calling Steve Novak “one-dimensional” is a kindness to Novak and an insult to flat lines everywhere—Smith didn’t complain. When the Knicks brought in outsiders like Jason Kidd, who is almost 40 and still drinking like he’s 18, and nearly 40-year old Marcus Camby, which required trading away Jared Jeffries (thanks for the loyalty, JJ, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out), and Raymond Felton, all signed for more than Smith makes…not a peep. There are a lot of overpaid players in the NBA. Lin’s contract wouldn’t affect Smith’s paycheck one bit. Why the concern? Why the offense? If unproven players making more than veterans is such a problem, how come during collective bargaining meetings the players union never fights for a reduced rookie salary structure?

This is all, yet again, Dolan reaping what Dolan sows.

Look at this team: Tyson Chandler is there for 1 reason: the Knicks paid the most money. Stoudemire is there because the Knicks paid the most money. Anthony is there because the Knicks paid the most money. JR Smith’s dad has come out and said that Smith, who is facing financial issues including but not limited to a lawsuit regarding fines occurred for skipping practice while playing in China, chose the Knicks because they offered the most money. Camby said he chose the Knicks over the Heat because he’s an ex-Knick from the days of their Miam rivalry and he couldn’t imagine putting on the Miami jersey. If Miami could have offered the same money the Knicks did, Camby would be in South Beach. Kidd came to the Knicks after the Nets blew their load signing everyone else they could find.

Dolan doesn’t care about wins and losses; his management style and emphasis has never reflected that. The entire organization is predicated on the philosophy of get what you can get while you can get it. Cablevision has blacked out subscribers when they wanted more money; when Time Warner blacked out MSG, Dolan spent God-knows-how-much on advertising criticizing the morality of that blackout. And now Lin’s a bum because after the Knicks REFUSED to offer him a contract and decided to let the market dictate his value, their plan’s blowing up in their face. So instead of bringing back their most popular player since fill-in-the-blank (Ewing? Starks? Rick Brunson?), instead of bringing back a player who does things no one else on the roster does, instead of bringing back the only player you can afford that might raise your upside this year, they slander his reputation and look ready to let him leave.

And news leaks that it’s all for the best because next year they’ll get Chris Paul. No comment about how bringing in Paul for triple the $ Lin would get would affect their luxury tax bill. The missing piece is always an outsider, a big name, a pipe dream.

What is loyalty?

 

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