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Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Jeremy Lin or Steve Nash?

By Jared Zwerling and Ian Begley

News out of New York is that the NBA players' union is seeking Early Bird Rights for Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak, which would enable the Knicks to still use their $5 million mid-level exception on another player -- perhaps Steve Nash.

But a verdict won't come for at least a couple of weeks. As of now, the Knicks will enter free agency starting July 1 with a full mid-level exception to use for either Lin or Nash. Most likely that will be Lin, especially because Nash may demand more than $5 million per year.

ESPN New York's Ian Begley and Jared Zwerling debated who the Knicks should pursue more. Begley argued for Lin; Zwerling took Nash.

BEGLEY: LIN IS THE FUTURE

Nash can probably continue to play at an elite level into 2013-14, but what about three years down the line?

I only bring this up because, as currently constituted, I think the Knicks have a three-year window to compete at an elite level in the Eastern Conference. That's because New York's Big Three of Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are under contract for three years.

As I said in early April, assuming all three stay healthy (a huge assumption), that should give the Knicks' a three-year window to compete. Call me Linsane, but I see the Knicks having a greater chance to break through in Year 3 than they do in Year 1 or will in Year 2. And the biggest X-factor for the Knicks in pursuit of this title is at point guard.

Again, I'll go back to this point I made in April: If they sign Nash, they'll be heading into the 2013 playoffs (assuming they make them) with a 39-year-old point guard; of course, one that was second in the league in assists per game (10.7). So it would be a solid short-term investment. No argument there. But looking further into that three-year window, Nash's age becomes more of an issue. Only one point guard in NBA history has averaged more than five assists per game after age 39 (John Stockton in 2001-02 and '02-03).

So while Nash is playing at an extremely high level now, you have to wonder if he will decline in upcoming seasons. Lin, on the other hand, is just getting started. I think he gives the Knicks a better chance to win in that final year of the three-year window -- the one in which they should have the best chance to win. So go with Lin over Nash. The move will look Linsane now, but will make sense down the road.

ZWERLING: NOW MEANS NASH

Nash has already had one foot in New York City for several years. He owns an apartment in TriBeCa, hosts an annual summer soccer event for charity called the "Showdown in Chinatown" and has even trained with the Red Bulls.

In the offseason, Nash, an unrestricted free agent, should take one more step and become a permanent fixture in the Big Apple as a Knick, which would be a better on-the-court move for the team rather than re-signing Lin.

While Lin has potential and would mean increasing international business for the Knicks, Nash's talents and experience would give the team a better boost on the court.

The Knicks' marketing campaign goes by "You, Us, We, Now," and Nash represents that final word more than Lin. The team put most of the pieces together this past season to compete for a championship, but unfortunately injuries set them back a bit. Looking ahead, with the Knicks having arguably the league's best frontcourt in Anthony, Chandler and Stoudemire (Nash's former teammate in Phoenix, by the way) and key contributors off the bench, Nash is the best free agent available for the Knicks who can tie it all together, quickly and effectively.

Nash has already proven he can lead a team far in the playoffs with a deep and talented bunch around him. Out of the five times the Suns have been to the playoffs since 2004-05 -- the first season Nash was there -- they reached the Western Conference finals three times (two with Stoudemire).

To prove Nash's value, look at what he did this past season. With Shannon Brown, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat filling out the Suns' starting five, Nash led essentially a lottery team to a 33-33 record, and they had a chance to finish as the West's eighth seed. That accomplishment should've Nash in the MVP race. And he did it at the age of 38 with no signs of slowing down, averaging a double-double of 12.5 points and 10.7 assists per game.

Nash has already said he's "not coming back to the Suns if there isn't improvement." Now, the three biggest hurdles facing the Knicks beyond their mid-level exception is: 1.) his former Suns coach Mike D'Antoni is gone; 2.) he could demand more $5 million; and 3.) Nash said he "would definitely listen" to an offer from the Heat.

Once again, it could come down to Knicks vs. Heat, but GM Glen Grunwald should make a big push for the two-time MVP.

If you're the Knicks, do you go for Lin or Nash? Leave us your comments below.

You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.

You can follow Jared Zwerling on Twitter.