Commentary

Lin, not Nash, is Knicks' best hope

If 'Bockers want to beat Heat, getting older won't work; they'll need J-Lin to thrive

Updated: June 29, 2012, 3:59 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

The New York Knicks have problems, big problems, and chances are not a single one of them was solved Thursday night by taking Kostas Papanikolaou with the 48th pick in the NBA draft.

There's a reason 47 players were selected ahead of the Greek forward, and hey, the fates will drop from the sky only so many Jeremy Lins. But that's OK. This draft wasn't supposed to close the ever-widening gap between the Knicks and Miami Heat.

Never mind that Mike Woodson's Knicks have no better chance of catching LeBron James' Heat than Pat Riley's Knicks and Jeff Van Gundy's Knicks had of catching Michael Jordan's Bulls. Over the next three or so years, the Knicks have no choice but to try to overcome a burgeoning dynasty.

Their attempt tips off for real at the stroke of midnight Sunday, the start of free agency, when the Knicks can begin courting the likes of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd. Especially Nash, the playmaker who loves the city, lives in the city, and talks like a native New Yorker until the subject turns to money.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Lin
Debby Wong/US PresswireThe key to the Knicks' future? You're looking at him.

New Yorkers are known to make a necessary sacrifice or three, but Nash doesn't sound eager to make one in order to join the Knicks.

And that's just fine, by the way, since Lin should be getting the ball every night for 35 to 40 minutes. He's bigger, more athletic and 15 years younger than Nash, which is why nobody at the Garden should be breaking a sweat trying to make this deal happen.

Nash said he'd like an audience with the Knicks, and the Knicks should go ahead and give him one. But just as so many free agents have used New York over the years to drive up their price elsewhere, the Knicks should exaggerate their interest in the 38-year-old Nash if only to compel a potential rival to pay a bit more for the Hall of Famer-to-be.

As for actually signing Nash, the Knicks should do what the quarterback does best: pass.

It's probably a moot point, as Nash wants more than the $3 million the Knicks will likely offer out of their $5 million mid-level exception (if the Knicks offer the full $5 million scholarship, they'll face all sorts of punitive hard-cap restrictions they don't want to face). But just in case the Knicks do legitimately recruit Nash, they should remember something:

If there are a number of ways to bridge the competitive divide between New York and Miami, getting older isn't one of them.

The Knicks have to add some athleticism to better match up with the Heat, so taking a run at a young, explosive, lower-profile type such as Alonzo Gee, J.J. Hickson or Nicolas Batum -- restricted free agents all -- makes more sense than applying their mid-level money to a marquee graybeard such as Nash or Kidd or, for that matter, Andre Miller.

The Knicks have chased their fair share of aging, declining point guards over the years, and they don't need to travel down Baron Davis Drive anymore. They should give Lin his $5 million for starters, put the offense in his hands, and let the kid take them where he can.

There's little mystery here. The Knicks' one real hope of beating Miami with a core of Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire -- all of them under contract for three more seasons -- is the advanced development of Jeremy Lin.

He needs to become a star. Not a global phenomenon or the sport's answer to Tim Tebow, frontiers he has already conquered.

Lin needs to be a highly productive NBA player, night in and night out.

"And there's no question Jeremy's so driven to be that," said Peter Diepenbrock, Lin's Palo Alto, Calif., high school coach who had lunch with him on Thursday. "He doesn't have a cockiness about him, just a sincere confidence level in his ability to succeed. Going back to his own pre-draft workouts, Jeremy just reached a level where he thought, 'There's no question I'm good enough to play in this league. Just no question.'"

Now Lin believes he can grow into an All-Star, and why not? The scouts and executive who think he's dreaming are the same scouts and executives who thought the skinny kid out of Harvard who couldn't go to his left would make a nice career for himself overseas.

Diepenbrock reported that his former player's surgically repaired left knee was feeling fine, that Lin had just worked out with Knicks assistant Kenny Atkinson, and that he was turning down endorsement opportunities in favor of gym time with his fitness guys and shooting coach.

"Jeremy's not gobbling up everything he can as far as endorsements go; he said it just takes up too much time," Diepenbrock said. "This kid is working so hard on his game, and he's very motivated by the fact that some people still question and doubt him."

Some of those questions and doubts were born in Miami, where an exhausted Lin was swallowed whole in February at the end of his original Linsanity run. James and Dwyane Wade were on the same kind of mission to shut down Lin that night that Jordan and Scottie Pippen were on to shut down Toni Kukoc at the Barcelona Games way back when.

Lin's bum knee cost him his Miami mulligan in the first round of the playoffs, and nothing has changed since. Even if an arbitrator's pro-player, pro-New York ruling on Bird Rights holds up, the Knicks won't be signing a free agent from another team who can lead them past Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.

Jeremy Lin is the one who will make or break them as a championship contender. So the Knicks should ignore Nash and Kidd and Miller, spend their available cash on a young, complementary player with length and hops, and hope like hell Lin turns out to be exactly what the smart money says he'll be:

A star.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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