Commentary

Don't blame Melo for Lin's end in N.Y.

Knicks owner was ultimate judge and jury on Lin, and his verdict made no sense

Updated: July 22, 2012, 10:51 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

As his former teammate was making new friends deep in the heart of Texas, Carmelo Anthony was almost literally a world away, done scoring 19 points in a Team USA friendly in Great Britain and undoubtedly bone-tired from playing the NBA's answer to an Olympic demonstration sport.

The Jeremy Lin blame game.

Yes, it was strange seeing Lin holding up that No. 7 Rockets jersey before a mob scene of cameramen in Houston, even if his time with the New York Knicks turned out to be shorter than James Dolan's temper. Lin maintained again that he'd expected to remain employed at Madison Square Garden, at least until Dolan had his latest basketball guy, Glen Grunwald, land Raymond Felton as punishment for Lin's first-degree felony of trying to squeeze an extra $5 million and change out of the Knicks.

The same Lin who was hours away from being fired by the Knicks in February. The same Lin who wasn't even paid eight hundred grand last season while making his wildly unpopular owner the luckiest guy in town.

On muscle memory, Dolan played the fool here. His anger shaped the indefensible position of allowing a valuable 23-year-old asset to leave the graying-by-the-transaction Knicks without securing a single player or draft pick in return. The owner outdid himself in a staggering way, and it's likely true that his fair-haired franchise player, Anthony, staged his own private gold-medal ceremony the minute he heard Lin was out and Felton was in.

Much as he tried to run away from that "ridiculous contract" quote, Anthony's scrambling came in vain. "Melo didn't want Lin back, I do know that," said one source who has extensive dealings with the Knicks and their players. "Everybody in that locker room wanted Lin back except Melo and J.R. Smith."

Only here's the thing: It doesn't matter if Anthony wanted Lin gone, or if he believed that Felton, the sequel, gave Mike Woodson's Knicks a chance to end up in a better place than Mike D'Antoni's Knicks did.

Anthony doesn't control personnel decisions. His representatives at Creative Artists Agency might have their fingerprints all over the Knicks, but trades and signings aren't for Melo to make.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Lin
Debby Wong/US PresswireJeremy Lin has one man to blame for his departure from New York. And it isn't Carmelo Anthony.

Dolan and his cabinet control those. If Dolan and his cabinet wanted Lin to remain a Knick, Dolan and his cabinet would've told Anthony to find a way to make it work with the point guard for the next three years.

So as the Knicks fade into summer this weekend, soon to be buried by Tim Tebow's arrival at camp and Darrelle Revis' latest (presumed) holdout, remember not to blame Carmelo Anthony for the end of Lin-nocence in New York.

Anthony doesn't even deserve to be blamed for the semi-forced surrender of D'Antoni, who failed enough to get himself fired. But either way, Lin's removal is of far greater consequence than the removal of the overmatched coach who gave him the ball.

Dolan was the ultimate judge and jury on Lin, and his verdict made no sense. "The Knicks were the ones who told Lin to go out and get an offer from somebody else and find out what he's worth on the open market," the team source said. "Lin did just that, and then they get mad at him for doing it and cut him loose for nothing. It was really dumb."

And really damaging. Lin could've developed into a star for the Knicks or, if nothing else, an intriguing down-the-road piece to throw into a trade package to land a superior player, maybe even another CAA heavyweight the likes of Chris Paul.

Instead Dolan was so enraged by the fact Lin's third-year wage grew from a verbal commitment of $9 million-plus to a signed document of nearly $15 million that he set back his franchise who knows how many seasons.

In an interview with MSG's Alan Hahn during a Knicks summer league game, the dearly departed Landry Fields, of all people, delivered the Dolan dagger. "Poison pill?" Fields said of his buddy's Year 3 salary. "This is a Tic Tac for James Dolan."

Ouch.

"The Knicks were crazy not to match that offer sheet," said one executive who also has had extensive dealings with the Knicks and Dolan. "You just can't lose assets and get nothing in return, not when you can match and just trade him later if it doesn't work out.

"But with [Dolan] it almost always gets personal, and that's how a lot of his decisions are made. You either kiss his ring or you don't, and if you don't you become persona non grata, and that's what happened to Jeremy Lin."

Not enough people inside the Garden are willing to stand up to the big boss. John Tortorella might embrace a hopelessly flawed approach in dealing with the news media, but at least he had the guts, or something along those lines, to publicly blister Dolan after the owner spoke hopefully of winning it all.

Woodson bagged his agent -- Larry Brown's former rep -- for a more user-friendly rep (CAA, of course) in negotiations with Dolan, who would live nine lives before he'd forgive and forget Brown for the most costly 23-59 season of all time.

Grunwald? In the middle of Linsanity, he was stopped by a reporter in a Garden hallway and asked for his first public assessment of the point guard. Grunwald talked of Lin being "a great kid and a great story," talked of his hope that Lin could "keep it going" before Dolan appeared out of the blue and halted the interview.

"This is unauthorized anyway," the owner said. Dolan was smiling, but he wasn't joking, as he pulled a shrinking Grunwald away.

So now you know why the Knicks never bothered calling Phil Jackson, a figure too strong for such bunk.

Funny, but the one time the organization should've clammed up and embraced its draconian media policy, Woodson committed his first turnover of the 2012-13 season by announcing that the Knicks would match Houston's verbal offer and that Lin would be his first-stringer.

Had Woodson never said that, Lin might never have leveraged a nearly $20 million guarantee into a $25 million-plus guarantee, and the Knicks might've been the ones staging the big show the Rockets put on in Houston.

"We made an error by letting him go," Rockets owner Les Alexander said of the decision to release Lin in December. "I think we've rectified it now."

Alexander said Lin would land his team more national TV dates, and attract free agents who otherwise wouldn't be interested. The point guard expressed his appreciation for Kevin McHale's pick-and-roll system, and his belief that a creative, free-flowing offense is the way to go.

If it sounded like a jab at Woodson's insistence on isolating Anthony, again and again and again, so be it. Lin swore he had no issues with Melo or Smith and called them "great teammates last year," but when he ran down the roster of current and former Knicks he'd been in contact with, neither made the cut.

That's OK. Anthony and Lin will never be fast friends, or perfectly paired teammates on the court. But blaming Anthony for Lin's exit isn't right, not even close.

An arbitrator handed the Knicks a surprise gift, a way to keep Linsanity rolling over the salary cap, and they gave it right back. They returned Lin to the team that fired him last, the team that never thought it would get this mulligan this soon.

That's not on Carmelo Anthony. It's on the guy who signs Anthony's ridiculous checks.

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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