Commentary

Knicks proving reality beats Linsanity

Jeremy Lin's return to New York spotlights why Knicks are better off without him

Updated: December 18, 2012, 9:17 AM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

Madison Square Garden will be packed Monday night, flooded with more memories than fans -- who will be overwhelmed more by nostalgia than reality.

No doubt, New York Knicks fans will be reminded of how Jeremy Lin came to their rescue last winter, how an energy lost for a decade was suddenly reinfused by his presence. Some have openly wished the Harvard grad were still here orchestrating things for coach Mike Woodson.

But those would be people who don't remember Lin's final days in New York. Evidently, they don't recall how he departed from the Knicks' organization, or how much better off this franchise appears to be without Linsanity.

Right here!

Right now!

The same Jeremy Lin who once was quoted as saying he was only "85 percent ready" for playoff competition, who declined to suit up and risk his future at a time when the other Knicks point guards were all hurt, is the same Lin who enters Madison Square Garden tonight with his below-.500 Houston Rockets, with very little fanfare -- and couldn't be happier about it.

He's the same Lin who took the money and ran away in a New York minute, who thumbed his nose at Madison Avenue and all that was here for him because, in his heart of hearts, he was ready to leave anyway.

He can say he thought the Knicks were going to match the Rockets' offer all he wants. But it's clear he wanted out.

The Knicks are doing fine without him, in case you haven't noticed. At 18-5, they have the best record in the Eastern Conference. They have Carmelo Anthony playing like a superstar and a league MVP. They have two point guards -- Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton -- who are better than Lin at this stage. And they'll likely play beyond April, while Lin and his crew will be watching.

Of course, the biggest blemish on the Knicks' record this early in the season came in a 28-point road loss at the hands of the Rockets, when they allowed Chandler Parsons to look like the second coming of Larry Bird. The only thing that would've made it worse is if Lin had done as much damage himself (he chipped in 13 of his team's 131 points).

"Actually, it wouldn't have made much of a difference," Knicks center Tyson Chandler said. "We played so badly. We just lost that game. There are particular nights when you just don't get it done and there's nowhere to look but at yourself. That was one of those nights. But we understand how people would've felt if Jeremy had put it on us like that."

Whatever!

After being the toast of Gotham City before departing with his $25 million to state-income-tax free Texas, we keep hearing Lin say, "It was time for me to leave."

Just recently, Lin reportedly said he couldn't wait to get his visit to New York over with, treating it as a chore instead of the celebratory opportunity some would think it should be. Considering the seven points he put up Sunday night in Toronto, who knows what to expect from Lin right now?

One should be pleased to hear Lin acknowledge that he's been "terrible" and could "play much better," because, if nothing else, you can't question his honesty. The same kid who once averaged 27 points during a six-game stretch for the Knicks has scored in single digits in 11 of the 23 games the Rockets have played this season. Lin is averaging 11 points and 6.1 assists per game.

He is responsible for running the Rockets, and his turnovers have gone down as his minutes have gone up. But the brunt of the franchise's expectations for the future fall on the shoulders of a young guard named James Harden.

There's no doubt that Lin has solid upside. He can score in bunches, evidenced by the 38 points he dropped on the Lakers in February, and the 38 he just dropped on the San Antonio Spurs a week ago. He can get to the hole at will. He's clutch, and he has some heart and a flair for the dramatic.

Yet he remains prone to mistakes. He's always had difficulty going to his left. His jump shot can best be described as streaky. He can be a liability defensively and, because former coach Mike D'Antoni has always been allergic to conventional basketball, Lin never quite learned how to excel while making sure others who were actually better (i.e., Anthony) flourished while he was on the floor.

It's just the truth, no matter what anyone is willing to admit.

"He would be fine wherever he is," Anthony, the Knicks' resident diplomat, explained recently. "He's a good kid who played out of his mind at one point last season. Personally, I'm happy for him."

I'm happy for the Knicks.

Because what Anthony needs to recall is all of the rumblings from the basketball novices who were swearing the Knicks would be better off keeping Lin and trading Melo. Everyone needs to watch how the presence of Kidd and Felton has improved ball movement, elevated Melo's game and made the Knicks a force based on something more than a heave and a prayer.

"I'm definitely ready to get it over with," Lin reiterated to reporters.

Can't say I blame him.

Linsanity was fun while it lasted. Reality is better.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

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