Mike Woodson 'Absolutely' Expects Knicks To Re-Sign Jeremy Lin
By Jared Zwerling | Special to ESPNNewYork.com
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson said restricted free agent Jeremy Lin will "absolutely" be back next season with the team.
But as the starting point guard? Woodson wouldn't commit, saying Lin "still has a ways to go" to improve his game.
"Jeremy's a big part of our team, and will he start? Only time will tell," Woodson told reporters Thursday morning at the Knicks' training facility where players had their exit interviews with the coach. "He's still got to recover from his knee and use this summer to really work on his game to put himself in the best position possible for our ballclub. He has started for our team and he has played well for our basketball team. But this summer will be very pivotal for him in terms of his improvement, and the future's very bright for him."
In 35 games during the regular season, Lin averaged 14.6 points and 6.2 assists per game. When Lin was leading the team to a 6-1 stretch in mid-March right after Woodson took over for Mike D'Antoni, five players (including Lin) were scoring in double figures, and the Knicks were averaging 100.9 points per game and holding opponents to only 86.9.
"It just depends on the team," Lin said Thursday. "Coming off the bench versus starting, that means something, but it doesn't mean that much. There are guys who play pivotal roles who come off the bench. ... I need to be a lot better. I need to make sure I'm a lot better, a lot healthier, and that's my focus for the offseason. And then once training camp starts, wherever I'm at, I'm all about trying to make that team better."
Looking ahead, the biggest area for Lin to build on, which will be a major factor as Woodson considers whether to start him, is how the guard will handle defensive pressure consistently. During the height of "Linsanity," from Feb. 6 to March 24, he averaged 4.5 turnovers per game. But Lin did cut down on his mistakes shortly before he got hurt.
Thanks to a clause in the CBA -- named after Gilbert Arenas -- no other team can offer Lin more than the $5 million mid-level exception, and the Knicks have the right to match those offers.
Therefore, Lin is considered a virtual lock to be re-signed come July 1, the start of free agency.
"There's always going to be uncertainty until the final contract is signed, so definitely nothing is set in stone," Lin said. "Nothing's set in stone until it's really written."
Woodson's comments still left the door open for the courtship of a player like Steve Nash, who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
It's been reported that Nash wants a three-year deal -- he is, after all, still playing at an All-Star level at 38 years old -- and the Knicks likely would be able to offer him only the veteran's minimum of $1.4 million.
Amare Stoudemire on Thursday reiterated that he'd welcome Nash to New York, but also expressed support for Lin.
"What team wouldn't want a two-time MVP, an assist leader, a veteran point guard? But we do have Jeremy Lin here and we have confidence in what he can do for us," Stoudemire said.
Carmelo Anthony is a "big believer" in what Lin can do next season. But, most importantly, Anthony wants Lin to recover from his left knee injury, which was operated on April 2 to repair a small chronic meniscus tear.
"I want him to get healthy, come back at full strength and see what happens from there," Anthony said. "He's still a part of the team and we want him. We love what he's done for our team, what he's done for the organization and what he's done for the city."
"I'll never forget what an organization or a person or somebody does for me. I'll remember the New York Knicks," Lin said. "They're the ones who picked me up off of waivers. They let me stay here for the season. Mike D'Antoni gave me the freedom to do everything. He trusted me more than I've had a coach trust me since college. Then with Woodson taking over, making that extra push going into the playoffs, I'll remember all of that. That will always mean something to me. I'll always want to feel like I need to give back to the organization."
Reflecting on the Miami Heat series, Tyson Chandler said the Knicks definitely missed Lin's presence on the court. Anthony averaged 27.8 points in five games, shooting 41.9 percent, but the team couldn't generate enough secondary scoring.
One of the main reasons was because the Knicks lacked a consistent pick-and-roll playmaker (Lin) who could set up Chandler and Stoudemire off screens and find J.R. Smith and Steve Novak spotting up from 3-point territory.
In fact, Novak was only 4-for-7 from beyond the arc in the series. The older and hobbled Baron Davis and Mike Bibby couldn't weave through the Heat's defense enough and Smith, who occasionally ran point, settled for too many jump shots. But Lin, at 100 percent, would've been able to put more pressure on the Heat with his quickness, ballhandling and passing.
"He's a very explosive guard," Chandler said. "I think leading up to him getting hurt, I felt like he was losing a step because he had injuries that a lot of us didn't know about. And so, that explosiveness and attack-first, getting to the cup, we could've used that for sure."
In addition to Lin, Woodson said he would love to see Smith and Novak re-sign with the team. At this point, Novak is more likely to return than Smith, who sources have said will opt out because his $2.6 million player option for next season that he can exercise is below his market value. But Smith said on Thursday that he would like to be back "without a doubt."
"Steve Novak and J.R. were a big part of what we've done so far this season and there's room for growth for them as well," Woodson said. "I would love to see those two men come back and play a big role in our Knicks' success."
The Knicks are surrounded by plenty of questions, including who will become the team's next coach and what will they do about initially replacing starting shooting guard Iman Shumpert, who's out until about December with a left torn ACL and lateral meniscus. Woodson, who hopes to earn full-time status after serving on an interim basis since March 14, addressed the latter and said he'll discuss Shumpert's situation in the coming days.
For now, it was time to reflect on a positive season.
"Nothing negative," Woodson said. "I think the experience and the kind of the season we've had from an injury standpoint, we still withstood a lot of the injuries and was able to make the playoffs. The playoffs weren't what we expected, but the fact that some of the young guys got the opportunity to experience playoff basketball. Being their first time together, and Amare and Carmelo and Tyson, the future looks very bright."