Forgive me for throwing out more questions than answers here, but I'm beginning to think that the Jeremy Lin saga is going to factor in significantly to the already exciting 2012 NBA offseason.
Disclaimer: the entire premise of this fanpost works under the assumption that Lin will continue to play at a high level (of course, not at the outrageously high level he's at right now, but maybe 70% as good) for the remainder of the season. Having watched his last three games, I feel confident that he will.
If my understanding is correct, the Knicks, as they stand now, can only offer him the MLE at about 5 million per year for four years at the end of the year. If Lin continues to play even half as well as he is now, I have no doubt that every team in the NBA with cap space would offer more than that for the young phenom. Hell, Wesley Matthews got the full MLE after his rookie season, and he wasn't one third as impressive as Lin is this season. All the talk about Lin taking a discount in New York is silly, as this kid isn't going to turn down (potentially) eight figures to stay in New York. If this is the case, I think there are a few different scenarios where this could affect Dallas's offseason plans:
Situation #1: Dallas Signs Lin
This is certainly not the most likely scenario, but it could actually make a lot of sense. Donnie and the Mavs have made it clear that Deron Williams is going to be a major focus of the team's future plans. They have assembled enough cap space to sign two major stars (albeit with some additional maneuvering), and they will work hard to spend that money. Assuming that Deron ends up somewhere else, Lin could be an intriguing alternative. Lin could fulfill three functions:
1. Filling the void at point guard for the foreseeable future
2. Providing additional incentive for Dwight Howard or some other star to come to Dallas.
3. Possibly providing star-level performance at (possibly) a lower price than Deron Williams, thus allowing us to retain or resign more of our current depth.
The Problems: If Lin continues to look good, he'll likely demand a pretty hefty price for a player with less than a year of real experience. There's obviously some risk involved, especially since he would be working with a new team and coaching scheme. Also, pursuing Lin could distract attention from securing Deron Williams, and vice versa.
Situation #2: The Knicks clear space to resign Lin
Barring any unfortunate problems over the rest of the season, the MLE will not be enough to resign Lin. If that's the case, the Knicks may well be tempted to create room to keep him. It makes sense for a lot of reasons. For one, Lin is insanely popular in New York, and the fans will cry bloody murder if he slips away. Also, we know that the Melo/Amare/Chandler combo was not only not the superteam New York had hoped they would be, they were downright mediocre. Now, Melo's sitting on the bench while Lin dominates games and gets the all- important wins (we could discuss the reasons for this ad infinitum, but suffice it to say that Melo takes way too many damned shots). Thus, Amare or Melo (or in a more unlikely scenario, Chandler) could be dealt over the offseason. Thus, three things could happen here:
1. Some foolish team deals for Carmelo or Amare.
2. L.A. foolishly deals for Carmelo or Amare, likely eliminating themselves from the Howard/Williams sweepstakes.
3. New Jersey finally acquires Melo or Amare, positioning themselves to potentially acquire Howard and set up a Miami-rivalling trio.
4. Dallas foolishly deals for Carmelo or Amare.
The Problems: New York will have a tough time getting rid of Carmelo or Amare in a way that allows them enough immediate cap space to resign Lin at a hefty price. Also, even though Melo and Amare are clearly not the solution in New York, they are (sort of) proven commodities, and any GM would be reluctant to dump an all-star for an not-quite-totally proven player like Lin. This is also the scenario that could hurt Dallas the most, as we know that New Jersey wanted Melo before, and he could really sway Howard's favor in their direction.
Situation #3: Someone else signs Lin
Something tells me this will be the final result of this mess. I imagine there are a handful of teams with cap space who are willing to take a flyer on a potential franchise player and talented floor general. Of course, if Lin ends up in Charlotte/Detroit/Toronto/etc., then it will likely have little or no effect on the Mavs. However, if the following teams come into play, we could see something interesting happen:
1. The Lakers find a way to sign Lin. At this point, it would likely cause them to give up on their pursuit of any other big stars, which obviously benefits us. Of course, they could still try to deal for Howard by ridding themselves of Gasol and/or Bynum (whoever is still remaining after clearing space for Lin).
2. Orlando acquires Lin, and convinces Howard to hang out in Orlando for a while. It's doubtful that this alone would convince Howard to stay in such a dysfunctional situation, but Howard has occasionally shown a bit of attachment to Orlando, so it's not completely implausible.
The Problems: This scenario seems fairly unlikely to benefit the Mavs directly. Smaller teams with lots of cap space may be more willing to gamble on Lin than teams like L.A. and Orlando that will likely have to jettison players to create cap space.
So that's it. Obviously, this rests on the powerful assumption that Lin proves that he really is the revelation that so many of us think he is this year. If that's the case however, it's clear that Lin's (restricted) free agency will shake up the 2012 FA situation quite a bit. With the list of teams pursuing Howard and Williams narrowed down more or less to Dallas, Los Angeles and New Jersey (and Chicago, and probably some other wildcards-of-the-month), the addition of another high-profile free agent to the mix makes the numbers game even more likely to play to the Mavs' benefit. Of course, a lot can and will change over the next few months, but that doesn't mean it won't be interesting.