Celtics Twice Nearly Claimed Knicks’ Jeremy Lin Off Waivers

Had either of the Celtics' two waiver claims on the Knicks' Jeremy Lin gone through this offseason, he and Kevin Garnett would have been teammates instead of opponents. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Apparently, some dude on the Knicks is having a decent season. Jerry something-or-other. Played for Yale, I think.

Were he a Celtic, I might show more enthusiasm for point guard Jeremy Lin and the seven consecutive wins his team has rattled off since his move into the starting spot. And it appears I nearly got my wish… twice.

Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald reported Thursday that the Celtics twice submitted waiver claims for Lin when the Golden State Warriors cut him prior to the start of this season. The Houston Rockets claimed Lin ahead of the Celtics, cut him, and then the Knicks took him, again ahead of the Celtics. The rest is media-magnified history.

But oh, what might have been.

Lin Would Have Thrived in Boston

Though overall a feel-good story, Lin’s sudden success still bears a small shadow: the return of Carmelo Anthony. When Anthony returns, Lin will have to give back many of the 17-plus shots per night he’s averaged over the last seven games. The arrogant, needy Anthony will demand the ball whenever he’s on the court, and the humble Lin will probably give it away willingly.

If this works, the story dies. But if it fails, and Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni has to take the ball away from Anthony, a schism could form in the locker room that derails a Knicks season that finally looks back on track.

Unlike the Knicks, the Celtics don’t play selfishly. Rajon Rondo usually passes to the open shooter, whoever that may be. While that doesn’t always work – there’s really no reason to ever pass to Jermaine O’Neal or Marquis Daniels – it creates a system that rewards humility and team effort over individual skill-sets.

Lin would have succeeded in such a system. He’s said that despite scoring 20 points or more in six of the last seven games, he still sees himself as a distributor. No one distributes like Rondo does, and Lin would have learned infinitely more about passing from Rondo than garbage Knicks guards like Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas.

Lin also would have provided a scoring threat off the bench, something the Celtics have especially lacked since the loss of Brandon Bass. Lin would have covered some of the scoring lost with Bass’ knee injury, and once healthy, Bass, Lin and Chris Wilcox would have found openings in just about any defense. Just as the Celtics’ starters dominate when they play complimentary basketball, so too would the second unit.

Freeing Up Rookies as Trade-Bait

Lin also might have helped the Celtics trade for one of the other cogs they’ll need to maintain their success after this year. Lin’s arrival would have made either Avery Bradley or E’Twaun Moore redundant. Of those two, Bradley – who’s more experienced and plays far better defense – would likely have stayed. That meant the Celtics could package Moore with draft picks and a few other leftovers to get a high-caliber player – maybe even Dwight Howard.

Lin basically does what Moore does, just with more consistency and variety. Lin scores from all over the court, whereas Moore is primarily a deep-threat. Such snipers are not difficult to find: just consider how easily the Celtics got Eddie House and James Posey during the 2007-08 season.

A Lovely Fantasy

It’s a bit silly to spend time imagining what Lin would have done had he worn Celtic green. He didn’t go to the Celtics, and the Knicks didn’t do anything devious to get him. Barring time travel, nothing can be done to change the situation, and time travel won’t arrive for another 25 years, according to my friend from the future.

Still, it’s fun to dream. Lin would have anchored a Celtics bench whose offensive potential would have translated to decreased minutes and increased health for the aging starters. He would have made some his teammates more viable trading options, which in turn could have brought more talent back to Boston. And his local appeal as a Harvard alumnus would have boosted the team’s popularity in a winter in which hockey’s made a major push to steal basketball’s fans, especially in Boston.

Lin wouldn’t have solved all the Celtics problems, but he definitely would’ve helped. Instead, he’s with the Knicks. And when they play the Celtics on March 4, a pleasant dream could give way to a total nightmare.

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