Monday, February 26, 2018

BTRTN: Four-Dimensional Chess: What Does Mueller Show, and When Does He Show It?

As Robert Mueller’s investigation surges forward on all fronts, a new question emerges: when should Mueller lay down all his cards? Steve is the rare progressive who is actually nervous that Mueller might be too moving quickly.

Yes, we can despair of a nation that protects gun manufacturers more aggressively than the children brutally slaughtered by their weaponry, a country that betrays and abandons its dreamers, and a society that appears more interested in the tell-all tales of paid-off porn stars than in the clear and present danger our President presents to our democracy and to the rule of law.

But for all the patriots who crave a daily cut of surging optimism directly into their antecubital vein, look no further than the investigation Robert Mueller is leading.

It is proceeding with a rapidly quickening pace without ever giving the appearance of being rushed. It is monumental in its scope, and it is scoring results in a spree of grand jury indictments and plea bargains. In a town with more and bigger leaks than the Titanic, critical information has no more chance of escaping Mueller’s lock-down than matter escaping a black hole. A man with high integrity, relentless focus, fearless direction, professional brilliance, and managerial acumen is in the exact right place at the right time. Maybe, just maybe, our democracy is actually working. Maybe our rule of law will actually save our country.

We’ll go this far: if Robert Mueller announces that everybody on earth named Trump is clean, we’ll believe him. We’ll drop everything and move on.

But that ain’t gonna happen.

Mueller appears to have his plea-bargainers singing like regional semi-finalists on The Voice. He’s following more money than Standard and Poor’s. He’s got more email than Gmail and the guy wearing Mueller’s biggest bull’s eye has already confessed at least one crime to Lester Holt on national television. Robert Mueller is not the kind of guy who allows an investigation to go this long and this deep if he isn’t convinced that there’s some justice – and some hard time -- that needs to be served. Perhaps most significant of all: many legal analysts believe that the filings in recent weeks reveal an intent to turn fully turn the screws on Paul Manafort. The significance? Manafort may be the only person (other than Trump family members) who knows enough to fry Trump on collusion and who has not yet copped a plea. If Mueller can line up both Flynn and Manafort to testify on a collusion charge, he would possess the potentially lethal prosecution weapon of corroborating witnesses. Mueller is big game hunting for the biggest game in town.

So enamored of Mueller is the team at MSNBC that they run a promo contrasting Mueller’s game of “three-dimensional chess” with a White House that is playing “whack-a-mole.” This, however, may not be enough. We all need to hope that Mueller is actually capable of playing four-dimensional chess.

Three D, as we all know, is defined by width, height, and depth. The fourth dimension is time. As we consider all the elements in the investigation, the matter of how he manages the clock may be as vital to the outcome as anything.

Our first observation is simple. If Robert Mueller comes to the conclusion that crimes have been committed against the United States of America, he will not be content to have spent these years of his life investigating and proving a case, only to Fed Ex it over to the Department of Justice, which – if under Donald Trump’s thumb – could elect to sit on the report and never even bother to send it to Congress for review. Robert Mueller is a prosecutor. If he feels crimes have taken place, he will want to prosecute the offenders and see justice fully served. He will want to win his case.

The reason that the timing of events – specifically, the delivery of the final report – is so crucial is that the impeachment process is a far more political than legal process. A criminal court may have very specific definitions of misdemeanors and felonies, but the vote on articles of impeachment and a subsequent trial rests purely and wholly on whether the legislators in Congress believe that the President’s actions rise to the utterly vague constitutional definition of an impeachable offense: “high crimes and misdemeanors.” While precedent and matters of law will certainly be weighed, the fact is that the technical definition of a “high crime or misdemeanor” is whatever individual federal legislators happen to believe it is.

In our pathetically partisan nation, the issue of Donald Trump’s guilt or innocence may well turn on which party holds each chamber of Congress and by what margin.  If Mueller’s report is delivered to a Republican House of Representatives, then a Republican-led House Judiciary Committee would have to determine whether there is even reason to draft articles of impeachment. In the unlikely event that were to happen, the articles would have to be approved by a majority of a Republican House of Representatives. Again, highly unlikely.

There are those who believe that the best possible timing for Robert Mueller to deliver his comprehensive chronicle of Trump misdeeds is right before the 2018 mid-terms, as this would increase the likelihood that the anticipated “Blue Wave” would be solidified and amplified by the chapter and verse detailing of allegations. The reasoning is that this would best ensure that a Democratic House is seated in 2019, creating a far higher likelihood that articles of impeachment would be passed and force a trial.

However, this is a gambit that carries great risk. The minute Robert Mueller turns over his final report to the Department of Justice, he is no longer in control of the investigation.  As soon as he turns over his findings to the Department of Justice, he has handed the authority for all subsequent steps to the Republican-led Department of Justice, then the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee, and then the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. The entire impeachment process could be shut down cold at any of these three stages… before it ever gets to trial.

Indeed, if Republicans were smart, they would tell Trump to stop threatening to fire Mueller -- a step which would create a raging firestorm of protest -- and instead call for Rod Rosenstein to impose a deadline on Mueller’s investigation. If Republicans argued that Mueller’s investigation is “dragging on” and “damaging the White House with no evidence of wrongdoing,” they could demand that he file his report by July. It would appear to be a far more reasonable step than firing Mueller.  Most important, it would give Republicans plenty of time to assess the charges and dismiss Mueller's the findings while they still control the House.

Were such a scenario to unfold, you reason, wouldn’t the Democrats simply re-introduce articles of impeachment after the mid-terms? This raises a fascinating question… can a sitting President be subject to such double jeopardy? Ordinary citizens are protected from being prosecuted twice for the same crime. If the Republicans were to bring articles of impeachment to the House floor and vote them down, would that effectively preclude the Democrats from re-litigating the matter in 2019? Sure, Democrats could rewrite the articles of impeachment and submit a new brief for evaluation to the House, but a weary public could decide that such a Democratic maneuver was purely political and demand that Congress move on.

While preparing this post, I discussed these issues with my college classmate Peter, a veteran attorney who closely follows our unfolding national narrative. Peter cautioned me that the world of prosecuting crime is one that must proceed on its own pace, governed only by the prosecuting attorney's sense that all necessary evidence has been collected, as many documents as possible have been reviewed, all interviews completed, all theories examined, all witnesses heard. He notes that there are inevitably many moving parts and unpredictable turns. In a case with the astonishing complexity of this one, it may be simply impossible to try to factor in the realpolitik of timing into the process. But I take some comfort in the implication that that this means Mueller's work is not likely to be resolved soon.

Yes, my college friend is correct: Robert Mueller must manage his case, his witnesses, his disclosure of critical information, and his process of reaching conclusions at the methodical pace required to lead to the right answer for our nation.

But our hope is that he is weighing the sad reality that if he delivers an undeniable case to a Republican House of Representatives, they will quickly find a way to deny it. Due to the ridiculous polarization of our politics, there is the very real possibility that Republicans in the DoJ or House could slam the door on his work.

We hope we see Mueller’s grand finale only after a new Congress is sworn in. As eager as we all are to see that justice is done, it may have a far greater chance of being done when the calendar shifts to 2019.

There may be Republicans who read this piece and are angered at what they perceive as cynical advocacy... an attempt to stall and manipulate the calendar in a way that twists what should be a non-partisan process for political ends.

Please do tell them to send Mitch McConnell and Neil Gorsuch my very best. 



Saturday, February 24, 2018

BTRTN: Young Voices Carry

Tom with the “SaturData Review” which updates key political indicators and highlights other pertinent info from the week. 

The week was completely dominated by the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shootings, as young survivors of the massacre utterly refused to allow the gun control issue to fade into the fog of grief and inaction, cutting through the usual pat NRA-bullet-point defense that normally carries the GOP through the thicket.  Rather, GOP gun hardliners – notably Marco Rubio at the CNN Town Hall – mumbled words previously foreign to their lips in the face of the intense and raw pressure of the students.  Rubio’s position actually evolved on that stage, to the point where he appeared to be backing upping the age to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21 (as with handguns), banning bump stocks and tougher background checks.  You could almost feel Wayne LaPierre’s blood pressure rising.

Image result for rubio gets pummeled at cnn town hallDonald Trump, discovering exactly how bad this issue is for Republicans, suddenly started floating support for some of those same ideas before finally settling firmly on the NRA-backed position: let’s put more guns in the schools!   Let’s arm teachers, not just any teachers, but military-based, weapons-friendly ones!   Why, Trump estimated, some 10 percent of all teachers today have such a background!  Since we here at BTRTN are careful about numbers, we in turn estimate that Trump is almost certainly off here, perhaps by as much as – ten percentage points.

The absurdity of this idea put off the notion that Trump may take the “Nixon in China” route of leading his own constituency to a more progressive future.  Trump may also be trying to replicate his negotiating stance on immigration, in which he tries to wrap the various age, bump stock, background check modifications positions with hard-line ones such as arming the teachers.  That approach, of course, failed on the immigration talks, when the Dems did not accept “a path to citizenship” in exchange for a conservative-dream-list of regressive immigration policies (including, of course, The Wall), proving once again that Trump and his White House team have no idea how to navigate deals, D.C. style.

Trump’s very notion of arming teachers was quickly undermined by the revelation that an actual armed guard was patrolling the campus at the time of the shooting and failed to ever enter the building to confront the shooter.  If an armed guard cannot be relied on to do the job he was trained for, imagine how teachers may respond.  And one can only imagine how many more accidental deaths would occur if classrooms were full of guns.

Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have been completely silent thus far, and they, of course, not Trump, hold the keys to legislation.  But this time the noise is not going to fade, as a million-plus people will descend on Washington on March 24, and countless others in municipalities across the country will march as well.  Even if legislation fails yet again, Trump now has completed a quadfecta – having outraged women in the #MeToo movement, Hispanics with the immigration hardline, and African-Americans in Charlottesville, he has now incited the youth vote, and they will all join with other Democrats to create a crushing machine come November.  That is the point of these marches – to allow people to see that far from being alone, they are a mighty force that can be an organized political power.  The youth vote is all-too-often the sleeping giant.  But this time, the giant has been provoked.

The Mueller investigation raced forward with a gathering force, as Rick Gates copped a plea to another sweetheart deal that can only mean he has plenty of goods to deliver (the same light treatment as Mike Flynn received months ago, presumably with even more to offer).  Mueller also indicted a lawyer from Skadden Arps for lying to the FBI, making clear that he will throw the book at those who dare to prolong a cover-up.  And it is also clear that the Mueller investigation is putting pressure on Jared Kushner, preventing him, at the very least, from securing proper security clearance, which in turn has now put him in the crosshairs of John Kelly, who wants to clean up the clearance mess in the White House.

All the while Trump fumes, unhappy with John Kelly, with Rod Rosenstein, with Christopher Wray, with Jeff Sessions and with Robert Mueller, and uncertain how to navigate yet another crisis.

The major political indicators showed marginal movement.  Trump’s approval rating held at 43%, though his “net negative” fell one point to -11.  The Dems gained another point in the generic ballot and are now at a formidable +8, and the Trumpometer held at +13.  The full chart and explanations are down at the bottom.

Last 4 Weeks
SaturData Review
Jan 2017   Inaug.
Jan 2018 Year 1
Wk ending   Feb 2
Wk ending   Feb 9
Wk ending   Feb 16
Wk ending   Feb 23
Trump Approval
48%
41%
43%
44%
43%
43%
Trump Net Approval
+4 pp
-14 pp
-10 pp
-10 pp
-10 pp
-11 pp
Generic Ballot
D + 6
D + 6
D + 6
D + 7
D + 7
D + 8
Trumpometer
0%
+19%
+13%
+11%
+13%
+13%

POLITICAL STAT OF THE WEEK

There is a brand new CBS poll that captures the state of play in public opinion on major gun control policies.  There is majority support for a wide variety of measures, all except allowing more teachers to carry guns.


‘*******************************************************
Here is the complete SaturData chart with accompanying methodology explanations:

SaturData Review
Jan 2017   Post-Inaug.
Wk ending   Feb 16
Wk ending   Feb 23
Change vs. Last Wk
Change vs. Jan 2017
Trump Approval
48%
43%
43%
0 pp
-5 pp
Trump Disapproval
44%
53%
54%
+1 pp
+10 pp
Trump Net Approval
+4 pp
-10 pp
-11 pp
-1 pp
-15 pp






Generic Ballot
D + 6
D + 7
D + 8
+1 pp
+2 pp






Trumpometer
0%
+13%
+13%
0 pp
+13 pp
Unemployment Rate
4.7
4.1
4.1
0%
13%
Consumer Confidence
114
125
125
0%
10%
Price of Gas
2.44
2.72
2.68
2%
-10%
Dow-Jones
19,732
25,219
25,304
0%
28%
Most recent GDP
2.1
2.6
2.6
0%
24%

Methodology notes:

BTRTN calculates our weekly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.

For the generic ballot, we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Trumpometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Trump Inaugural on January 20, 2017. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump took office.
The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline, and the GDP.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

BTRTN: Part 4: The Jeremy Lin Saga Continues: Devastation

We take a break from our political coverage for the fourth annual installment on the remarkable career of Brooklyn Nets’ point guard Jeremy Lin. The first, "The Strange and Badly Misunderstood Career of Jeremy Lin" was published three years ago and examined the many twists and turns Lin's career had taken from his Linsanity days with the Knicks until that time, February, 2015, when Lin was in the midst of a lost year with the Lakers.
Part 2, published two years ago, was titled "The Jeremy Lin Saga Continues...JLin Strikes Back as a Hornet," a hopeful chapter that covered the second half of his Laker madness, a strong second half that set up his signing and ultimate redemption as a role player with the Charlotte Hornets. 
Last year’s Part 3 (“Hamstrung”) covered the remainder of his Hornets tour, through the signing with the Nets and his maddening, injury-laced first year with them, through last year’s All Star break.  And now Part 4 picks up the story from then.
Through the twists and turns of his remarkable saga he remains the controversial enigma that sparks a full gamut of emotions from NBA fans.  The central thesis of these articles is that we do not know -- and may never know -- his true ceiling as an NBA player.  Even after seven seasons, Lin is viewed along a wide spectrum, polarized evaluations that range from over-hyped G Leaguer to potential superstar.  The truth surely lies in between. 

The Nets Post-All Star Break, 2017

The wait was finally over, again. Jeremy Lin was set to return to the Brooklyn Nets’ lineup after the 2017 All-Star break, having missed 44 of the Nets’ first 56 games with three separate hamstring injuries.  The last of these occurred while he was rehabbing, prolonging his second absence to almost two months, 26 games in total, and this after having missed 18 games earlier in the season with his first injury.

Image result for jeremy lin brooklyn netsPrior to the 2016-17 season, the Nets had been viewed with some modest optimism.  They had been the worst team in the NBA in 2015-16, with just 21 wins, but under hungry new leadership – first time General Manager Sean Marks, with a Spurs’ front-office pedigree, and first-time coach Kenny Atkinson – the Nets had turned over much of the squad in a short amount of time.  Lin’s signing was the centerpiece of the off-season overhaul, and his pairing with center Brook Lopez, among the best players in Nets’ history, offered more than just a fortuitous marketing pitch (“Brook-Lin!”), but a true pick-and-roll engine to the offense.  Nevertheless, the duo was surrounded by an underwhelming collection of the young and the raw, draftees (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert) and the old and the well-worn, veteran players Marks had found in the value bin (Trevor Booker, Luis Scola, Randy Foye).  The most optimistic scenario had the Nets winning only 30 games, tops.

But the Lin injuries shelved that optimistic scenario, with the first occurring in fifth game of the season.  And after Lin went down for the second time, in late December, the Nets truly staggered, losing at an historic rate; in those 26 games leading up to the All-Star break, the Nets lost fully 25 of them.  The primary cause could be placed directly at the point guard slot:  veteran back-up Greivis Vasquez lasted even fewer games than Lin, his surgical ankle never truly recovering, ending his NBA career after only three games as a Net.  Rookie Isaiah Whitehead, a second-round pick, showed true “Brooklyn grit” when thrust into the starting role, but he was a project and delivered ugly stat lines game after game, even as he showed determined improvement. 

Another rookie, Yogi Ferrell, also flailed, and the Nets picked up the unheralded G Leaguer Spencer Dinwiddie as another option.  The Nets had to choose between Ferrell and Dinwiddie; they chose Dinwiddie, and Ferrell, promptly picked up by Dallas, proceeded to enjoy a minor Linsanity-esque boomlet as an instant starter in Dallas.  Dinwiddie fared little better than Whitehead, and journeymen Randy Foye (too old) and Sean Kilpatrick (miscast) also saw time at the point, without success.  The Nets were, quite simply, an overmatched, rudderless, disorganized mess on offense, and they were a poor defensive team to boot.

So we pick up the story as of one year ago, with Lin’s return after the All-Star break, which was, quite simply, a godsend to the reeling team.  Though Lin was on a minutes restriction, initially 15 minutes a night, then 20 and 25, the Nets showed immediate life with his return, and the wins came faster the more he played.  Finally, it was his team, his ball, his show to run.  And for 24 games, run it he did.

In those games (of the 26 games after the break, he missed one more due to a minor injury, and sat out the last game of the season), the Nets went 10-14, a serious upgrade from the 1-25 in the immediate period without him.  For the year, the Nets were 13-23 with Lin, a .361 percentage; not terribly scintillating, to be sure, but dead on track with the 30-win prediction, and way ahead of the 7-39 record the Nets had scuffled to without him, an abysmal .152 clip.  By season’s end, the Nets managed 20 wins overall, and while that was one win less than in 2015-16, with Lin they were clearly on the upswing.

Lin’s impact on the team was evident in the ”eye test,” as the Nets were simply far more fluid and effective under his veteran leadership.  The classic Lin trademark – the disruptive drive to the rim --  was there, invariably leading to a twisting lay-up, a resounding foul, a dump to Lopez for an easy bucket, or a kickout to LeVert for a three.  His long-range shooting was markedly improved as well, and his on-ball defensive presence and down-the-stretch leadership all came back in spades.  The Nets’ “motion offense” may have limited the “Brook-Lin” pick-and-roll possibilities (except at crunch time), but both players adapted well to the offense, with Lopez transforming into the rare “stretch-5,” hoisting a whopping 387 three’s for the season, more than ten times the 31 he had launched in the entire first eight seasons of his NBA career – and hitting a more than respectable 35% of them.

Lin was not the only reason the Nets veered sharply toward respectability in the last months of the season.  Certainly the development of Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was a factor, as was Atkinson’s discovery of a set line-up, featuring Lin at point guard, Foye at the 2, the rookie LeVert at the 3, Hollis-Jefferson at the 4 and Lopez at the 5.  This rather surprising line-up, especially with the career point guard Foye and the spindly Hollis-Jefferson seemingly out of position, was supported by a decent second unit that featured an improving Dinwiddie at PG, Sean Kilpatrick, Joe Harris, Booker and Quincy Acy. 

Apart from the “eye test,” statistically Lin had his finest season since Linsanity, despite the minutes restrictions, with career highs in three-point shooting, shooting efficiency and rebounds, and a virtual tie in points per game.  And on a per-36 basis, he averaged a gaudy 21/6/8 slash line of points, rebounds and assists per game.

Lin Career Statistics Through 2016-17
Season
Tm
G
MP
FG%
3P%
eFG%
FT%
TRB
AST
STL
TOV
PTS
29
9.8
0.389
0.200
0.396
0.760
1.2
1.4
1.1
0.6
2.6
35
26.9
0.446
0.320
0.478
0.798
3.1
6.2
1.6
3.6
14.6
82
32.2
0.441
0.339
0.490
0.785
3.0
6.1
1.6
2.9
13.4
71
28.9
0.446
0.358
0.508
0.823
2.6
4.1
1.0
2.5
12.5
74
25.8
0.424
0.369
0.473
0.795
2.6
4.6
1.1
2.2
11.2
78
26.3
0.412
0.336
0.464
0.815
3.2
3.0
0.7
1.9
11.7
36
24.5
0.438
0.372
0.510
0.816
3.8
5.1
1.2
2.4
14.5
Per 36 Minutes
Season
Tm
G
MP
FG%
3P%
eFG%
FT%
TRB
AST
STL
TOV
PTS
29
36.0
0.389
0.200
0.396
0.760
4.3
5.3
4.2
2.3
9.6
35
36.0
0.446
0.320
0.478
0.798
4.1
8.3
2.1
4.8
19.6
82
36.0
0.441
0.339
0.490
0.785
3.4
6.8
1.8
3.2
14.9
71
36.0
0.446
0.358
0.508
0.823
3.3
5.2
1.2
3.1
15.6
74
36.0
0.424
0.369
0.473
0.795
3.7
6.4
1.5
3.1
15.7
78
36.0
0.412
0.336
0.464
0.815
4.4
4.1
1.0
2.6
16.1
36
36.0
0.438
0.372
0.510
0.816
5.5
7.5
1.7
3.5
21.3

Delving into the fancier modern stats, Line also recorded a career high PER of 19.3, and his “on/off” stats validated his value to the Nets.  When he was on the court, the Nets, still a below-.500 team, were outscored by three points, 106-103, but when he was off the court, the Nets were drubbed by seven points, 108-101.

While Lin was effective from the get-go, even under the minute restrictions, he finished with a crescendo.  It all came together in the last five games of the season (that he played), of which the Nets won three, and Lin, finally unrestricted and playing 30 minutes per game, compiled averages of 20 points, 5 assists and 7 rebounds per game, while shooting 48% overall and a sizzling 54% from the three (hitting 13 of 24 shots).  He went for 26 against Boston and 32 versus Orlando, and sent the team and its fans into the offseason with playoff dreams for 2017-18, even apart from what magic Marks might pull off in the off-season.

The Off-Season

For the first summer three years, Jeremy Lin did not have to wonder or worry about a new address.  In 2014 he had been traded to the Lakers; in 2015 he signed with Charlotte as a free agent; and in 2016 he signed with the Nets.  For once, he could focus on simply improving on his stellar second half with the Nets, secure in his role as the starting point guard of the up-and-coming Brooklyn Nets.

But life is never completely predictable when it comes to Jeremy Lin’s NBA career, nor is it often kind.  The bombshell that hit the wires on June 20 was that the Nets had traded Lopez and a first-round pick for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov (the latter a salary dump).  Russell was the key to this deal, with the Nets parting with their all-time leading scorer and face of the franchise to acquire a young talent to build around – and one who happened to play Jeremy Lin’s position, point guard.

Russell was the #2 pick in the 2015 draft as a 19-year old wunderkind, but his two years with the Lakers had not been smooth.  DLo (as he was known) had built up some impressive numbers for a teenager (14 ppg, 4 apg), but his game also had many rough edges, and his off the court maturity was a question as well. In his first year he had to deal with old school c­­oach Byron Scott as well as the Kobe Bryant farewell tour, and Jeremy Lin fans certainly know how toxic that mix could be for anyone, much less a player so young.  But Russell’s game had not progressed under Luke Walton in his second year, and Lakers’ president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson, was ready to jettison Russell, who he believed was not a “leader.”  Johnson has his eye on a local phenom, UCLA’s heralded Lonzo Ball.

For Lin fans, the Russell signing raised the one question they thought was settled: who would run the Nets?

In time the basic in-going answer emerged: Lin would be the point, Russell would play the 2, but in the Nets’ motion offense, with the implied 30-minute max playing time limit, the pair would basically share the ball-handling duties.  And whether this would work or not dominated Net fans’ offseason discussions.

Despite not having a lottery pick (long surrendered in the franchise-fortune -changing failure of the 2013 deal with the Celtics that netted aging future Hall-of-Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce at the expense of the Nets future for years on end), Marks did significantly upgrade the team.  In a salary dump heist, the Nets acquired solid veteran forward DeMarre Carroll from Toronto, along with first- and second-round draft picks, for third-string center Justin Hamilton.  Marks finally secured three-point sharpshooter Allen Crabbe from Portland, the target of his restricted free agent signing attempt the summer before (Portland matched the expensive deal).  The Nets drafted 19-year old Jarrett Allen from Texas with the late first round pick they secured in the trade deadline swap with the Wizards for Bojan Bogdanovic.

Marks handiwork resulted in the acquisition of both veteran talent and youthful potential.  Most prognosticators again forecast a 30-win team, but Nets fans foresaw the team competing for the #8 seed in the playoffs, noting the teardowns being undertaken in Chicago and Atlanta.  Hopes were high that Lin and Russell would mesh and lead the team into April.


The Nets 2017-18

That optimism lasted precisely through three-and-a-half quarters of Game 1 of the new season.  The Nets opened at Indiana, the perfect team against which to measure themselves, since the Pacers had clawed their way into the playoffs the year before as the 7th seed.  The Nets hung with the Pacers throughout the game and were trailing by 7 when Lin returned for the stretch drive with 7:13 to go in the game.  About two minutes later, Lin flew to the hoop untouched for a lay-up, but for a goaltending call.  But by the time that call was made, Lin was in agony on the floor, clutching his knee, looking wide-eyed to the Nets’ bench and screaming “I’m done!  I’m done!”   Lin was the first to know his season was over; the later diagnosis of a torn patellar tendon merely confirming the obvious.

(On a personal side-note, I had to attend a charity function that evening, and turned on the car radio after the event while there was about eight minutes to go in the game.  That two-plus minute stretch that I just described would be the only Lin action I would experience all year.)

The Nets went on to lose by 9 in a high-scoring affair.  The game was ragged; Lin himself overcame a shaky start (two turnovers in the first four minutes) to score 18 in just 25 minutes, on 5-12 shooting, 1-2 from the three, 7-7 from the foul line, 4 assists and 3 turnovers.  This would be his stat line for the entire season.

Among Marks’ goals in the offseason were to ensure the Nets were better protected in the event of another Lin injury.  Three hamstring injuries in one season do not inspire confidence that an 82-game season is in the offing for Lin, no matter how sturdy Lin had been during his career up to then (Lin had played in 305 of 328 games in his prior four seasons, or 93% -- and this included one rather infamous “DNP-Coach’s Decision” under Byron Scott).  In acquiring Russell, Marks ensured the Nets were covered in this instance; he also saw combo promise in Caret LeVert; and he could also hope that Dinwiddie and Whitehead might develop as well.

Thus the D’Angelo Russell era began in earnest, without the benefit of the veteran cover Lin would have provided.  It was Russell’s ball and his tendencies were on full display.  And, unlike in 2016-17, the Nets showed the “Brooklyn Grit” that their clever marketing plans promised, winning 5 of their first 12 games, and appearing poised to deliver on the 30-win prediction despite the loss of Lin.

Russell played with an undisciplined verve befitting a hugely talented 21-year old.  He whipped blind passes surgically, showed off his “handle” with mesmerizing finesse and, more than anything, showed no hesitation about hoisting it up.  And score he did, averaging over 21 points in just 28 minutes per game.  He also managed 6 assists per game and dominated the Nets’ offense to the tune of a whopping “usage” figure of 35, a rarefied level that was previously reserved for only Russell Westbrook and James Harden.  And many saw a superstar in the making, with an unlimited ceiling.

Others were more reserved in their judgment, noting other stats that point to a far-from-finished product:  the alarming shooting rate, the highest in the league among point guards (at 22 shots per 36 minutes); the astonishing propensity for turnovers, 4 per game, a rate that would even make Lin blush, which contributed the denominator to the worst assist-to-turnover ratio in the NBA among over 80 point guards.  His three-point shooting was also surprisingly poor at 30%, as was his free throw percentage of 68%, and he showed an alarming indifference on the defensive end of the court.

But…but…but…he was only 21 years old, and there was every right to expect that under Atkinson’s guidance – the coach being a well-known youth-whisperer who once upon a time, as an unknown Knick assistant, tutored an even more unknown Jeremy Lin, readying him for his Linsanity moment – these flaws would be honed away, some degree of discipline and judgment would emerge, and the franchise centerpiece would develop.  DLo had talent, to be sure.  It seemed the Nets were on their way.

But Russell was not the only reason the Nets were on the rise and better-protected in the Linjury scenario.  Carroll, acquired as a salary dump, proved far more valuable than anticipated, contributing solid offense, defense and, in Lin’s absence, veteran savvy that translated into the team leader slot.  Crabbe, while not shooting with the same accuracy as in Portland, was a vast upgrade over Foye.  But more to the point, the youngsters were clearly on the rise.  Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the proverbial pogo-stick, had harnessed his energies more productively, and developed a killer turnaround jumper to boot.  Caris LeVert also was showing tremendous two-way promise and, in returning to the bench with Carroll’s arrival, strengthened it considerably.  And Joe Harris emerged as a rotation-player, with a deadly three-point jumper (with Crabbe in a shooting funk and Lin out, Harris was the most reliable long-range shooter).   And though little used at the outset, Jarrett Allen showed flashes of promise in the early going. 

All of the upgrades helped to overcome, or at least offset, the demise of “Brook-Lin,” and gave Nets fans something they thought they were not going to see when Lin went down – competitive basketball. And this was a credit to the coach as well.  Atkinson might drive die-hard Net fans crazy with his substitutions and spreading of the minutes, and the Nets’ vaunted conditioning team might be ever-so-cautious about sending injured players into the fray prematurely – but the team played hard, consistently, night after night, no longer as easy mark on a long NBA schedule. Teams might beat the Nets, but they had to work at it.

But the basketball gods rarely shine their light on the Nets, instead hurling devastating thunderbolts with regularity.  The franchise’s high water mark did not even come in the NBA, but rather with two championships in the ABA back when Julius Erving wore the red, white and blue of the then New York Nets in Hempstead, Long Island, under Kevin Loughery in the mid-1970’s.  Since then, it was a seemingly never-ending cycle of pain, from the tragic death of budding superstar Drazen Petrovic in 1993 to the front-office basketball tragedy of the Garnett/Pierce trade, which ultimately yielded neither a single 50-win season nor postseason success (they lost three out of four postseason series, never reaching the conference finals) before falling apart – and the Nets became a consistent lottery team without the lottery picks that should have been their due reward.

And thus the thunderbolt downed D’Angelo Russell, felled by a knee injury in Game 13.  And much like Lin the year before, what seemed to be a relatively routine injury resulted in a mammoth absence; it would be more two months and 32 lost games before he would return.  And despite all of Marks’ plans, the Nets were forced to rely on the same duo to man the point as the year before, Spencer Dinwiddie and Isiah Whitehead, with perhaps some Caris LeVert (normally a swing 2/3) getting some action as well, much as the since-departed Sean Kilpatrick had done, with limited success, in 2016-17. 

But this time there was a silver lining, as Spencer Dinwiddie stepped forward to play a brand of basketball that, if not quite “Dinsanity” was robust enough.  Quite suddenly, Dinwiddie emerged with play worthy of veteran NBA starters, if not stars, smoothly guiding the Nets offence with an emphasis on controlled play, deft passing, acceptable shooting and near-epic status down the stretch of tight games.  Dinwiddie won a few and missed a few, but he was as fearless as Lin when it came down to final possessions.

Dinwiddie’s emergence kept the Nets more than afloat.  In the 32 games the Nets were missing both Lin and Russell, the team managed to win 11 of them, a .344 percentage that was just a notch lower than the .385 clip that preceded Russell’s injury (and far better than the 1-25 disaster the year before).  Dinwiddie was a find, averaging 12 points and 7 assists per game, and flat out leading NBA point guards with an astonishing 4.4 assists-to-turnover ratio.  And he captured the imagination not just of Nets fans, but of the entire league, spawning an All-Star campaign that, while falling short of that honor, certainly contributed to Dinwiddie being selected for the “Skills Competition” over All-Star Weekend, an event he ended up (naturally) winning.

Dinwiddie too has rough edges in his game.  His shooting is a bit suspect, at 39% overall and 34% for the three, both below average.  He plays adequate but not lock-down defense, and is not as disruptive as either Lin or Russell.  As noted, at times he is guilty of “hero ball” down the stretch, and in general could be better at kicking out to an open man on the perimeter off the drive.  But for a second round pick scraped off the G League pile, Dinwiddie was an unbelievable find, and he became Exhibit A in the “Marks is a Genius” catalogue.

So the Nets held on until Russell’s return in Game 46, and there the season took a perplexing, and downward turn.  Russell was clearly rusty at the outset of his return, and that is being charitable.  Perhaps his knee was still bothering him, or he was being unduly cautious; maybe he did not like coming off the bench, or the minutes restrictions.  But for whatever reason, he was simply atrocious.  The prior year, Lin was productive as soon as he returned, even in 15-minute stints, but Russell was not, and the draught went on for 10 agonizing games before DLo finally returned to some semblance of form in the week prior to the All-Star break.  But his overall post-injury stat line of 11 points per game (despite hoisting up shots at a 20 per 36 minute rate), 4 assists and 3 turnovers on 37% shooting and 25% from the three was concerning to all but the most die-hard Russell fans, and perhaps even to some of them.

But apart from the point guard dynamics, the team itself went into a tailspin, losing 11 of 14 after Russell returned, including the last seven before the All-Star break.  Apart from Russell’s struggles, Hollis-Jefferson and LeVert were out with injuries over this stretch, and the Nets fell to among the worst records in the league.  The bright spots were Jarrett Allen entered the starting line-up at this time and showed major potential, a huge uptick in Allen Crabbe’s production, and continued fine play by Dinwiddie.

The All-Star break was a time to regroup and develop a strategy for maximizing the development opportunities for the Nets in the second half of the year.  Marks made several deals in the course of the season, swapping hustling vet Trevor Booker for another high-ceiling lottery pick from the 2015 draft, center Jahlil Okafor, nabbing another great shooting, Nick Stauskas in the deal as well.  Tyler Zeller was shipped to Milwaukee for a second-round pick and Rashad Vaughn, and Vaughn was quickly flipped for peppy forward Dante Cunningham.  The Nets got ever younger with these deals, with Okafor the primary project, and he showed flashes of offensive might but defensive lethargy in his short stints on the floor.

The key question facing the Nets now, with the playoffs out of the question, is how will Atkinson use these final 23 games?  Presumably Russell will return to the starting lineup at some point, but will he replace Dinwiddie, or instead return to the Lin/Russell formulation in which both Dinwiddie and Russell start and share ball-handling duties?  This could force Crabbe to the bench, which is unfortunate because his final four games before the All-Star break were sensational, averaging 25 ppg on 51% shooting overall and 43% from the three, finally showing his potential in spades.

Crabbe could swing down to the 3, but that would force Carroll to the bench, and he has been a consistent stabilizing force.  Carroll is a veteran, though, and not likely to be in the Nets long-term plans.  Presumably Hollis-Jefferson and LeVert will return soon, and Jarrett Allen and Jahlil Okafor will split time at the 5.

Going Forward

Meanwhile, Jeremy Lin has been toiling away, rehabbing mostly in Vancouver, “rebuilding” his entire body, as he put it, learning how to fall more gracefully at the end of his headlong drives, and planning no significant changes in his playing style.  Lin has been in constant touch with Atkinson and the team, and recently he picked up the player-option for the third and final year of his $36 million contract, to no one’s surprise, given his obvious lack of leverage in the marketplace given his injury (a marketplace that will be tight on money due to few teams with cap space.)

The play of both Russell and Dinwiddie and his own injuries have thrown the Nets into rampant speculation about where they go from here, much like a quarterback controversy in the NFL.  If the various fan sites are any indication, there are many separate theses in the mix.

The Russell fans want DLo installed as the starting point guard.  That’s the primary plan, and the fate of Lin or Dinwiddie is secondary.  They consider DLo’s upside as a point guard worth any steps that need to be taken to find it.  This would include exploring Lin trades on draft day, which seems unlikely.

The Lin fans, of course, would rather re-set the clock back to 2016-17.  They assume Lin will recover, at close to 100%, and they would be content with he and Russell starting in the backcourt with a now established Dinwiddie backing them both.  All they want is Lin to play 82 games and get 30 minutes a night.  If he has to do it in a shared-combo role, so be it.  Most of them believe DLo, for all his gifts, is ill-suited to the point given his addiction to shooting and his turnover propensity, and would more likely find his star as a shooting guard in the motion offense; indeed, his skill set may indeed match that slot perfectly.

Dinwiddie now has his own set of fans, and they would generally prefer to see a Dinwiddie/Russell starting backcourt, with Lin backing them, for two reasons:  one, they presume Lin will have a re-boot curve that should be taken slowly (i.e., minutes restrictions, yet again) and two, the back-up role would preserve him better by lessening the chances of yet another Linjury.

The complication with all of these scenarios is playing time for other deserving backcourt and swing players.  Crabbe, LeVert, Harris and Carroll all have played well this year, and all generally play the 2 and/or 3.  Stauskas and Whitehead, who both have performed ably in lesser stints, provide plenty of depth.  There were rumors abounding that Carroll and Harris would both go in trading deadline deals, but neither was moved.  With these nine rotation-ready players vying for three slots, it seems likely that something has to give when Lin returns.

What seems obvious to most Net fans (and to me) is that, under any scenario, the Nets have to find out exactly what they have in Lin, and establish his value by the trading deadline.  If he is close to 100%, the outcomes run the gamut.  One option is that after establishing his value, the Nets trade him at the deadline for another “asset” (presumably a first round pick); he would be in great demand for virtually any playoff team, particularly with an expiring salary.  The modern NBA requires combo guards who can handle the ball, shoot the three, drive and kickout and play defense, and Lin can do all that and be a positive, veteran presence in the playoffs – plus he could still, presumably, win a playoff game or two by “going off” in unstoppable Linsanity fashion.

And there is also an argument that if Lin returns at near-100%, he is the Nets’ best player.  He is far more polished than Russell, and a better shooter, driver and defender than Dinwiddie.  Signing him up for another three years to anchor the backcourt and groom Russell as his successor is hardly a bad plan.  And, of course, the marketing side of the equation would find this plan welcoming; the Nets’ new majority owner, Joseph Tsai, has publicly stated that Lin is his favorite player, and the reach-out to the Asian market remains a giant play.

It certainly makes little sense to trade Lin low in the offseason, when he is a question mark, when he could be worth so much.  There is every evidence that his re-hab is on track for a training camp return.  Others have returned from the same injury to prior form, most notably Caron Butler and, in a much earlier time, Wilt Chamberlain (who tore his patellar tendon in game 12 of the 1969-70 season and came back to average 47.3 minutes per game in 18 playoff games that same year).  Time will tell what kind of player Lin is when he returns – but I would not bet against him.

The Saga Continues

Jeremy Lin’s story is already Hollywood-ready.  Harvard-educated Asian-American, undrafted, is given one last chance on what might have been the final night of his NBA career.  He comes off the Knicks’ bench to destroy the New Jersey Nets, joins the starting line-up and leads the injury-riddled, hapless Knicks to 6 more wins in a row, shattering scoring records, upending stereotypes and gaining a Beatles-worthy global following, replete with magazine covers galore, all in the space of 12 days.

But soon thereafter, he injures his knee and misses the playoffs to which he had almost single-handedly willed the Knicks.  The Knicks, the worst franchise in sports, decide to let him go when the Houston Rockets make him an extravagant offer, and the New York chapter ends as suddenly as it began.  Signed to be the engine of the Rockets, that dream ends abruptly as well, before it even begins, when the Rockets trade for James Harden, who would become not only the focal point of the Houston offense, a usage-sucking dynamo, but one of the truly great players in the game. 

The Rockets decide that Harden is better paired with defensive whiz Patrick Beverly, and bench Lin, despite Lin’s solid productivity as a starter.  And after two years of Lin adapting well to the three-guard rotation, the Rockets decide to chase, in all ironies, Carmelo Anthony, Lin’s Knicks’ foil. (Lin led to the Knicks to all those wins when Anthony was injured, and when Melo returned, Lin no longer ran his freewheeling show, and the winning ways ended).  So the Rockets dump Lin and his salary to the Lakers to free up cap space to woo Melo (they fail). In LA, Lin is coached by one of the worst in the game, Byron Scott, who the game has passed by, and Lin is teamed with yet another usage-sucker, a way-past-his-prime-but-still-wanting-the-ball Kobe Bryant. But while Lin continues to produce, Scott scapegoats him and benches him in favor of journeyman Ronnie Price in an eerie replay of his fate in Houston, this time on a truly terrible team.

Lin moves on to Charlotte, where he finds redemption as a role player on a happy, on-the-rise team.  Lin becomes the best back-up point guard in the league, flashing Linsanity whenever Kemba Walker or Nic Batum are injured, leading the Hornets to incredible victories over San Antonio (after being down 23 points) and the eventual champion Cavaliers.  Lin ups his skill-set under coach Steve Clifford, particularly on the defensive end, and is ready to run his own show.  His image (and confidence) restored, Lin returns to New York, under former mentor Atkinson in Brooklyn, and then endures two years of injuries, while demonstrating ever more production when he does manage to stay on the floor.

Such an up-and-down saga would seem to demand another climb to the mountaintop.  The script practically begs for it.  But the ultimate redemption may never come, as Lin turns 30 next summer.  And yet the saga continues.  Will Lin find one more opportunity to define his ceiling in terms other than “what might have been”?  That is the question.

But for now, for all the polarized emotions that Lin still manages to conjure, his time in Charlotte and Brooklyn have forged a growing consensus that, whatever Lin might have been or still could become, he is in fact neither a superstar nor a scrub.  Jeremy Lin has proven that he is a quality starting NBA point guard, one who ranks in the middle tier of an exceptional group of players.  If you need statistical validation of this point, check out the chart below.  The chart is not a ranking, but rather my informal grouping of NBA starting point guards, into three groups, the stars in blue, the solid starters in green, and the a bit too young, a bit too old or the not-quite-so-good in orange.  Lin, highlighted in yellow, firmly belongs in that middle group based on what he has actually achieved.

Where will he go from here?  We will check back in February, 2019 to report on the next chapter of his unusual and epic story.

If you would like to read the previous three installments in the series, here are the links:



NBA STARTING POINT GUARDS CAREER STATS
‘18
Player
MP
FG%
3P%
eFG%
FT%
RB
AS
ST
BK
TOV
PTS
PTS/36
PER
PER
33.8
0.443
0.366
0.522
0.855
5.0
6.0
1.5
0.5
3.4
22.8
24.3
23.5
30.5
34.5
0.477
0.436
0.578
0.903
4.4
6.8
1.8
0.2
3.2
23.1
24.1
23.7
27.5
35.4
0.473
0.373
0.518
0.867
4.5
9.8
2.3
0.1
2.4
18.7
19.0
25.7
25.9
34.3
0.434
0.311
0.464
0.815
6.5
8.1
1.7
0.3
2.4
22.9
24.0
24.0
25.3
34.0
0.461
0.385
0.518
0.875
3.4
5.5
1.3
0.3
2.7
22.0
23.3
21.7
24.6
34.0
0.413
0.355
0.473
0.830
3.8
5.4
1.4
0.4
2.1
18.9
20.0
18.9
20.9
35.9
0.432
0.325
0.460
0.786
4.4
9.2
1.7
0.7
3.8
18.9
19.0
19.5
19.2
29.8
0.440
0.362
0.510
0.876
2.6
5.1
1.0
0.1
2.4
18.9
22.8
20.7
11.7
31.0
0.424
0.367
0.501
0.802
4.2
5.8
1.4
0.3
2.2
14.4
16.7
18.5
19.4
Conley
32.5
0.441
0.377
0.497
0.814
2.7
3.3
1.5
0.2
2.0
14.3
15.8
17.3
15.8
27.4
0.445
0.332
0.489
0.798
3.8
4.6
1.5
0.5
2.7
13.5
17.7
17.6
18.7
29.6
0.471
0.386
0.514
0.855
2.6
4.9
1.1
0.2
2.0
12.7
15.4
16.1
18.7
27.4
0.447
0.357
0.490
0.842
2.4
5.6
1.2
0.3
2.3
12.6
16.6
17.2
15.2
27.9
0.468
0.362
0.520
0.757
3.0
4.8
1.0
0.2
2.3
13.6
17.5
17.2
16.2
23.5
0.434
0.321
0.473
0.831
2.5
4.7
0.8
0.1
2.3
12.7
19.5
15.4
17.9
32.7
0.446
0.359
0.491
0.788
3.6
6.2
1.5
0.4
2.7
14.7
16.2
16.4
17.0
26.6
0.433
0.350
0.484
0.805
2.9
4.5
1.2
0.4
2.4
12.0
16.2
15.5
19.3*
34.9
0.527
0.000
0.527
0.565
7.8
7.3
1.9
0.9
3.7
16.4
16.9
18.5
18.6
Jackson
24.7
0.432
0.323
0.476
0.858
3.0
4.4
0.7
0.1
2.0
12.4
18.1
16.3
12.2
28.8
0.454
0.384
0.523
0.801
3.2
3.3
0.9
0.3
1.3
11.6
14.5
15.2
14.0
29.6
0.460
0.309
0.479
0.618
4.2
6.4
1.4
0.3
2.4
11.2
13.6
15.6
18.5
31.4
0.493
0.326
0.509
0.752
2.8
5.8
0.9
0.1
2.4
16.0
18.3
18.4
14.1
25.1
0.433
0.358
0.511
0.901
3.0
2.4
0.7
0.3
1.7
12.6
18.1
14.1
16.5
28.0
0.470
0.393
0.531
0.872
3.0
3.9
1.0
0.2
1.5
11.4
14.7
14.7
14.6
27.8
0.410
0.341
0.478
0.753
3.5
4.1
1.2
0.2
2.7
14.5
18.8
14.2
15.0
29.3
0.394
0.317
0.449
0.681
3.9
4.9
1.0
0.2
2.9
14.0
17.2
12.5
12.6
Mills
17.8
0.434
0.394
0.537
0.840
1.6
2.2
0.6
0.1
1.0
8.0
16.2
15.0
15.3
31.4
0.381
0.317
0.422
0.834
4.2
8.0
2.0
0.1
2.8
10.6
12.2
15.9
14.0
31.8
0.463
0.309
0.482
0.604
4.8
8.4
1.7
0.1
2.9
10.5
11.9
16.4
14.7
25.6
0.374
0.323
0.421
0.733
3.1
4.3
0.8
0.3
2.5
11.1
15.6
10.7
12.4
27.2
0.410
0.326
0.439
0.734
2.6
4.3
1.0
0.2
2.4
11.3
15.0
11.1
11.1
27.9
0.440
0.343
0.480
0.855
2.9
4.6
0.8
0.1
2.0
10.8
13.9
14.1
11.4
21.3
0.411
0.305
0.443
0.667
3.0
3.7
1.4
0.5
1.7
7.1
12.0
11.4
15.0
Ball
33.9
0.356
0.303
0.430
0.480
7.1
7.1
1.5
0.9
2.7
10.2
10.8
12.1
12.1
* Note: Lin’s PER is from 2017