Lin Strikes Back

As a loyal fan of Jeremy Lin since the Linsanity days, I have become used to the ups and downs that he has gone through in his career. It feels like I have traveled on his journey with him. Linsanity is the highlight of Lin’s career thus far, but it was a difficult road until that point.  It appeared for certain that his future was bright after a great stretch with the Knicks, but things quickly went south after the season. The Knicks did not match the “poison pill” contract that was offered to Lin as a restricted free agent by the Rockets, so he made his way to Houston on a three-year, $25 million contract. It was rather insulting that he was not even offered a contract by the Knicks.  As disappointing as it was to see Lin leave the Knicks, I was hopeful and optimistic that he could be a key player with the Rockets. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.

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More disappointment followed afterwards, but Lin never publicly expressed his displeasure towards any team or management. The phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” suits Lin well, and he has matured both as a player and person due to the trials he has faced.  There is no question that his faith in God and the support of his family have been a source of strength throughout his time in the NBA.  Lin has always been a private person, but he seems to be opening up more now. This was evident by a recent interview he did in China for CCTV-5’s NBA Frontline Primetime.  This change is refreshing because there were numerous times in the past when I thought that he could have been more vocal about his circumstances and how he was unfairly treated.  It is safe to say that many other Lin fans were frustrated as well, and I was happy that his interview with CCTV revealed a lot about him. Also, it could be that Lin felt at ease with the Chinese media and perhaps felt that he had more freedom to be honest than with interviews in English.

Nothing has come easy for Lin in his career, and he said he was not sure that he would even make the NBA during the interview.  He stated, “When I first got to Harvard, a lot of students didn’t even know we had a basketball team.”  His parents were always supportive and they told him, “If you love basketball this much, then keep playing.”  For his senior year, he said “I didn’t apply for any job, no interviews, nothing… only enter the NBA draft.”  As an Asian-American basketball player, Lin already had the odds against him, and the scenario played out in the NBA when he worked out for teams.  He stated, “The entire NBA combine, John Wall and I were the fastest/quickest. They had the measurements.  They saw that I was an Asian, (they said) Oh, he must be able to shoot, but he has no athleticism.  So I would get mad back then. 

I remember how upset I got at the time when the media as well as many basketball fans dismissed Lin’s athletic ability. This perception is still present even though he is entering his seventh season in the league.  For the life of me, I just don’t see how Lin could be considered non-athletic when you see him regularly blow by guys on his drives to the basket. He can even stay with quick guards on defense and block shots.   Stereotypes die hard, unfortunately, and this is an ignorant statement from his haters.  Lin will turn a lot of heads with his play and have a breakout season since he will now have freedom to play his game.

He was signed by the Golden State Warriors after the Summer League, but served as a bench warmer and barely got playing time.  Lin said, Every time I didn’t play well, or if they sent me down to the D-League, or if I wouldn’t even get to play for 5 or 6 games straight, I would feel really terrible. I would start to think do I really belong in the NBA?  He also added, “I started crying and couldn’t stop. I felt there were so many unfair things against me. Why didn’t Warriors give me a chance to play? Why does the coach not like me? Why does this road have to be this difficult?  In his time of distress, Lin said, Of course my family (helped me the most). My older brother and younger brother. My agent, Roger (Montgomery). He kept giving me advice. Because sometimes I wanted to quit, wanted to retire, didn’t want to play anymore.  I like how real these quotes are because he expressed vulnerability like I have never heard from him before.  It appears that Lin is now more comfortable in his own skin and where he is at in his career.

After the 2010-11 NBA season, the league had a lockout. While other players were not training at the time, Lin took advantage of the situation.  He stated, “I kept thinking, I hope this lockout take a long time (to end), so I can have a lot of time to improve. Internally, I was so motivated, because my rookie year felt so bad. I would practice by myself 3 times everyday. I had a shooting coach. I would shoot 500 jumpers with him everyday.”  Lin felt that he would have a breakout season as a result of his hard work, and he did just that after he signed with the Knicks.  He described the experience by saying, “Perfect storm, everything good that happens, it’s just  everything coming together. I came to New York, the entire NBA’s largest market. There’s D’Antoni, (his system) specializes in pick and roll. PnR is my best strength.”  

Lin worked very closely with assistant coach Kenny Atkinson at the time to improve his game. Things have come full circle, as Lin and Atkinson have reunited with the Brooklyn Nets.  They both have a tremendous work ethic and will have a great relationship with mutual trust and respect.  I trust Atkinson will have Lin’s back, unlike his previous head coaches with the Rockets, Lakers, and Hornets.  As Lin said, the Nets are like a start up business, and Atkinson is no doubt his main partner.

Initially, Lin was mostly glued to the bench with the Knicks, and he was also sent down to the D-League.  There were rumors at the time that he would be released. On this note, he said, “I was very afraid of being cut. Every time I saw the general manager, when we were in the practice facility, shooting facility, when the GM came, I would walk to the side and avoid him.  I remember telling myself, hey, this might be your last chance. This might be your last NBA game.”  Lin’s magical run began with that game against the New Jersey Nets, as he scored 25 points off the bench to lead the Knicks to a win.  Mike D’Antoni admitted that he played Lin out of “desperation” that night and as they say, the rest is history.  Surprisingly, the Knicks allowed Lin to leave for the Houston Rockets. On leaving New York, Lin said, “I was really sad, because I was restricted (free agent), so I thought New York was going to match. When they didn’t match, I felt really bad. I felt that New York’s fans treated me so well, I always wanted to stay in New York.”

I had been a Knicks fan since the 1980’s, but after they mistreated Lin during  free agency and gave no explanation as to why they decided to let Lin leave, that was the last straw.  James Dolan is known as one of the worst owners in sports and it became evident that he did not care about the fans.  I was stunned that Dolan let Lin get away after all he did for the team. The Knicks would not have made the playoffs if it wasn’t for him that season. In addition, all the speculation that Carmelo Anthony was jealous of Lin appeared to be true, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. Lin easily could have stayed with the team if Anthony was supportive and a team player.  The Knicks are a dysfunctional franchise under Dolan, and it was time for me to switch my fandom to the Brooklyn Nets.  The Nets moved to Brooklyn in the following season (2012-13), so it was great timing and I have been a fan since day one.  My wish finally came true when the Nets signed Lin this past offseason.

Lin was optimistic when he joined the Rockets, and he thought he would become an integral part of the team.  He stated, “When I got to Houston, I thought, OK this is a clean start. Our team was really young, so I thought it was going to be my team. When we added James Harden, I knew it’d affect me a lot, because he’s also pick and roll. Most of the pick and rolls, he’s controlling the ball.”  However, Lin was very honest when he said, “It was very difficult with the Rockets. I was so used to being the pick and roll point man, the one to pass the ball, controlling everything, I was always the point guard. When I didn’t get that opportunity, I asked how was I going to play, then? Everyone is criticizing me. So I remembered, I don’t want to be on the Rockets anymore.” 

I do not blame Lin for feeling this way because he was often a spectator on offense with Harden handling the ball most of the time.  To this day, I believe that Lin could have been an established starting NBA point guard right now and perhaps even an All-Star if the Rockets did not acquire Harden just prior to Lin’s first season in Houston.  He was misused by head coach Kevin McHale and it made no sense that he became a backup point guard in favor of Patrick Beverly, as Lin is clearly the better player.  It was evident that everything was catered to Harden and Lin was not a good fit on the team.  General Manager Daryl Morey of the Rockets then unceremoniously traded Lin to the Lakers prior to the 2014-15 season.

The Lakers hired Byron Scott as the new head coach, and results were disastrous for Lin, as he was marginalized and embarrassed.  When asked about his experience with the Lakers, he said “We only won 21 games. At first, everyone was really upset. After a while, we started counting down how many games we have left. 30 more games, 29, 28, and in the end, everyone just gave up.”  It was a forgettable year and the ultimate insult was when Lin was relegated to backup point guard duty behind Ronnie Price, who is infamous as a journeyman.  That was a sign that Scott would try to tank the season to obtain a high lottery pick.  He mismanaged the entire team and it was certainly damaging to Lin that he played under a terrible coach for a lousy team.  He said, “I was excited to join different team (after the Lakers), but I wasn’t that excited because last year, when I was a free agent, I knew my market value was so low.”

Lin continued, “Many teams didn’t want to even talk to my agent. Other teams didn’t even want to give me veteran’s minimum, the lowest salary, they didn’t even want to offer to me. So I remembered, “Seriously? Everyone forgot that I can play really well?” So many people disrespected me, so I got mad. When I got to Charlotte, I had a chip on my shoulder. This year, I’m going to remember which teams didn’t want to speak to my agent or didn’t want to offer me a veteran’s minimum.”  

It was really disappointing when Lin signed for just the veteran’s minimum contract with the Hornets, but he increased his market value as he improved all-around and performed well in the playoffs.  However, it ended on a sour note as he was benched in favor of Kemba Walker during a blowout playoff loss in Game 7 against the Miami Heat.  Clearly, head coach Steve Clifford did not trust Lin enough to play significant minutes in their biggest game of the season.  Since his time with the Knicks, Lin has sacrificed his game enough, which is why I am glad that he can finally play to his strengths and perform to his best abilities under Atkinson.

This quote about Lin feeling disrespected is my favorite from the interview because I have felt for a long time that Lin needs to play with more of an edge, similar to how he was during Linsanity.  I believe that Lin will continue playing with a chip on his shoulder, and he appears to be more determined than ever.  I think another chip that Lin has is how the media has predicted that the Nets will be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season.  Lin has been an underdog his whole life, and I have no doubt that he has overcome so much to get to this point.  Lin has sent out a warning to the rest of the league, and it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. Bring it on!

Special thanks to @C_L_I_C_K for the translation of the interview into English.

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