Weeks before free agency was to begin, Jeremy Lin was a NBA champion. He had the champagne poured on the head. He had the parade. Though he only played in one NBA Finals game and for only one minute, same as Jodie Meeks and Malcolm Miller, Lin celebrated the Raptors victory over the Warriors . With a free agent future ahead of him, Jeremy Lin was optimistic.
Earlier in the year, before coming to Toronto, Lin averaged 10.7 points and 3.5 assists for the Hawks and played in 51 games, 20 minutes a night. Lin’s career has always been about disproving a negative. Yes, there was a place in the NBA for the undrafted. Lin made his mark with a 3-week Linsanity run seven years ago. But once free agent hit after the Raptors euphoric parade, there were no Lin takers, no calls, no one interested in Jeremy Lin. His lone offer is to play in Moscow.
This is NBA life. NBA 101 isn’t romantic. Here today, gone tomorrow. When Lin thrilled the MSG crowd in 2012, Carmelo Anthony was on the bench, nursing an injury. Now both Lin and Melo may be spectators as the 2019-20 season trudges along.
His circumstance has Lin distraught and he couldn’t keep his emotions from spilling over when interviewed in Taiwan. Heart broken as his NBA career just may have reached its conclusion, Lin said, “Rock bottom just seems to keep getting more and more rock bottom for me. So free agency has been tough, because I feel like in some ways the NBA’s kind of given up on me.”
The way Lin made it sound, the NBA owes him something when in fact the NBA gave him something for nine years. At some point, it was going to end. The NBA isn’t the bully Lin makes it out to be, just a collection of teams that make choices about personnel. It’s not about giving up on Lin. It’s about teams thinking he doesn’t fit within their system.
Marc Stein of the NY Times talked to executives who were concerned with Lin’s mobility after his ruptured patella tendon two years ago. Last season in Atlanta, Lin only shot 33% from three and once he came over to Toronto, 20%. The year before, in Brooklyn, he shot 29% from three.
In Brooklyn for two years, and then 51 games in Atlanta, Lin’s defensive rating was 119, 114, 115. If he can’t make threes and he can’t guard his position, then what function does he have on a team?
By virtue of his naked honesty, Lin gave everyone a peek into the mental highs and lows of the average player. Lin has played for 8 NBA teams in 9 seasons. His best 3 weeks was Linsanity but his best year was in Charlotte. Humility has been forced upon him which is the dark side of free agency. You are being judged and may be skipped over for someone better.
A tough road is the Jeremy Lin bio. As great as Linsanity was for the Knicks, they weren’t interested in mortgaging their future and matching the Rockets offer for the restricted free agent in 2012. After a lot of fanfare, Lin was benched in Houston and in Los Angeles he was pushed aside for Jordan Clarkson. As impactful as his resurrection was in Charlotte, they didn’t re-sign him. Brooklyn felt like a fit but then the knee injury. Even if that hadn’t happened, Lin would have been collateral damage once Kyrie Irving became available.
From one year to the next, players like Lin have no idea what is next, or even if there is a next. Lin was voicing his emotions out loud. Most players don’t give the media that kind of access and in a way it is sad, and in a way it is NBA basketball. Lin can’t be on a rebuilding team that wants to develop kids. He’s not good enough for a veteran team that contends. That leaves him here. Unwanted.
He’s not unique. For almost everyone, the NBA is done with you before you are done with them. This may be the reckoning of Jeremy Lin, where he has to realistically look at what NBA GM’s are telling him. His 9 year career was something to be proud of. He had Linsanity. But he is not athletic enough, not efficient enough. Not good enough. You earn your career.
And you earn your career ending.