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Where EAST meets the Northwest

FRESH START. There hasnít been much new Asian talent in the National Basketball Association (NBA) lately, but thereís been an Asian-American NBA star that many fans might have forgotten about entirely. Once the talk of the league, Jeremy Lin (#7) has played just a handful of games over the past two seasons, thanks to hamstring and knee injuries. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

From The Asian Reporter, V28, #21 (November 5, 2018), page 8.

Jeremy Lin looks for another fresh start

By Mike Street

Special to The Asian Reporter

There hasnít been much new Asian talent in the National Basketball Association (NBA) lately, but thereís been an Asian-American NBA star that many fans might have forgotten about entirely. Once the talk of the league, Jeremy Lin has played just a handful of games over the past two seasons, thanks to hamstring and knee injuries. Now he has a chance to establish himself again in a league that once described the emotional charge he brought to the basketball court with a single word: Linsanity.

When the Taiwanese-American guard entered the game on February 4, 2012, Knicks fans could be forgiven for not noticing him. With the Knicks in the 2011-2012 season, Lin had played just a bit over 53 minutes in nine games, never starting and only once appearing for more than seven minutes. Before coming to New York, he had played in only a handful of games for the Golden State Warriors during the 2010-2011 season.

Hardly the stuff of legends, but the Knicks werenít that great, either. Prior to the dawn of Linsanity, their record was 8-15, and they were one game out of the divisional basement.

On that fateful February night, however, Lin ignited a fire under the moribund New York team and their fans. Knicks coach Mike DíAntoni ran a full-throttle offense that focused on the point guard, and Lin flourished in that system. He exploded with 25 points, seven assists, and five rebounds to lead New York to a 99-92 victory over the New Jersey Nets.

Lin started New Yorkís next game, against the Utah Jazz, and he poured in 28 points and dished out eight assists. For the month of February, he would average 20.9 points and 8.4 assists, leading the Knicks to a 10-5 record with dazzling plays and heart-stopping buzzer-beaters. Pure Linsanity.

The Linsanity continued into the start of March, though Linís numbers slipped a bit to 15.5 points and 7.5 assists over the monthís first eight games. Then DíAntoni resigned, and Linís star began to fade in new coach Mike Woodsonís offense: Linís numbers fell to 13.3 points and 5.4 assists in the next seven games.

Thanks to Linís midseason spark, New York made the playoffs, though they lost in the first round to the eventual champions, the Miami Heat. After the season, Lin signed with the Houston Rockets on a three-year, $25-million deal, a big contract that seemed to indicate he would be running Houstonís offense.

Instead, the Rockets acquired superstar guard James Harden, who became the focus of the offense instead. He and Lin started together most of their first season together, but the following season, Rockets coach Kevin McHale went with Patrick Beverley as the teamís starting point guard.

Though disappointing for Lin, the decision made sense. Both Lin and Harden need the ball a lot to succeed, and itís difficult ó if not impossible ó to have two players like that in your backcourt. And the Rockets had played better with Beverley running the point.

Lin took the demotion graciously, saying "it is not that big of a deal Ö being able to attack [off the bench] and have that freedom to be able to be freelancing a bit. I think that will be fun." Regardless, the writing was on the wall for Lin.

At the end of the season, Houston traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers, another poor fit for his talent. Here, too, he would share the backcourt with another player who thrives on having the ball a lot, Kobe Bryant.

So Lin sought greener pastures in free agency, signing a two-year deal with the Charlotte Hornets worth $4.37 million, a mere fraction of his Houston contract. But Charlotteís up-tempo play was more his style, and Lin would be helping starting point guard Kemba Walker learn the ropes in the NBA.

Though Linís statistics were pretty much a wash from the previous year ó some up, some down ó what mattered more was the teamís improvement. Charlotte had gone 33-49 the previous year, but with Lin, they improved to 48-34.

That improvement canít all be ascribed to Lin, of course, but he finished seventh in voting for the NBAís Sixth Man of the Year and impressed the Brooklyn Nets enough to offer him a three-year, $36-million contract to be their starting point guard. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for the 27-year-old to rejuvenate his NBA career and, perhaps, bring Linsanity back to New York City.

Instead, Lin was bitten twice by the injury bug. In his first season with Brooklyn, a hamstring injury limited him to just 36 games. In the first game of the following season, Lin ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee and missed the rest of the season.

Brooklyn never gave Lin the chance to redeem himself in the final year of his contract, choosing instead to trade him to the Atlanta Hawks before this season. With Atlanta, Lin will return to his now-familiar role of playing backup point guard and serving as a mentor to fifth overall draft pick Trae Young, Atlantaís point guard of the future.

With his wide experience with different teams and offenses, along with his excellent character, Lin should have plenty of good advice for Young. But to make the most of the opportunity, he will have to stay healthy and regain his form after a season-and-a-half dealing with injuries.

"The toughest thing about coming back is definitely getting up to the level that you were before, whether itís your speed, your rhythm, your explosiveness, your shot, your decision-making," Lin said.

Still, he doesnít need to be a superstar to succeed. He just needs to stay healthy, so that occasionally he can show off the talent that held the worldís attention during that memorable February not so long ago.

Lin and the Atlanta Hawks face the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center in Portland on January 26 at 7:00pm. The squads meet again in Atlanta on March 29 at 4:30pm.

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