Believe it or not, it’s been seven years since Linsanity, and while that 35-game stretch with the New York Knicks defines Jeremy Lin’s NBA career, he continues to blaze a trail.
Despite a knee injury robbing him of some of his athleticism, Lin returned this season and was part of a midseason trade that landed him in Toronto and in the NBA Finals, where he became the first Asian American player in the championship series.
It hasn’t worked out as Lin would have expected. Fred VanVleet has played so well as backup point guard — and sometimes on the floor with starter Kyle Lowry — that Lin hasn’t played much, and hasn’t flourished when he has. But his journey continues. At age 30, Lin is nearing 10 years in the NBA.
A skinny kid from Palo Alto, Calif., and Harvard University has thrived in a sport where Asian Americans haven’t in the past. Lin has defied the odds, so while he would love to have a bigger role in the Raptors’ quest for their first NBA title, he understands that being here is nearly as significant.
Lin made a garbage-time appearance in Game 3, his eighth playoff appearance this postseason for just 22 total minutes. Lin is likely to play for a ninth team for his 10th season but no one — perhaps besides himself and his close circle — expected him to be here.
“I just try to take it one day at a time because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, and I know that everyone’s said that and everyone knows that theoretically,” Lin said. “But when you get cut twice, when you get traded multiple times, you have season-ending injuries and all are different, and everything in between, like tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, it really isn’t.
“So I’ve seen that, experienced that, and so I really just try to take it one day at a time. And every day that I step on the floor, I really try to be grateful for it, even if it’s just working out, and like today I got a workout in before practice and just being able to do that and be healthy again, and then come out here. They said there would be like some media, but this is not some media. This is insane.”
Lin is a classic NBA journeyman. He is a solid point guard who doesn’t compare with the game’s elite players but is still good enough for a 20-point, 10-assist night on occasion. Lin was expected to help Brooklyn take the next major step, but he tore his patellar tendon in his right knee in the Nets’ season-opening game in October 2017. That cost him the entire season and would be his final appearance with the Nets, who had signed him to a three-year, $36 million deal to become their frontline point guard.
The Nets dealt him to the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks, for whom he played 51 games as a reserve and as a mentor to Trae Young before he was dealt to the Raptors.
Athletically, Lin said he is not the same. That torn tendon has lingered and it has affected his ability to drive to the basket, one of the best assets of his game. Instead, he has turned into an “old head,” a veteran presence on the bench who serves as a cheerleader and emergency point guard.
Still, that doesn’t matter. Not now.
“So again just trying to experience it, take it in, because no one can promise that they will be back to the Finals, no one can promise that they will be healthy enough to be in the NBA the next season,” he said. “So I’m just enjoying it and I’m super grateful, especially having missed the last two years of basketball to injury. Just to be here it’s like this is, yeah, I did not expect this when I first heard that I had been traded to the Hawks, and that was a great experience as well and a great organization, but obviously I wasn’t thinking, oh, and in May, late May you’ll be sitting here at a podium at the NBA Finals.”
Lin is a proud Asian American and proud Harvard graduate. His NBA success has opened the door for other Ivy League prospects to consider the NBA as a real career path. Harvard guard Bryce Aiken entered the draft briefly before deciding to return to school for his senior season. Yale’s Miye Oni is the first Ivy League player to enter the draft early and stay.
It’s hard to believe that would have occurred without the success of Lin, who is the only Ivy League player currently in the NBA and fourth Harvard player overall.
“Yeah, I understand and know what it’s like when nobody believes when you can make it,” Lin said. “I was a kid from Palo Alto and Harvard and I wasn’t supposed to be here. So I do feel proud of that, that kids from Ivy League schools can seriously have a chance at the NBA. We’ve come a long way.
“I used to root totally for Harvard because I am a Harvard guy, but now I root for all Ivies to make it, even Yale. I guess that’s how much I’ve matured. I am rooting for all those guys because I know how hard it is to get there.”
Silver’s penalty doesn’t please all
There are mixed reviews over the one-year suspension levied to Warriors minority investor Mark Stevens for pushing Raptors guard Kyle Lowry following Lowry’s collision with a fan while chasing a loose ball out of bounds in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
There are those who believe Stevens should have received a lifetime ban and been forced to divest from the team, but commissioner Adam Silver, who said he had never met Stevens, decided to offer the billionaire venture capitalist the benefit of the doubt.
“We began looking into it immediately after it happened,” Silver said. “Both NBA and Warriors security interviewed Mr. Stevens to get his side of the story. We, of course, collected all the video and talked to people who were sitting nearby and talked to Kyle Lowry after the game.
“The ultimate decision of discipline came about over the course of [Thursday] and the discussions between the league office and the Warriors.”
When asked why Stevens wasn’t banned for life, Silver said: “I think we recognize it’s not a science in terms of making these decisions. I think we felt, given how contrite Mr. Stevens was and the fact that he was extraordinarily apologetic, the fact that he had no blemish on his prior involvement with the NBA or the Warriors, that a one-year ban seemed appropriate with the [$500,000] fine.
“I think it’s my job to take into account all the various members of the NBA family and I’d like to think whether there’s an issue that involved a team investor or a player that everyone is afforded due process and that we don’t necessarily respond to immediate sentiment of the most dramatic thing we could do in a situation. But we act in a way we’d expect people to act towards us if we had made a mistake. There’s no question Mr. Stevens made a terrible mistake and he’s paying an enormous price for it.”
What makes this situation unique is that Stevens is a team investor — some would call him a minority owner. He is a member of the NBA family, so Silver had the power to levy a penalty more than a ban from games.
“We do believe that people who are members of a team or organization should be held to a higher standard, and I believe Mr. Stevens was,” Silver said. “I have no knowledge about his plans or discussions with the team. I thought this was the appropriate discipline in this case. All of these cases are fact-specific.”
Of course, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts is concerned about player safety. And she said she was stunned that the person who pushed Lowry was a minority owner.
“It kind of happens, you’re sitting on the floor seats, you’re blessed to be able to do that,” Roberts said. “If you don’t think that it might happen that a player will dive for a ball and knock someone down, not even you. [Lowry] was playing hard, it was a great game, and it’s an unfortunate blemish on the game.”
Silver had addressed player safety before Game 1 of the Finals, and focused on fan/player flare-ups such as the Russell Westbrook altercation with a fan he said hurled racist remarks in Utah. The players are understandably concerned because they can’t respond physically or be deemed the villain or even suspended. Many fans realize that, so they continue their barrage without any fear or consequence.
“My confidence is high in our security system,” Silver said. “We do have a sport where fans are right up against the players. I think that’s part of the attractiveness, not just for the people sitting there but for the environment it creates. But it puts players and sometimes fans in harm’s way as a result. I know over my tenure at the league we’ve dramatically enhanced security from where we were. But at the same time I think it’s important of course that players feel secure and all participants do, and fans as well.
“Incidents are going to happen. I don’t think it was a safety issue [in Game 3]. My biggest concern is an impact on the competition. I want to compliment Kyle. I thought he handled it extraordinarily well.”
During the NBA Cares event in Oakland, Silver and Roberts each mentioned they had been on the job for five years. It’s been a whirlwind tenure for Silver, who has had to deal with the Donald Sterling issue, the new collective bargaining agreement, the new television deal, advertising on uniforms, various player suspensions for conduct, and now a suspension of a minority owner for pushing an opposing player.
“You didn’t ask me about Beyonce?” Silver joked. “The theater of the NBA never ceases to amaze or surprise me. I think this is yet another day in the life of the NBA. I don’t want to make light of it. You never want to see this type of interplay between a player and a team investor. But our league office, because we’ve had so many incidents over the years, has enormous experience in dealing with unusual things like this.
“Some may disagree with precisely what we’ve done, but I think speed [on a decision] is also critically important. I think that’s something that people have come to expect from us and even if it is for league officials, if it requires working through the night then we can especially in the middle of the series say, ‘Here we are.’ There’s been due process afforded Mr. Stevens. This is how we understand the facts. This is what we believe is appropriate and to create some finality so everybody can move on.”
Kerr: Russell was giant on, off court
Golden State’s Steve Kerr is one of the league’s more socially conscious and outspoken coaches, so it came as no surprise that he offered these complimentary words on Celtics great Bill Russell, who will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards in July.
“I’m too young to have remembered him as a player, so what I know about Bill is what I’ve read about him and what I’ve seen on grainy video,” Kerr said. “One of the things I love about his game from the highlights and from reading about him is that he’s one of the only bigs who would block a shot with the awareness to just keep it, keep possession.
“It’s amazing how many times in the modern game you see guys go up and they have got an easy block and they swat it into the 10th row and flex and yell when it could be a fast break at the other end if they just decided to tip the ball to themselves and go. So I know that just from that alone what a smart player Bill Russell was, and he’s obviously the greatest winner in the history of the NBA.
“And then what he did for his country and for society and the African-American community obviously is — it just dwarfs what he accomplished on the court. Being a prominent player in the civil rights movement and taking that leadership, understanding his voice and his power — one of the most important athletes in the history of our country. So, yeah, he’s on the Mount Rushmore, for sure.”
If you haven’t figured out by now that the Brooklyn Nets are priming themselves to be major free agent players, then maybe you should after the agreed-to trade of Allen Crabbe, who makes $18.5 million in the final year of a $75 million contract he signed with the Trail Blazers four years ago. The Nets, who will trade two first-round picks to the Hawks for Taurean Prince and a second-round pick, now have enough salary cap space to sign two maximum free agents. One of their targets is Celtics guard Kyrie Irving. The Nets will have only $50 million in salaries remaining when Crabbe comes off the books and they’ll have to decide whether to match any offer for All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell or allow him to sign with another club without compensation. Russell could also accept a qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Crabbe never lived up to his contract and missed 39 games this season with injury. Prince automatically becomes another building block for the Nets, while the Hawks acquire another first-round pick this season (No. 17) and now have three of the first 17 picks as they continue their quest to collect young prospects and eventually sign a major free agent . . . The Celtics still have an assistant coach opening, which means other clubs may have already taken the best assistants. The 76ers hired longtime Spurs assistant coach Ime Udoka to replace Monty Williams, who took the Suns coaching job last month. The 76ers are also interviewing former NBA and University of Alabama coach Avery Johnson for another assistant coaching position. The Celtics continue to interview and are targeting coaches with NBA experience or a former player . . . If the Warriors plan on making another title run they will have to bring back Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson or both and also fortify their bench, which is aging. Shaun Livingston has a $7.6 million team option for 2019-20 that the Warriors are likely to decline if he doesn’t retire. Jonas Jerebko, who has had his ups and downs in his lone season with Golden State, is a free agent along with Kevon Looney, Quinn Cook, and Jordan Bell. Also, Draymond Green is entering the final year of his contact and the Warriors will have to decide whether to offer him a maximum contract and whether that will mean losing Durant or Thompson.