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After a couple of big deals during the summer to import more talent, the Brooklyn Nets entered the 2017-18 NBA season hoping to take some teams by surprise and improve in the second year of their rebuild under head coach Kenny Atkinson. Those efforts hit a speed bump on opening night, though, as starting point guard Jeremy Lin went down hard midway through the fourth quarter, suffering a ruptured patella tendon in his right knee that the Nets announced Thursday morning will end his 2017-18 season after just one game.
With just under five minutes to go in an entertaining and high-scoring season-opening matchup with the Indiana Pacers, Lin drove right around the defense of point guard Darren Collison. As he gained the lane and leapt for a layup, Pacers big men Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young converged on Lin, knocking him to the floor on the baseline. (Turner’s attempt to block the layup was ruled a goaltend.)
Lin hit the ground, rolled over next to the basket stanchion and immediately sat still, holding his right knee. It was evident very quickly that something had gone wrong; Lin appeared to tell the teammates who came to help him up that he was “done,” and he began to tear up as he sat on the floor.
Teammates eventually helped Lin get off the floor and limp back to the locker room. He wouldn’t return, finishing with 18 points on 5-for-12 shooting to go with four assists in 25 minutes of floor time. Despite getting a team-high 30 points from D’Angelo Russell in his Nets debut to go with 20 points and 10 rebounds off the bench from Trevor Booker, Brooklyn couldn’t overcome a Pacers team that featured eight double-digit scorers, falling to Indiana 140-131 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Immediately after the game, attention shifted to Lin’s status. As you might have expected, given his reaction, the early returns seemed grim:
After the game, Lin took to Twitter to strike a positive note:
But on Thursday morning, the Nets confirmed the worst-case scenario for the injury: Lin is out for the year.
“Jeremy worked tremendously hard during the offseason and in training camp and was excited for the prospects of the team this season,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said in a team statement. “We feel awful that the injury will cost him the season, however our entire organization will be there to support Jeremy in every way possible throughout his recovery. Jeremy remains an important part of this team and will continue to contribute in a leadership role.”
This is heartbreaking news for Lin, who rose to prominence in New York 5 1/2 years ago as the underdog story of a lifetime. An end-of-the-bench point guard barely hanging onto a roster spot for a spinning-its-wheels Knicks team, Lin got a chance to run due to injuries and seized it with both hands, brilliantly taking the controls of Mike D’Antoni’s spread pick-and-roll system and becoming a high-scoring, playmaking force of nature behind the international phenomenon dubbed “Linsanity.”
The good times didn’t last, though. A knee injury (and some other stuff) contributed to Lin leaving New York the summer after his meteoric rise, signing an offer sheet to join the Houston Rockets. Ever since, he’s found himself searching for the right opportunity to return to the heights he found in Manhattan, with not-quite-rights fits alongside James Harden in Houston and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, followed by a solid stop in a supporting role in Charlotte.
When Lin agreed to terms on a three-year, $36 million contract to head to Brooklyn at the start of the 2016 free agency frenzy, the hope was that an opportunity to act as the unquestioned top dog in a free-flowing offense orchestrated by Atkinson (who helped shepherd him to stardom as an assistant in New York) would allow Lin to return to those great heights. But Lin battled hamstring strains throughout last season that limited him to just 36 games in his first season in Brooklyn.
Lin was a bellwether for last season’s Nets — they were 4.2 points per 100 possessions better with Lin on the floor than off it, going 13-23 with him in the lineup and 7-39 when he was unavailable — and was being counted on to team with Russell to serve as the playmaking engines of Brooklyn’s offense. Now, like Gordon Hayward and the Boston Celtics, the best-laid plans of player and team have been scuttled less than one game into the season, with the focus now moving to next season — the last of Lin’s current deal — and what the Nets’ present-day struggles could mean for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are in line to receive their unprotected 2018 first-round draft pick after the summer blockbuster that landed Kyrie Irving in Boston and put Isaiah Thomas in Northeast Ohio.
How low the Nets sink, how high the draft pick rises, and what that might mean for the future of a Cavaliers team that faces the monumental question of what LeBron James will do once he hits free agency this summer are all things that will bear watching as the season wears on. We’d rather watch Jeremy Lin run the pick-and-roll, though. This sucks.
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