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Way back in the Long, Long Ago of February 2012, Jeremy Lin came off the New York Knicks’ bench to surprise and delight the Madison Square Garden crowd with a 25-point, seven-assist, five-rebound takeover that knocked off the New Jersey Nets:
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An awful lot has changed since then.
The Nets moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, went all-in with a record-setting payroll and titanic win-now moves for veteran stars to pursue an NBA championship, only to see the ship run aground in the second round of the playoffs, most of those stars leave town, two coaches fired and a general manager shuffled off as the franchise now sets about the business of rebuilding with precious few assets to use in the process.
Lin went from the end of the bench to the top of the world, authored a brilliant February that briefly made the always-moribund Knicks nationally relevant and made him an international sensation, left the Knicks in restricted free agency over (among other things) a contractual dispute, had up-and-down seasons with the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, and after taking a short-money deal, re-established himself as a valuable ball-handler and scorer for a Charlotte Hornets club that shocked the league to post the franchise’s highest win total this millennium.
All those twists and turns along the way for both parties began with one big game at the Garden.
Now, nearly 4 1/2 years later, the two parties are coming together again in hopes of rediscovering that magic:
Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported Friday morning that Lin and the Nets had agreed to terms on a three-year, $36 million deal that will bring the point guard back to New York, albeit with a home-gym address in a different borough this time around.
As suggested by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer and ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe, Lin — who will hold a player option for the third year of the deal — appeared to jump at the chance to reunite with new Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson, who was an assistant on Mike D’Antoni’s staff with the Knicks when he first broke through back in 2012. The two developed a strong bond during their time together, as Lin told Andrew Keh of the New York Times back in April:
“I’ve kind of been saying it was just a matter of time for [Atkinson to get a head coaching job] because I know how good he is, I know how much he was there for me in New York,” Lin said. “When you’re around him, you kind of understand there’s something different about him: his energy, his passion, the juice he approaches his work with.”
Lin added: “He doesn’t leave any stone unturned. He’s always the first one in, and I’m saying first one in by, like, hours.”
Lin’s agreement comes three days after Woj reported that the Nets intended to move on from incumbent point guard Jarrett Jack, who had been Brooklyn’s starter before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in January, and one day after the Nets officially waived Jack, signalling an interest in finding his replacement in free agency. After news broke Friday morning that they’d reached terms with Lin, Jack raised some eyebrows with his response on Twitter:
… though the vet then insisted that his tweet had nothing to do with Lin coming to Brooklyn:
… which, y’know, sure!
After proving a dynamic and versatile complementary role-playing piece in Charlotte’s backcourt last season, performing well both as a backup point guard behind starter Kemba Walker and as an attacking shooting guard alongside Walker in two-point-guard lineups aimed at maximizing playmaking and floor-spacing, Lin figures to have the inside track on the starting point guard job for a Brooklyn club that returns no triggermen from the 2015-16 squad, and slots only incoming rookie Isaiah Whitehead at the position after June’s draft. As his many advocates will surely note, Lin did show signs that he could perform like a star when given the reins of the Hornets’ offense.
When Walker was on the bench, Lin averaged 17.9 points, 5.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds per 36 minutes of non-Kemba floor time, posting a 52.1 percent True Shooting Percentage while “using” 26 percent of Charlotte possessions, according to NBAwowy.com. Only eight players surpassed those per-minute numbers last season — Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, James Harden, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Damian Lillard and Manu Ginobili. Lin also generated 5.8 free-throw attempts per-36 sans Kemba, and his driving (he averaged 10.5 drives per game as a starter last season, which would’ve been a top-10 mark over the full campaign) and hs pick-and-roll playmaking figure to pair with linchpin center Brook Lopez to provide the engine of what Atkinson hopes will be a revamped attack.
How effectively Lin will produce now that he’s working alongside the likes of Bojan Bogdanovic, Chris McCullough, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Sean Kilpatrick and Wayne Ellington rather than Walker, Nicolas Batum, Al Jefferson, Marvin Williams and Courtney Lee remains to be seen, of course. For now, though, it looks like the player who took the world by storm with his brash attacking offensive style, only to find himself tossed about in a maelstrom of movement and upheaval over the last few years, will get the opportunity to get his feet back on the ground.
With the confidence of his coach, the ball in his hands, a stellar two-man game partner in Lopez, young athletes on the wing and the Nets having more than $40 million in salary cap space left to spend this offseason, this could be Lin’s chance to re-establish himself as a legitimate NBA starter, back in the city — and against the team — that helped make him famous.
“I’ve played six years in the NBA; I’ve played on five different teams. I’ve played for two D-League teams — so seven cities in six years,” Lin said during a recent interview with the World Economic Forum. “I’m tired of boxes, I’m tired of moving companies, and I want to find a home.”
This time around, making $12 million a year, he probably won’t have to couch-surf.
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