In a perfect world, the NBA is a place where players do their best all the time with the team as their first priority, and teams play their best players without other interests affecting the decision making process. But this is reality. The Charlotte Hornets have pushed Jeremy Lin far down the pecking order in terms of minutes, position and role. For someone hitting free agency at the end of this season, that’s not good.
Even if Lin was getting the minutes he wanted in the position and role he’s comfortable and better at, he would still be hitting free agency. Believe it or not, he’s playing on $2.1 million this season. He’s averaging 15.9 points per 36 minutes (second best of his career) and has a net rating of +3.3 while spending 25.8 minutes a night on the court. He’s the most important bench player on the Hornets and while he was being treated as a more important part of the rotation, he was one of the more influential players on the team. With a player option of just $2.3 million in 2016-2017, going to free agency was something unavoidable.
What was avoidable is Lin looking for his fourth team in four years. The Hornets are going to offer Nicolas Batum a big contract, and if there was anything else needed to prove they prefer Courtney Lee (also a free agent this summer) to Lin came the difficult to explain benching by Steve Clifford of Lin, who had 16 points at that point, in the middle of the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets. Lee came on, took one shot and that’s about it. Lee is going to get a new contract offer from the Hornets (who knows if he sticks with them). Lin? His place is elsewhere.
We’ve already discussed once or twice where Lin would be a good fit or not. But basically, it’s the same process as last year. Finding a team that gives him a big enough role as someone who handles the ball. It doesn’t have to be starting point guard (and might not happen considering his numbers over the five weeks), but it has to be somewhere he isn’t stuck on the corner without the ball, waiting for some ball hog or two to notice him. Considering the record for the Hornets since Kemba Walker came back from that one game rest and how close they are to clinching a playoff berth, maybe they know what they’re doing.
Lin might still get moments to show his worth. Treated unfairly or not by Clifford, he needs to make some of his shots more often. He defends well and usually he does a good job of getting fouls out of players and attacking the rim. But Lin needs his shots to start dropping, whether he’s on a new motion or not. While blaming the Hornets, Walker and everything around him (done by us, not by him) can be fun and even sort of a helpful release, Lin has a part in this as well.
There’s the question of what GMs and scouts see and want to see. Lin, without Walker, was in charge of the best game the Hornets had this season. But latching on to that one game is like constantly bringing up his two week fantasy run with the Knicks in 2012. Lin had good games besides his performance against the Cavaliers this season. He’s improved immensely as a defender, thanks to his physical work and a more relentless attitude that wasn’t there before. He’s a fantastic passer when he’s allowed to lead the team on the floor. He electrifies fans when he gets going. More than Walker, more than Batum.
Back to reality. Players who have no intention of re-signing get benched. Players with a future at a team get minutes. Hence the Lee substitution, and Batum getting plenty of minutes despite being awful in fourth quarters (Hat Tip). Maybe Clifford is that close minded when it comes to getting creative with his minutes and not reacting to what’s happening on the floor. But the closer we get to the end of the season, the more it seems the Hornets know Lin isn’t staying, and aren’t trying to persuade him to stay.