For good or bad, Jeremy Lin is heading into the most important period of his career as he begins a new chapter on a new team, the Brooklyn Nets.
This isn’t the first time Lin joins a team to be a starter. When he left the New York Knicks as a restricted free agent in 2012, he joined the Houston Rockets in what seemed like a new step for Houston, with a new point guard, who just stunned the NBA a few months earlier. They were giving him big money, and what looked like the keys to the car, expecting him to grow along with the team. The James Harden trade changed all that, and sent Lin’s career on a very different path.
Joining the Lakers wasn’t his choice – it was a trade so the Rockets could get rid of his salary (cap hit was $8.3 million, salary was $15 million). The Lakers never really tried to do anything with Lin. It was all about Kobe until he got injured, and then it was about tanking. If there was ever a wasted year in his career, that was it.
The Hornets was Lin’s choice. A calculated one. He knew he wasn’t going to be the starter on the team, but he took less money and what turned out to be a sixth man role most of the time. The goal? Bring up his value. It worked for Lin. When he got the minutes and the ball, he played well. That didn’t go unnoticed, and he signed with the Nets to play for a coach he knows, and for $12 million a season over three years. He probably could have gotten more money, but the whole package is probably better for him in Brooklyn, considering how other vacant spots played out in the first 48 hours of free agency.
What’s special about this test, this challenge? The Nets still have room to make changes, and more cap space than anyone else. Tyler Johnson might arrive if the Heat don’t match his offer, and they will still be about $10 million under the cap, with some interesting names still available, although none of them very lucrative in the long term. But along with Brook Lopez, this is Lin’s team, and it’s not going to change any time soon. And that’s something he’s never had before.
There’s the risk of failure, because the reward is bigger. Lin is going to be 28 in a month. This is the prime, although his wear & tear is relatively small, with just six NBA seasons behind him, and only 386 games (64.3 per season). If there was ever a time to establish himself as a starting point guard in the NBA, and not just on one team, it’s now. Careers change. Lin might not be in Brooklyn for life (probably not). He can grow with this team and lead them to great things. And whether or not there’s team success at the end of the line, Lin has the opportunity to show a league that has often lacked faith in him, that’s often not valued him correctly, that he’s a #1 point guard type of player, and more than that. As I wrote two or three posts ago, don’t be surprised that if things go well for Lin and Brooklyn early on this season, he’ll make the All-Star game. He gets a lot of votes even when he’s on the bench and not at his best. Imagine how big of a story it’s going to be, imagine the hype, if Lin and the Nets click right off the bat.
As far as team success, we have to be skeptical. The Nets, just by reviewing their current roster, aren’t good enough to make the playoffs, probably. But the challenge this season, for Lin personally and for the Nets in general, is establishing something to work with next season, and the one after that. Lin plays the biggest role in this project, which is something he’s been waiting on for his entire NBA career.