Jeremy Lin and the NBA are no longer together. Maybe forever. As he heads into the next chapter of his basketball career (signing with the CBA’s Beijing Ducks), one has to wonder could have things gone differently for him.
Ignoring everything that has to do with luck (or misfortune, depending on your POV) over the last few years, it comes down to a couple of things: Lin joining the Toronto Raptors after being bought out by the Atlanta Hawks (at his request) and something that’s perhaps a bit more difficult for us to judge, the way he handled this offseason.
Decisions that backfired
Lin finished the 2018-2019 NBA season as a champion with the Raptors. But playing a total of 27 minutes through the playoff run, it wasn’t exactly a crowning achievement. Lin joined the Raptors hoping to become THE backup option for Kyle Lowry. But his shooting never got going, Nick Nurse was looking for something else, and he got it when it mattered from Fred VanVleet.
Would have things been different by staying with the Hawks? Perhaps. It wasn’t that Lin didn’t get minutes with Toronto. He even had a 20-point game in a blowout win over the New York Knicks. But his role with the Hawks was bigger. His numbers were better. He was a on a losing team, playing something of a mentor-veteran role to taking team putting its chips on Trae Young and others. But if the last couple of months in the previous season were about showcasing his skills for potential suitors, he ended up going to the wrong place.
Hindsight wisdom is what it is. But it doesn’t change the fact that Lin wanted to stay in the NBA, and in the end he didn’t. Whether it’s another case of being overlooked by teams (nothing new when it has come to Lin’s path in the basketball world, from his days as a high school recruit, through his early days in the league) or simply offering a set of skills that’s less and less relevant for front offices and coaching staffs today; Lin didn’t get what he was looking for.
Lin goes to Asia every offseason. The timing this year was off, considering he wasn’t guaranteed a job anywhere. Perhaps we’ll hear about offers he had and turned down for money or role issues. But for now, it simply seems like the package of Jeremy Lin wasn’t enticing enough for teams on the market for a guard. A guard that runs the floor well, can play two positions and guard two positions relatively well. His shooting is also shaky, and has too many injury blemishes on his record, regardless of staying healthy throughout last season.
Making the most of the situation
The CBA means attention and expectations. Lin never had any problem performing when he was propelled, by accident or intent, to a leading man role. One would make a calculated guess that some shades of Linsanity will return during his time in China. But Lin is older, more experienced and mature. He might not like the constant attention he’s already receiving, but he’s much better prepared for it than he was in 2012.
The CBA isn’t where NBA players go to retire. It’s simply another option when those in the best basketball league run dry, at least temporarily. But the league isn’t waiting with open arms for Lin to return from his “hiatus” in the far east. Anything short of season-long dominance, ruling out an outbreak of point guard injuries in the NBA, will probably mean that the 51 seconds Lin got in garbage time during the Raptors’ game 3 win over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals was his final NBA appearance.