7 Predictions for Jeremy Lin's First Year as a Los Angeles Laker

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistJuly 16, 2014

7 Predictions for Jeremy Lin's First Year as a Los Angeles Laker

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    The Los Angeles Lakers’ big summer signing wasn’t Carmelo Anthony, but a former teammate who inspired the brief era known as Linsanity.

    Jeremy Lin, at the time a relative unknown, was claimed off waivers by the New York Knicks in late December, 2011. What followed was a redemptive tale connecting cultural identity to a dizzying string of high-scoring games before a season-ending knee injury.

    The point guard’s 35 games with the Knicks led to a lucrative contract with the Houston Rockets. And while he had some winning moments in Houston, Lin’s star never seemed to burn as brightly as during that brief winter zenith in New York City when his sudden fame transcended sports.

    Now he’s a member of the Lakers, obtained along with a future first-round draft pick in exchange for cash consideration and the rights to Sergei Lishchuk—an obscure Ukrainian power forward whose rights have bounced around the league since being drafted in 2004.

    Lin joins a team in transition and could simply wind up moving again—his present contract ends at the end of next season.

    For now he’s excited, however, posting on Twitter: “I’m so blessed to join the Lakers and can’t wait to get started!”

    What will his year with the Lakers bring? The possibilities are endless, from disaster to fantastic.

Jeremy Lin Will Earn Kobe's Trust

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    Kobe Bryant—the Lakers’ still-reigning superstar—won’t cede control of his team to Jeremy Lin, but Lin has earned the respect of teammates everywhere he’s gone in his short career.

    In short, Lin is an overachiever who has had to fight the odds. Born in the United States to Taiwanese parents, he graduated from Harvard and went undrafted, earning his way into the league through the back door—training camp invites, the D-League and brief NBA contracts that went nowhere until his star unexpectedly went supernova in New York City.

    On a cold February night in 2012, Lin took on Bryant and the Lakers at Madison Square Garden, dropping 38 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals in a 92-85 victory for the Knicks.

    After, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, an impressed Bryant had this to say: “A great story. It’s a testament to perseverance and hard work. A good example for kids everywhere.”

    And if Lin stays true to that work ethic in Los Angeles, he’ll earn not only Bryant’s respect but his trust.

Jeremy Lin Will Also Lose Kobe’s Trust

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    USA TODAY Sports

    What can take time to earn can be lost in a moment—like an overdribbling, shoot-first, turnover-prone moment.

    Lin has plenty of talent but is prone to taking too much upon his own shoulders, driving straight into the teeth of opposing defenses and throwing up improbable shots while ignoring his own open teammates.

    That won’t fly with Bryant, one of the fiercest competitors and most demanding team leaders to ever play the game of basketball. His anger is legendary, and while he admires those who have confidence and play with aggression, he’s not a fan of careless turnovers, nor does he appreciate being ignored.

    As a ball-dominant guard, Lin had problems adapting to James Harden—an iso-heavy shooting guard—during two seasons with the Rockets. He can also get lost at times on the defensive end, taking too long to read and react.

    With the Lakers, Lin will have to become more of a set-up man, finding the right balance between sharing the ball and taking the shot, while playing alongside one of the league’s all-time legendary scorers.

    And if he doesn’t handle the assignment right, Lin could lose the trust of Bryant.

Jeremy Lin Will Post a Career-High Assists Average

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    Jeremy Lin may be called a point guard, but he’s really more of a combo guard. He’s at his best when he’s dribble-driving and taking the rock to the hole.

    And while he can certainly distribute the ball just fine, nobody would ever label Lin a pass-first floor general.

    That has to change for the Lakers to succeed next season. The team already has players who can score the ball, including a guy named Kobe Bryant. The franchise’s all-time scoring leader will enter the season having accumulated 31,700 points, and that’s not counting the playoffs.

    In order for Lin to catch up to Bryant, he’d have to play about 40 more years in the NBA. Since that’s not going to happen—and considering the team also has Nick “Swaggy P” Young and this year’s No. 7 draft pick Julius Randle on the roster—Lin needs to put aside the urge to create for himself and focus on helping others.

    Although his career assists average is a modest 4.8 per game, he has shown the ability to be a solid facilitator with a nice array of lobs, skip-passes and Globetrotter-style behind-the-back dishes.

    There’s no reason why the Lakers’ new point guard can’t do better than his best season of 6.2 assists per game while with the Knicks.

Jeremy Lin Will Lose Minutes to Real Assists Leaders

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Jeremy Lin will likely begin the season as the starting point guard, ahead of Steve Nash, Kendall Marshall, rookie Jordan Clarkson and any roster-fillers the team picks up between now and then.

    He’ll need to show more consistency than he did with the Houston Rockets in order to solidify his starting role and help the team move back into contention in a loaded Western Conference.

    Part of Lin’s challenge will be controlling his natural scoring instincts and spreading the ball to volume shooters like Kobe Bryant and Nick Young. Lin has shown this ability in the past, rattling off 14 assists in a win against the Dallas Mavericks in February of 2012.

    All too often, however, Lin has behaved the opposite way, either jumping immediately on catch-and-shoot opportunities or hanging on to the ball and barely making a ripple when it comes to registering dimes.

    Waiting in the wings will be Steve Nash, who moved into No. 3 on the NBA’s all-time assists list last season behind John Stockton and Jason Kidd. Also ready to claim minutes will be Kendall Marshall who averaged 8.8 assists last season with the Lakers.

    By comparison, Lin had just 4.1 assists per game last season with the Rockets. If he doesn’t become a more consistently-willing passer, he could find himself giving up minutes to real assists leaders.

Jeremy Lin Will Become an Unrestricted Free Agent Next Season

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Jeremy Lin arrives in Los Angeles on a one-year deal—the final season of his three-year contract with the Houston Rockets.

    If he helps turn the Lakers’ fortunes around, he’ll be in line for a contract extension. It’s more likely, however, that management will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent in order to preserve cap space. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try to re-sign him during the summer.

    Coming off his 35-game meteoric rise with the New York Knicks, the restricted free agent was offered a contract worth more than $25 million for three years. It was heavily back-loaded, however, with $5 million in year one, $5.225 million in year two and a giant spike to $14,898,938 for the final year—that being the amount the Lakers will have to swallow this season.

    This type of "poison pill" contract allowed the Rockets to get a below-market value deal for two years running with the ability to unload Lin as a rich expiring contract in his final year. The Knicks wanted no part of the luxury tax on that third year and decided not to match Houston’s offer.

    The Lakers are still in the formative stages of a rebuild and want to preserve as much financial flexibility as possible. Inking Lin to an extension would limit their ability to chase top free agents next July.

    But if their new point guard has proved his worth, the Lakers will make an offer that’s in line with market value.

    And if he doesn’t work out, they can always use him as a valuable trade chip before the February trade deadline.

Jeremy Lin Will Bring Stability to the Lakers

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Last season’s parade of injuries resulted in a mind-boggling assortment of players shuffling through the lead guard position at one time or another, including Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, Kobe Bryant, Xavier Henry, Kendall Marshall and Kent Bazemore.

    Jeremy Lin could finally bring a sense of stability to the position. With Nash in uncertain health, Marshall having yet to establish a consistent jump shot and rookie Jordan Clarkson just beginning his NBA journey, Lin will be asked to step in and spearhead a consistent rotation.

    Stability will not only be sorely needed, it will be challenged by a new, as yet unnamed head coach, who will find himself having to sort out the strengths and weaknesses of his roster on the fly.

    Lin will need to demonstrate that he can step in and communicate effectively, run whatever offense has been introduced and not feel pressured by the presence of two future Hall of Famers in Bryant and Nash.

    He also needs to bring more consistency and quicker reaction time on the defensive end,

    The Lakers may be moving closer to naming their new sideline leader, with Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles saying that yet another meeting is scheduled between team executives and Byron Scott.

    Regardless of who his coach may be, the prediction is that Lin will adapt to his new surroundings and bring much-needed stability to a team in transition.

Jeremy Lin Will Have the Best Season of His Career

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    For all his talent, promise and dedication to the game, Jeremy Lin has yet to truly establish himself as an elite point guard in the NBA. His most consistent extended period of play was during the 2012-13 season with the Houston Rockets when he started all 82 games, averaging 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per game.

    While those numbers seem fairly solid, they’re not exceptional. Moreover, his three-point shooting has always been streaky at best with an average of 33.9 that season, essentially matching his career percentage of 34.3 from behind the arc.

    It’s worth noting that Lin, who turns 26 in August, is still relatively young in terms of NBA experience—now heading into his fifth season with a grand total of 217 regular-season games under his belt.

    Last season, Lin regressed, starting just 33 of 71 games with his assists average dropping to 4.1 per game.

    He’s a better player than that.

    Lin burst into the national spotlight during one incandescent winter season in New York—playing with a level of confidence and maturity that belayed his lack of experience. He may not have been drafted into the NBA, but he showed he belonged there nonetheless.

    In Los Angeles he’ll start a new chapter, playing with a new sense of belonging, welcomed by fans and benefiting from the presence of veteran stars who have much to share.

    The media spotlight will be on again, and Lin will have the best season of his career.