It seems as if Jeremy Lin has gone through a lot of basketball reincarnations in a relatively short space of time.
Lin is now with the Los Angeles Lakers after being traded from the Rockets. He has one guaranteed year left on an existing contract in which to prove his worth, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it’s time to reinvent himself once again.
But perhaps getting started again simply means being true to himself rather than the expectations of others. In fact, the point guard alluded to the very same thing, speaking about the burden of past expectations when he was formally introduced by Mitch Kupchak last month.
“I’m not trying to relive that banner season. It's been a big weight off my shoulders,” Lin said per Lakers.com. “I’m not trying to recreate ‘Linsanity' or be that phenomenon that happened in New York. I just want to be myself more than ever.”
In a sense, Lin possesses qualities similar to one of his predecessors at the point for the Purple and Gold: Derek Fisher, now the head coach for the Knicks. While their playing styles have little in common, they each have a quiet yet confident way of communicating. Lin and Fisher are both men of faith, and are hardworking, over-achieving individuals who understand the importance of teamwork.
All that said, there are things that Lin should prioritize in his new position and areas that need improvement.
Lin needs to be a leader of men. This means finding a balance and a solid working relationship with a guy named Kobe Bryant. Yes, the still-reigning Lakers superstar is a vocal leader who isn’t shy about taking over a game. Yet there have been other team leaders who Bryant has co-existed well with, a perfect example being Fisher.
But Lin played his best basketball in New York when Carmelo Anthony was out with an injury, and he wasn’t at his best while having to be subservient to James Harden’s "hero ball" style in Houston. So what will make it better with the Mamba? As explosive and demanding as Bryant can be, he learned a few things about co-existing from Phil Jackson and has five championship rings to prove it.
The new Laker will have to earn Bryant’s trust and prove he can be a leader. If Lin succeeds on that level, it will also bode well for the future as the team moves into a new and somewhat unimaginable era, one without one of the true giants of the game.
By the way, Bryant is the only current Laker who was with the team when Lin dropped 38 points on them one night at MSG.
The point guard also has to be a better facilitator. He'll have to be selfless, giving up the rock for the greater good and trusting it will come back to him. Lin is at his best when he’s on the attack, being aggressive on drives and creating with a remarkable handle on the ball. But great ball-handlers like Chris Paul and Steve Nash have also managed to be elite facilitators for others.
To put it another way, there’s no reason Lin shouldn’t hand out more dimes than Bryant, the quintessential shooting guard. Curiously, each has a lifetime average of 4.8 per game. That can be parsed and justified any number of ways, and it still doesn’t change a basic fact: Lin needs to do better.
Part of this also means slowing down at times. It means finding the balance between putting the pedal to the metal and letting the game, as well as your teammates, come to you. During his above-mentioned press conference, Lin referenced just that:
My brand of basketball is attacking on the go, playmaking and I’m a 0-100 player. I like to stay at 100 and I think that’s one of my weaknesses as a player at times. I’m learning to have more composure and be more under control, but at the same time, be very aggressive. I need to be under control but at the same time be aggressive.
And then there’s the matter of his defense. While Lin has good size and strength at 6'3", he’s not especially quick laterally and can also be slow to react, allowing opposing players to blow past him. That doesn’t mean he’s not trying to improve. Lin will be playing for a new Lakers head coach in Byron Scott, a guy who will prioritize getting stops.
Defensive lapses don’t always indicate a lack of trying, a point Scott emphasized recently during a phone interview with Time Warner Cable SportsNet: “Defensively, the thing that I thought was going to be his biggest downfall was something that I thought he really competed at the times that I coached against him. So, I’m a Jeremy Lin fan.”
Lin may never be known as a defensive juggernaut, but he’s still young in terms of his basketball shelf life. If he puts in the work and continues to improve his game on both ends of the court, he’ll earn his minutes and respect (plus that $14.9 million in salary).
We all know about the cultural phenomenon, those incandescent moments in New York City, the immense global popularity of an Asian-American basketball player who willed his way onto the NBA scene and now arrives at another major career stage.
That brief shining moment known as “Linsanity” was only three seasons ago, but it seems like a lifetime. Now 25 years old, Jeremy Lin isn’t looking for a return to the past but to create a new history. If that means reinventing himself for the Lakers, that’s fine. If it simply means learning a new system, embracing it and adding his own unique talents, that’s okay, too.
The truth is, he’s not the only one who needs a fresh start. The Lakers experienced their worst record in franchise history last season, and a floor general looking to recreate himself could trigger an entire genesis.
The Lakers have been trying to land Lin ever since he went undrafted in 2010. They have finally got him. Let the reinventing begin.