Jeremy Lin Has Golden Opportunity to Reinvent Himself with Los Angeles Lakers

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 19, 2014

For the Los Angeles Lakers, Jeremy Lin's value may not extend beyond his expiring contract and the future first-round draft pick he brought with him from the Houston Rockets.

If Lin boosts ticket sales or plays his way into a permanent role going forward, that's even better. But he'll spend next season draped in purple and gold because of the assist he gave the franchise's future asset collection.

For the player himself, though, this is something so much greater that it can't easily be put into words. More than anything, this is a chance to prove he's a legitimate NBA player, not just the main character in a story so unbelievable it still boggles the minds of those who witnessed it.

His journey left a remarkable trail that may never be retraced. He has toiled in the D-League, been buried on the bench and more than once floated out on the waiver wire.

Then came that miraculous two-month stretch with the New York Knicks in 2012, the global phenomenon that was simply dubbed "Linsanity." It began when desperation thrust him into then-Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni's lineup, continued with a stretch of historically strong outbursts and ended as quickly as it started at the hands of a torn meniscus in his left knee.

But the Linsanity movement hasn't stopped.

His story has been showcased on the silver screen. A Jeremy Lin action figure is already in circulation, and a wax statue will be coming very soon, according to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times:

His brand appears here to stay, and it should only strengthen now that he's suiting up for one of the league's most storied franchises.

But this isn't about improving his marketability or adding an interesting chapter to an already fascinating feature. It's about seizing the incredible basketball opportunity in front of him and putting the focus back inside the lines.

If Lakers fans are hoping for the return of Linsanity, they're sure to be disappointed. Those days are over, and he doesn't want them back.

"I'm not trying to relive that banner season," he told reporters at his introductory press conference. "It's been a huge weight off my shoulders. 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."

It's hard to say if that's even possible at this point, at least as far as outsiders are concerned.

He may never be honestly evaluated on the basis of his talent alone. He'll always be held to that unreachable standard, then picked apart for the warts that exist in his otherwise solid game. His $8.3 million salary, which is actually a $14.9 million balloon payment this season, doesn't help lower the bar.

All of that takes away from the player that Lin really is. Solid doesn't look the same when spectacular is the expectation.

For his career, he's averaged 11.9 points and 4.8 assists in 27.3 minutes a night. He has played a total of 217 games across his four seasons in the league and made 140 starts.

From most angles, he looks like a player with obvious talent who is still working on finding his niche. With fewer than four full years of service under his belt, he's already alone in that regard.

He, like a lot of players his age, needs some work. He still doesn't shoot with a ton of consistency (career 34.3 three-point percentage), he's a better scorer than creator and his lack of lateral quickness limits what he can do defensively.

Hollywood might seem like a potentially disastrous locale to continue his training. Lakers fans are still reeling from their woeful 27-55 showing last season, and a hopefully healthy Kobe Bryant is no more patient than they are.

Probably less so.

Truth be told, the Lakers could be perfectly equipped to help bring Lin along.

Whatever pressure might exist around the franchise hasn't affected him. In fact, the California native sounds as relaxed as he can be.

"I feel the least amount of pressure on my shoulders now than I ever have," he said at the press conference. "...I put a lot of pressure on myself to be that player [in Houston]. Now my goal is I'm not trying to be a player from the past."

In the present, he should find as many minutes as he can handle. With aging, oft-injured Steve Nash and untested rookie Jordan Clarkson serving as his only competition, Lin could be looking at a featured spot in head coach Byron Scott's rotation.

The defensive-minded coach already lauded Lin's toughness and tenacity, via's Mike Trudell:

Besides an abundance of minutes, the Lakers also have a wealth of sharp offensive minds to help Lin.

Between Nash's understanding of how to control tempo and Bryant's polished technique and relentless work ethic, Lin has two of the league's finest tenured professors. As he told Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy, he's counting down the days until he starts working with the living legends:

It’s really exciting. What can’t you learn from them? People have been asking that question a lot, and it’s kind of, like, I want to learn everything. Kobe is a little different just because he’s a different position, but there’s just so much from a mental aspect and from like a recovery standpoint and so many different things like footwork [that he can teach me]. There are things that both of them can teach me, so I’m actually really, really excited. I’m hoping our team gets out there early or something before camp so I can start spending more time with them right away.

As unrelenting as the spotlight seemed during Lin's run as a global icon, he's never felt pressure quite like the kind that Bryant keeps balanced on his shoulders. Even Nash, a two-time MVP, knows a few things about living under the basketball world's microscope.

The Lakers will give Lin every opportunity to succeed.

A healthy Bryant might chew into the available offensive touches, but Lin should still see significant time on the ball. With pick-and-pop (Ryan Kelly, Carlos Boozer) and pick-and-roll (Julius Randle, Jordan Hill, Ed Davis) candidates filling the frontcourt, Lin should be put in situations he has proved to handle best.

From there, the onus falls on him to make the most of this stage.

Can Lin still form an identity as a good player with an incredible story? Or is his place in history that of an NBA novelty act?

The Lakers will be fine either way. They already got what they needed out of him.

Now, he must reinvent himself as something separate from his past. With the right type of present, he could set himself up for a future none of us saw coming.



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