Jeremy Lin's Path Back to Stardom Clear...If He Can Meet Everyone's Expectations

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterNovember 7, 2014

Noah Graham/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Beaten down by yet another game without a victory, and now in the Lakers locker room with a sore right foot after the ankle sprains that limited his training-camp reps, Jeremy Lin faced the question without expression.

It was very Pau Gasol-like, really.

The question was biased, a leading request by a media member wondering how inspirational it felt to be Kobe Bryant's teammate during a game in which Bryant tries so hard (by shooting so much), ultimately in vain. It was the sort of question that Gasol, for all his respect toward Bryant and his ideal cooperation with him, quickly grew tired of answering—and would reply with politically correct enough words but dead eyes.

Yet such is life as a supporting cast member for Kobe, almighty and heroic to the death in the eyes of many fans and even some reporters.

And Lin, amid his open proclamations that Bryant has taken him under his wing like no one in the NBA ever has and his clear confusion so far in finding his place with the Lakers, still quietly bristled at the slight.   

"I give my all, as well," Lin answered Tuesday night after the Lakers dropped to 0-5 with their second loss to the Suns this season. "I respect the fact that he gives his all, and we all know that he wouldn't be who he is if he didn't give his all. But I give my all, and I know a lot of guys in the locker room give their all, too."

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It was an evenhanded, strong, stubborn answer.

It's the kind of lion's pride in a humble package that made Gasol a worthy partner for Bryant. It's the sort of self-assurance that prompts Bryant to already believe in and invest so much in Lin.

Jeremy Lin has averaged five assists per game through the Lakers' 0-5 start this season.
Jeremy Lin has averaged five assists per game through the Lakers' 0-5 start this season.Noah Graham/Getty Images

"I'll go out there," Bryant said, "and I'll leave it on the floor, leave everything, and compete and be relentless and not be fearful of criticism or fearful of not playing well and missing shots. And that's the same way I want the guys to play—Jeremy, in particular. Because he's a really good player."

Bryant tacked on one more "because" for Lin. The key one.

"He's just getting used to playing with that eff-it attitude," Bryant said.

That statement might sound odd considering one of the knocks on Lin in Houston was that he played so out of control. In fact, Rockets coach Kevin McHale said last week that Lin was "ultra-aggressive" and "plays real hard" and "sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."

"He goes 90," McHale said, "and he hopes the cops aren't around."

Well, McHale's stop signs the past two years are among the limitations to which Bryant is referring. Bryant has said repeatedly how Lin can't play "looking over his shoulder" the way he has during professional struggles that have far outweighed that single month of Linsanity.

But considering Bryant is a world-renowned (and oft-ridiculed) expert in the field of unswerving self-confidence, you can trust he has a pretty keen eye for the fire within. He clearly sees something in Lin.

And to be honest, it's what Lin sees in himself.

He says his parents would say he has been hardheaded his whole life—and he must have been to overcome the obstacles in front of him to get this far.

After struggling to fit into Kevin McHale's schemes in Houston, Lin was dealt to the Lakers over the summer along with a first-round draft pick.
After struggling to fit into Kevin McHale's schemes in Houston, Lin was dealt to the Lakers over the summer along with a first-round draft pick.Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

After feeling the burden and pressure to meet others' demands in Houston, Lin has said repeatedly that this is the season that he will reclaim himself.

He would also add that he can't do it alone. It's not just Bryant sharing the ball with him; it's Jordan Hill getting double-doubles, it's Carlos Boozer moving to give Lin a passing option at the rim and it's Wesley Johnson guarding top perimeter players well enough that Lin doesn't have to.

Lin basically didn't play on Bryant's team in practice at all the first week-and-a-half of training camp. That's how much the Lakers hoped Steve Nash would run the first unit so Lin could attack and create foremost with the second unit.

Much has already changed since the start of camp.

Tuesday night saw Lin score six consecutive points—all on free throws—giving a weary Bryant time to rest under his own basket and gather himself to hit his next two jumpers. Down the stretch, though, there was another possession full of indecision: force the ball back out to Bryant, who most certainly will come get it, or have Lin take care of it himself?

Bryant is crusading for Lin, like Bryant's all-time-fave teammate Derek Fisher would, to be confident enough in himself and his decisions not to defer. Bryant has also said Lin can be a great defensive player.

Jeremy Lin has not hidden the fact that he has struggled at times this season to find the right balance between passing and scoring.
Jeremy Lin has not hidden the fact that he has struggled at times this season to find the right balance between passing and scoring.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

All the prodding comments from Bryant don't center on Boozer, the two-time All-Star and his longtime friend. Or Johnson, alongside whom Bryant trained all summer to coach up. Or Julius Randle or Nash, obviously out for the season.

Bryant has chosen Lin to challenge, and in a way it's an honor. In another way, it's just the sort of heavy-handed demands that some players don't want and can't handle if they don't have enough self-respect inside.

Ultimately, the Kobe influence is beside the point anyway. It is on Lin, who believes deeply in individual sacrifice for the greater good of the team, to want to re-establish his individual status more than even Bryant wants him to.

Lin, 26, is more disappointed by what didn't happen for him in Houston than most people know. But it allowed him to fail and grow without the blinding New York spotlight, and it has brought him back to his beloved California and his birthplace city for a fresh start.

So far, not so good.

"It's been more frustrating that I expected," Lin said. "I haven't done what I need to do, and I take full responsibility for that."

Tons of people are wearing his jersey again, and he's still swamped by Asian media, but this is the season when Lin expected meaningful change.

And when that change doesn't come, it leaves a distinctly empty feeling after you've been filled with that much love and admiration—and more important, accomplished something as powerful as he did in New Yorkand know you want something more right and real now.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.


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