LOS ANGELES — Jeremy Lin, backup point guard, threw the hoodie up and over his head and headed out of Staples Center late Sunday night undercover.
After saying before the season he was OK whether he started or didn't, Lin had just admitted to reporters he totally cares now that he's again not starting—even though he gave the impression he was OK about not starting while in Byron Scott's office Sunday morning.
It is a cycle of confusion that continues for Lin in a disappointing first Los Angeles Lakers season he hoped would bring the stability he has long sought.
Thing is, it's not just a starter-or-reserve jumble.
This is a full-blown identity crisis—and a completely understandable one.
Who is Jeremy Lin supposed to be?
He's the guy who gets a tribute video played in his honor when he returns to face his former team…except the record shows the Houston Rockets had to give draft picks to the Lakers to get them to take him off their hands.
He's the global icon who transcended the sports world with the New York Knicks after being hardly recruited out of high school, undrafted out of college and cut twice in the pros.
He plans this season to replace the 2012 splash of Linsanity with a sustainable level of excellence, but his lack of nuance in running the team offense and his defensive mistakes make it unclear whether he is, to be blunt, good enough to do what he intends.
He was actually asking a pastor to pray that he wouldn't get cut again just before he saw his life erupt into some of the most insane highs anyone has ever experienced, yet he wants more than anything to focus on humility.
Add it all up, and it's confusing who Lin is supposed to be, even before you have Kobe Bryant telling him he has to play with an "eff-it attitude" while Scott is nagging him to call more plays for his teammates and make more responsible defensive rotations.
Lin's answer to it all is to lean on his religious beliefs. He said recently that as important as basketball is to him, his family is more important than basketball, and God is more important than his family.
As he tried to accept Scott's decision after 20 games to start journeyman Ronnie Price for better point guard defense—with the coach committing to at least a 10-game audition for Price—Lin said Sunday night, "This is one of the toughest situations I've been in ever since I started playing the game of basketball. I'm trying to figure it all out. It's tough, but I believe God has me here for a reason, and I just keep working."
Scott's choice to insert both Price and Ed Davis into the starting lineup to create "a defensive-minded basketball team" didn't spark anything in a 104-87 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. And Scott acknowledged the Lakers lost their will to compete because they couldn't score.
Maximizing Davis' defense over Carlos Boozer makes sense, but no Lin means the Lakers are starting four weak offensive players in Price, Wesley Johnson, Davis and Jordan Hill. It's just the latest example of Scott putting too much burden on Bryant, whose hope had been to have offensive balance with Lin creating on the perimeter and Bryant from the free-throw line down.
Although Bryant said he expects Lin to "stick with it" instead of being down on himself, there has already been a heavy feeling with Lin this season. It has been especially noticeable since he declared this season would feature more of his true presence and be less about outside pressure. For someone with freakish acceleration and some hysterical off-court videos, Lin hasn't been a light presence.
That's what happens when you carry a lot of stuff with you and aren't sure which parts are the most you.
Lin walked into Toyota Center three weeks ago for his first trip back to Houston and made a point to wear a sweatshirt with "CALIFORNIA" across the chest. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Northern California, Lin has relatives all around him to offer more support. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has been interested in bringing Lin to this team basically his whole professional career.
Lin felt things were set up to take off for real for the first time. Instead, he has been tugged in many different directions, with the hoped-for solid foundation undermined by what he described as "new everything. ... I'm trying to figure out everything all at once."
He is not secure in his role or in his identity.
He's 26, but Scott still refers to him as a "kid."
He might still wind up a Western Conference All-Star starting guard next to Bryant even though he's not starting next to him on the Lakers.
It's crazy, but Lin doesn't know if, when or how far the pendulum will swing next time.
"Me of all people," he said, "I know it can change overnight."
Here's what Lin doesn't know: stability and security, safe and sound, night after night. He actually looks back on last season as a comfort zone because he got to be in the same place for a second year.
Yes, change can be absolutely exhilarating.
But peace is a prize.