TAIPEI, Taiwan – It was supposed to be a five-week stretch in early 2012 when an overlooked kid from Harvard who’d already been cut by two teams took a missile ride to stardom in the NBA and around the globe.
It was supposed to be a fantasy-type experience that took him from sleeping on a teammate’s sofa to becoming a hero half a world away in his family’s ancestral home of Taiwan and the rest of Asia, a story so improbable that it cried out for a movie script. Shot, wrapped, the red carpet premiere already rolled out.
It was supposed to culminate this weekend with the arrival of the NBA’s Global Games to Taipei for a screaming, cheering, it-really-happened fusion celebration of Jeremy Lin’s journey with the league’s international outreach.
It was supposed to be the end of Linsanity. Instead, it could be just the start. That is, if Lin doesn’t.
When Rockets coach Kevin McHale followed through with his stated plan to alternate the former phenom and Patrick Beverley in the starting lineup through the eight-game preseason schedule by bringing Lin off the bench Thursday night in the Philippines, it was received by, well, Linsanity. The Chilla in Manila.
As the Internet is wont to do, a molehill in the South China Sea was turned into Mount Mayon, a volcanic rumbling in the Ring of Fire, to hear it told, that would explode in the faces of the Rockets and any notions they had of becoming a playoff contender, let alone champions.
McHale was being disrespectful, rash, judgmental, racist and probably didn’t like puppies, according to the corners of Twitter and Facebook that weren’t breathlessly keeping up with the Kardashians.
If McHale thought he was merely trying out different things in a meaningless exhibition game more than 8,000 miles from Texas, he clearly didn’t get NBA commissioner David Stern’s memo on the small, small connected world we now live in.
“I just alternate starting guys,” he said. “I just want to see new guys come off the bench, see how it works. We have a lot of new faces. I talked to Jeremy and Patrick about it. Both are playing very, very well. Patrick played very well and Jeremy has been playing tremendous. The first couple of days I was worried about him, but I tell you, about three or four days into camp he started playing really well, high energy.
“He had a great summer of work. He’s lost a little weight. I liked his shot. It’s tighter. He really worked hard all summer and it shows…All the stuff we talked about. I’m excited about having both those guys. The nice things that happened (Thursday) night is they both played very well. I wouldn’t get all excited about who starts in a preseason game.”
Of course, McHale didn’t have to get excited. That has been taken care of by the swarm of local reporters and cameramen who have hungrily chewed on the bone for the past two days, not to mention a world of worshipping, and in many cases, race-driven Lin fans.
So has McHale made his choice on who will start at point guard in the Oct. 30 season opener against Charlotte?
“I’m playing them in alternate exhibition games,” he said.
Does this mean McHale thinks Beverley is better than Lin?
“I’m just looking at different combinations of my playing to see who can play well with who,” he said.
Is having Lin and Beverley together on the roster a dilemma for McHale?
“You want as many good players as you can,” he said. “I foresee playing Jeremy and Patrick together also. It’s not a dilemma. It’s a luxury. It’s a process.”
Fact is, Lin will be back in the starting lineup to face the Pacers on Sunday (1:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV) at a Taipei Arena jam-packed with unabashed boosters. McHale, after all, can read a map.
However, the truth is that the Rockets and Lin might both be more well served having Lin come off the bench this season. There are all kinds of basketball reasons, not the least of which is he’d get more opportunities to score with his slashing style when he’s not the third or even fourth-best offensive option behind Dwight Howard, James Harden and maybe Chandler Parsons in the starting lineup.
Beverley’s snarling, in-your-face, aggressive style could also be better served taking a bite out of opposing point guards at both ends of the floor, setting a defensive tone the Rockets desire and softening things up a bit for Lin to strut his stuff against the opponent’s second unit.
Then there is the matter of what it takes to make a successful team and that is, after all, what it’s supposed to be all about. The Twitter critics might use their smartphones to look up McHale’s own career with the Celtics, much of it as a sixth man. They could search for @HallofFame and @3ChampionshipRings.
And despite that magic carpet ride that soared above the hoops world from January to February some 20 months ago, the rest of Lin’s NBA career is most likely to look more like the 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per game he averaged for the Rockets last season than what he did as a meteor in New York.
The whole experience might have made Lin a hot selling name on the backs of jerseys, a $25 million contract with the Rockets and a global marketing phenomenon, but it probably didn’t do him any favors in having to live up to that hype. There were times last season when you could practically see the burden of Linsanity riding on his back. There was likely a time when he worked, pushed and pressed to live up so much to the image that it held him back. He may, in fact, have come to believe he was Linsanity and the became the problem. It was when he finally listened to some close counsel to stop overreaching that the tumblers began falling into place and his game improved during summer workouts.
McHale might be not only helping his own team by using Lin off the bench, but giving a long-term boost to the length and quality of the point guard’s career.
Lin is a nice player who at times can be electric, if he’ll just let himself be himself and, most important, not try to be more.
“I’m not thinking or worrying about ‘situations’ or whatever happens,” he said when pressed again on Saturday. “I just want to work as hard as I can, earn as many minutes on the court as I can, do whatever I can to help my team the most.”
That will be the trick, to keep a narrow, purposeful focus and not give into the real Linsanity that could be just starting all around him.