Ever seen a magician at work? Watched a man pull a rabbit from a hat, or levitate three feet into the air while reciting the alphabet backwards? I have (except for the alphabet part), and like many, I’m out there in the audience searching for the rope keeping that magician afloat. I don’t believe in magic, and while I don’t always know how it works, I keep a watchful eye waiting for the magician to slip up and reveal a clue.
For Jeremy Lin and all of New York Knicks nation, these last two weeks have been magic. For anyone who’s been living out their own disappearing act for the last 14 days, Lin, a previously undrafted Taiwanese-American point guard out of Harvard, is the newest addition to the New York City hype machine.
After being cut by the Golden State Warriors on the first day of training camp two months ago, Lin was signed by the Houston Rockets, only to be waived 12 days later to make room for defensive specialist Samuel Dalembert on the Houston roster. Three days later (Dec. 27), following an opening-day knee injury to Knick rookie guard Iman Shumpert (out 2-4 weeks), Lin prolonged his NBA world tour by signing with the Knicks in an expected back-up role.
“I’m competing for a backup spot, and people see me as the 12th to 15th guy on the roster,” Lin said after signing with the Knicks. “It's a numbers game.”
Indeed it was—with third-year point guard Tony Douglas anchoring the starting spot until the return of Shumpert or all-star veteran Baron Davis (who signed with the Knicks in December, but is yet to suit up because of a herniated disk), Lin was competing for garbage minutes with veteran point guard Mike Bibby. He was a placeholder who the Knicks relied on for practice minutes and in-case-of-emergency depth.
So when the Knicks demoted Lin to the NBA D-League on Jan. 17, no one was surprised—moreover, no one even noticed. But following his Jan. 20 D-league triple-double (28 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists) performance over the Maine Red Claws as a member of the Erie BayHawks, the Knicks decided to Call Lin up once again.
But with the Feb. 10 NBA contract deadline approaching (all NBA players with roster spots as of Feb. 10 were to be given guaranteed roster spots for the remainder of the 2011-12 season), Lin was once again considered a placeholder, a temporary response to the Knicks’ lack of depth at the point guard position until Davis’ return from injury. And with veteran free agent forward Kenyon Martin (previously of the New Jersey Nets and Denver Nuggets) still dangling in the open market after a failed stint in the Chinese Basketball Association, it was widely assumed that the Knicks would go after Martin with everything they had (their $2.5 million mini-midlevel exception, and of course, Lin’s roster spot). Lucky for Lin (and the Knicks), Martin took his talents to Los Angeles, where he opted to sign with the “Lob-City” Clippers. Had Martin instead signed with the Knicks, Lin would have inevitably been released.
With Serendipity on his side, Lin continued to spend his days practicing with the Knicks, and evenings on the bench with the likes of Knick utility players Renaldo Balkman and Jerome Jordan. Unsure of what his status would be as of Feb. 11, the 23-year-old Harvard econ graduate continued to live out of a suitcase on his college-aged brother’s New-York-City couch.
Despite having played only 55 minutes through the first 23 games of the 2011-12 season, Douglas’ highly public struggles from the field, and the Knicks’ inability to sustain any semblance of a working NBA offense provided all the catalyst that Head Coach Mike D’Antoni needed to make a change. Essentially, there was no reason not to give Lin a shot, and for no other reason, the 23-year-old point guard finally saw daylight.