Jeremy Lin stunned everyone, including myself, when he accepted a two-year $4M+ deal to be a back up point guard for the Charlotte Hornets. But after learning a little more about the Hornets and listening in on the press conference today, I’m very confident that both Lin and the Hornets made the right choice.
The Hornets are looking to shore up one of the weakest offenses last season with their addition of long-range scorers this summer, including Nicholas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, etc. Coach Clifford, in today’s press conference, made it clear that Jeremy Lin is needed to be the play-maker for himself (since Lin is also a proficient three-point shooter and scorer) and for others. Clifford stressed that a team of great shooters is not very effective without a play-maker. I think the Hornets see Lin as the play-maker they really need this season, since Kemba Walker is not really a great play-maker for others. Walker is more of a scorer than a passer. Walker only averaged 5.1 assists last season as a starter, whereas Lin managed to average 4.6 assists playing only around 25 minutes on a team in full tank mode. Now, I’m not saying that the Hornets are looking to have Lin start over Walker, I’m just saying that they will value Lin’s play-making abilities, since the Hornets don’t really have a great play-maker.
The more I hear from Clifford and the more I learn about the Hornets, the more excited I am about Lin’s role. I envision Lin playing alongside Walker plenty of times and I do think Lin will average around 30 minutes from the bench and finish a lot of games, since the coach sees Lin as capable of playing both the point guard and shooting guard positions. I don’t know what Clifford’s relationship to Walker is, but depending on how well Lin does and how strong Lin’s relationship is with Clifford, there is even a chance that Lin may even start over Walker at some point in the season, since I think Clifford is really going to like Lin’s character/game and Clifford seems to be someone who really values a player with high character. Lin starting, of course, is the most optimistic scenario and still highly unlikely. As long as Lin gets to play his game and can average 30+ minutes a game and finish a lot of games, I’ll be satisfied.
The great thing about the contract with the Hornets is that the second year is a player option, which means Lin isn’t locked into this ridiculously cheap contract for two years. If Lin does well this upcoming season, Lin can get a contract that is more in line with his worth either with the Hornets or on another team.
Even though today’s press conference was pretty brief, it did seem more substantive than Lin’s introductory press conferences in the past. It seemed like there was real rapport between Lin and his coach this time around. One really significant thing that Lin mentioned in his press conference is that Coach Clifford had a conversation with him about how he’d be used, which is something that Lin’s never really had before. So I think Lin feels that this coach really values what he can bring to the team. In the past, Lin is forced to fit into whatever framework the coach already has in place, even if it means Lin isn’t allowed to play his game. So I think it was really important that Coach Clifford wanted to have an open dialogue about Lin’s role from the get-go. I think Lin has a real opportunity to finally be the attacking point guard that he is meant to be and not have to constantly worry about deferring to others or constantly looking over his shoulder at a disapproving coach. Lin mentioned that it was important to him to be proactive about communicating what he wants his role to be with the coach. That was really great to hear.
It was also great to see Coach Clifford nodding in complete agreement when Lin started talking about how it’s more important to have the right team culture and guys with high character than it is to have a lot of raw talent on a team. Coach Clifford, from what little I know of him, does seem to be a guy who values team players and guys with high character over just raw talent. This is probably why Lance Stephenson didn’t end up working out with the Hornets. It sounds like the guys they have now are all team players with good character. I don’t know much about Kemba Walker, but I hope he won’t feel threatened by Lin and mess up the chemistry on the team as a result. Right now, my main concern is the dynamic between Walker and Lin–especially when Lin starts getting a lot of attention from fans and the media. I want to make it clear, I have no real reason to be concerned, since Walker is a blank slate to me. So I don’t want to start any controversy where there is none.
Overall, I’m very optimistic about the makeup of this team. I think a lot of pieces fit together well. If Lin gets to play his game and can average around 30 minutes a game, I’m confident the Hornets can make the playoffs in the weak East. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I think we’re going to see plenty of “Linsanity” this upcoming season, because I anticipate a lot of team ball and good energy from this team. It’ll be a lot of fun to watch.
From what was said in the press conference, I feel like this coaching staff really understands Lin. Coach Clifford was D’Antoni’s assistant in LA, so he was able to reach out to D’Antoni and Steve Nash to learn more about Lin. One of the Hornets’s assistant coaches, Stephen Silas, was in Golden State when Lin was there, so I feel like this coaching staff really has a familiarity with Lin and a positive association with Lin. In the press conference, Lin said something very important that I’d like to highlight: “A lot of the issues that I feel like I’ve faced in the past few years, I feel like we’ve already discussed them and addressed them without even going into my past experiences.” This statement by Lin is really critical to me because it speaks to the idea that coach Clifford really understands the issues that Lin has dealt with in the past and has removed all of those obstacles for Lin so Lin can play his game from the get-go. No more deferring, no more looking over his shoulder, no more standing in the corner waiting for the ball, etc.
The other critical moment the press conference to me was when Jeremy Lin talked about how every aspect of his game has continued to improve since Linsanity (going left, shooting percentage, turnovers, defense, etc.) and this has kept him positive despite other factors such as minutes, going down. This tells me that Jeremy is very confident in himself as a player and his skill level. He just hasn’t had the right fit and hasn’t been allowed to play his game with sufficient minutes and that’s why his stats have gone down. I think Lin still has a belief that he can still be a great player and is excited to see what his limit is when given the chance to play solid minutes and play his game. Lin basically said all it all here: “I do believe that I am a more refined player, more all-around player. I do think the work I’ve put in has made me better. I just don’t think I have had the same fit or opportunity…I want to see how close I can get to reaching my full potential. I think in order to do that, it takes a lot of work on my end and it takes finding the right opportunity, the right coach or the right system. And I think this is a huge step in the right direction. I don’t know what my limit is. I don’t know how good I can be, but my goal is to find out.”
What’s even more critical than Lin’s statement is that right after Lin finished saying all this, Coach Clifford interjected with the following comment: “And I want to add to that. You know, it’s funny I was reading this morning [as I was] going over some notes. There’s whatever phrase from Bill Belichick that says pro players that continue to improve as they get older usually possess a combination of intelligence, drive and character…The thing that struck me is that [Lin] is hungry to continue to improve, which unfortunately is not always the case in any pro league. So I think [Lin] possesses those traits and I’m confident that he’ll continue to get better.”
The fact that Coach Clifford wanted to reinforce what Lin said out of his own accord and did so by summoning such a powerful quote from Bill Belichick to speak about Lin tells me that Clifford really has a genuine high regard for Lin. So I do anticipate that Lin and Clifford will have a great working relationship. This is why I think there’s a chance that Lin may even be able to start at some point in the season, either alongside Walker or over Walker.
So, once again, Lin’s career has taken another surprising turn. Linsanity in LA might have been what a Hollywood hack would have come up with, but a much more talented screen writer would use a small, sleepy setting, like Charlotte, for Linsanity 2.0.