How many times can a man turn his head / pretending he just doesn't see?
Bob Dylan asked that question 40 years ago. Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin must be asking himself the same thing as we speak.
First, the bulk of Lin's ball-handling duties were summarily given over to shooting guard James Harden, immediately following the bearded shooting guard's last-minute arrival in Houston last season. Then Lin began losing time first to Toney Douglas and then to Patrick Beverley. He was even frequently benched during crunch time--which, in an uneven season for Lin, was usually his finest hour.
(Per 82games.com, Lin ranked 48th in the NBA in 2012-13 for production in crunch time, a feat which might sound fairly mortal, until you consider it's higher than luminaries like Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Manu Ginobili and Chris Bosh.)
When the team drafted a terrific young point guard in Isaiah Canaan, the mind couldn't help but wonder. And when, in a surprise move, general manager Daryl Morey re-signed veteran shooter Francisco Garcia to a two-year contract, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, there was only one conclusion to be reached.
If Lin's looking for an answer, my friends, it's blowing in the subtropical winds of the Houston topography. And if you're into subtext, Jeremy, in H-Town, this is tornado and cyclone season.
It was painfully obvious for most when Lin was not a part of the pitch team for the services of Dwight Howard, which included Harden, Chandler Parsons and retired Rockets greats like Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. Heck, even Yao Ming Skyped with D12.
It seems everybody was in on the action…except for Lin.
And when Howard made his seismic announcement, it seems every player on the Rockets posted comments to Twitter, including Beverley.
Except for Lin. He hasn't tweeted since July 1. And he hasn't once tweeted about Dwight Howard.
Except for Lin. The refrain is sounding, as Stevie Nicks would say, hauntingly familiar. His silence and his absence are both glaring and revealing.
Lin was rumored to be part of a sign-and-trade to bring Josh Smith to the Rockets, as reported by ESPN's Chris Broussard. However, when ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported that Smith signed with the Detroit Pistons, that deal—thankfully for the Rockets, if you ask me—was snuffed out.
And yet, with center Omer Asik saying, incredibly, that he doesn't want to play with Howard—a guy who, were he to play at the power forward position, could help Asik form the best defensive frontcourt in the NBA—Asik's and Lin's combined $16.75 million per season would be enough to work a sign-and-trade for a marquee player.
After all, as wonderful a young talent as Parsons is, the Rockets' only two superstars are Harden and Howard, which makes them the 2006 Miami Heat with Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal. They won a title, but in 2013, it will likely take a Big Three to knock the Miami Heat's triumvirate off their championship perch. And having landed his big fish, I can't see Morey hesitating about going after a second, smaller fish, using Howard's signing as bait.
Add in that Beverley, Canaan and Garcia are in the fold and can handle the long-range shooting required of Houston's point position, and it seems all but certain that the Rockets will package Lin and Asik to land that third superstar.
Is this a referendum on Lin's performance last season? Ultimately, it must be considered as such.
Lin's arrival was met with great fanfare. But his performance in preseason 2012 was troubling enough to make Morey step up his efforts to pursue Harden.
Was Lin still recovering from injury? Possibly. Would things have been different had he been the facilitator? Certainly—though whether the Rockets would have been better or worse is impossible to determine.
But more than anything, this shows that the NBA is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. The window for winning is generally small, because player loyalty in the NBA is generally low.
By any standards, for whatever reasons, Lin had a season which fell far short of expectations which were sky high after his incredible Linsanity run. And it's abundantly clear that performance was not satisfactory to Morey and the Rockets' brain trust.
So now it's a matter of time until Lin packs his bags and becomes, to quote Dylan again, like a rolling stone. Unlike the classic song, though, no one will ask Lin how it feels.
Knowing the competitor Lin is and the commitment he showed to improving last year—including working with a shooting coach before and during the season—it must feel much like it did when he was overlooked prior to his New York Knicks coming-out party.
And Lin has used that as fuel in the past.
The question is whether any fuel can rev his engine enough to return to superstar, or even star, form.
It reminds me, eerily, of one of the greatest books I've ever read, Flowers For Algernon. It's a fictional diary of a mentally challenged man named Charley, who gets a surgery which turns him into a genius. Tragically and unforgettably, he finds out the surgery does not last. And by the end of the book, Charley has returned to what he used to be.
In a basketball sense, the same fate may befall Lin.
His window of opportunity is closing. And the fickle finger of fame—which seems in today's world to last 15 seconds as opposed to Andy Warhol's famous estimate of 15 minutes—long ago began to point away from Lin and toward players who were achieving in the present moment, not in the recent and glorious past.
It's a virtual fait accompli thatl Lin will depart Houston after one season. Perhaps he will land with a team who will give him the ball and the keys to the kingdom. But he has long since forfeited his right to demand that.
Lin gave us a month in 2012—and especially an inspirational eight-game stretch—that was historic. He is still a hero to many. He still has a loyal and enthusiastic legion of fans.
It remains to be seen whether he will still have an opportunity to give them more to cheer about.