x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Jeremy Lin is the Rocket that is yet to take-off

After his big-money summer the point guard's move to Houston Jeremy Lin says there was more pressure in New York, writes Gregg Patton.

Jeremy Lin, right, and the Houston Rockets lost to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
. Alex Gallardo / Reuters
Jeremy Lin, right, and the Houston Rockets lost to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. . Alex Gallardo / Reuters

Jeremy Lin joined the Houston Rockets this season with a feel of the magician about him.

So far, however, the new chapter in his career has been less inspiring than his storybook times, last February, when he brought excitement and success to a gloomy New York Knicks team and became one of the NBA's best-known players in a matter of weeks.

The winter of so-called "Linsanity" has devolved, the first 10 games of this season, into a losing record with the Houston Rockets, mediocre individual numbers for Lin and a sense that this NBA stardom thing is a lot harder than it seemed nine months ago.

Magic, after all, is often just an illusion.

If it has been a slow start, Lin is not giving in to any negativity surrounding his game.

"I'm not too worried about expectations," he said after a lopsided loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night, a game in which he made only two of nine shots and scored five points.

When someone brought up his large contract and asked about the accompanying pressure to perform, he laughed.

"There's not more pressure than there was in New York," he said.

Lin was a short-lived (if high-voltage) sensation there, playing only one season for the Knicks, sitting on the bench for most of it.

Last summer, the team had the right to match any contract their point guard attracted as a restricted free agent, and reportedly were prepared to do so.

But Houston's three-year, US$25.1 million (Dh92.2m) offer was arranged so that Lin would make $5m this season, $5.2m in 2013/14 and $14.9m in 2014/15 - which compromised New York's salary structure.

The Knicks let him go to Houston. It was a bitter loss for a city that had embraced the only Asian-American player in the NBA, and the league's first player graduate of Harvard since 1954.

Lin's 2011/12 season ended with a meniscus tear in his left knee, just as the play-offs were getting underway. His knee is fine now, but his game has yet to take off in Houston. In his 25 games as a starter in New York last year, he averaged 18.2 points per game and 7.7 assists.

In 10 games this year, Lin is averaging 10.3 points and 7.0 assists, and making just 34 per cent of his shots, while the Rockets are trying to remake themselves on the fly.

James Harden, the new focus of their offence, was acquired on the cusp of the season in a major trade with Oklahoma City. Lin is still adjusting to his new backcourt running mate, and everyone else on the Rockets, for that matter.

"You can talk about how young we are, you can talk about how everyone played on different teams last year, it's just a lot of change," Lin said.

Kelvin Sampson, the Houston assistant coach, bristled at a suggestion that Lin is underperforming.

"I think Jeremy is playing good," Sampson said. "I don't know what other people's expectations are, but Jeremy moves the ball well. He's working on his shooting and he's going to get better."

Observers of the Rockets have suggested that Lin is more hesitant on offence this season.

"I think it's a good point," said Lin. "Sometimes it takes a little while to get comfortable with your role and other players' roles but, yes, I need to be more aggressive."

Ironically, Mike D'Antoni, the coach who released the unknown, unheralded Lin on the NBA last winter (but was later fired by the Knicks) was scheduled to make his debut in his new job as the coach of the Lakers on Sunday night against Houston. As it turned out, D'Antoni, who has been rehabilitating from knee replacement surgery, was not up to the task, but he did express his own fond thoughts about his winter of "Linsanity".

"That's one of the best moments I've ever had in coaching," said D'Antoni, whose up-tempo coaching style meshed perfectly with Lin's attacking game.

"He's a great kid. It was crazy. It's something that doesn't happen very often."

The Rockets are finding that out. Even though they may not need all the feverish excitement that came with Lin's surprising debut, they will, eventually, need a little of that wizardry he conjured last season.

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