SAN FRANCISCO -- Looks like things are pretty clear-cut with Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks. Either he rides out the current storm and helps the team make the playoffs, or he fades into oblivion and finds himself on the free-agent market.
Things tend to change that quickly around Madison Square Garden, billed as the "mecca of basketball" but in fact the realm of inept ownership, reckless change and some of the most fair-weather fans (and media) on the planet. Every two or three days, the Knicks' world simply ends. Fierce critiques and booing all around. A few days later, it's all sunshine and playoff talk, nobody ever stopping to realize how ridiculous it looks.
Just three weeks ago, when Lin made his second straight Sports Illustrated cover, everyone relished the notion that the endearing point guard had found the team of his dreams. That's right about the time Carmelo Anthony returned from an injury, complete with forecasts of doom for coach Mike D'Antoni's new toy, and sure enough, everything changed.
Anthony doesn't understand the concept of rapid ball movement built around an attacking point guard. He wants the entire operation built around him. He's not evil or mean-spirited, he just knows he's the best shooter on the floor -- maybe the entire league, when he's on. Anthony was plainly appalled every time Lin blew a driving layup, got stripped of the ball or made an ill-advised pass, and according to an ESPN report, "When Lin tried to talk to Anthony on the court, Anthony would turn his back and tune him out."
Lin is all about freedom, in his game and his coach's trust, and that freedom evaporated with Anthony, J.R. Smith and Baron Davis in the picture. Too many demands, too many disparate agendas. Suddenly, D'Antoni was gone, wishing he'd taken that Chicago Bulls job (in 2008) when he had the chance.
When assistant coach Mike Woodson took over, the back page of the New York Post showed a tombstone with the inscription, "R.I.P. Linsanity." Woodson, based on his six-year stint in Atlanta, has a reputation for benching rookies and crafting an isolation offense built around his biggest stars. It was speculated that Davis would have the point-guard job before long, and that both Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire would be appeased.
Woodson recoiled, saying Lin would be his point guard, and that has been the case so far (in what might turn out to be a blessing, Davis left the floor with a hamstring injury Friday night). But there's no telling what happens over the next five weeks. It's clear that the scouting reports have caught up with Lin -- still a presence, but no longer a mythical force of nature -- and that he's nowhere near the upper echelon of NBA point guards.
"I've got to continue to be aggressive, but it's going to be in different ways," Lin told reporters upon Woodson's arrival. "Different ways to initiate the offense, different ways to score and create. There will be challenges for all of us."
Lin's contract enables him to be a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the Knicks can match any offer he receives from another team. Last month, you'd have bet the house on it. That was before a heavy fog rolled in.