It may not have been the Nets’ offseason plan, but signing Jeremy Lin to a three-year, $36 million deal in July turned out to be Brooklyn’s biggest summer acquisition. And, thanks to three different flareups of a hamstring injury, Lin has played just 12 games this season, one for each of the millions of dollars he is set to earn for the 2016-17 campaign.
The latest setback was announced by the Nets in a press release earlier today, as Lin will be out yet another couple of weeks with an aggravation of his strained left hamstring.
If you haven’t been following along, Brooklyn is 9-34 this season and with the draft rights to its first round pick owned by the Boston Celtics via a pick swap, the Nets could join the rare ranks of teams to win the draft lottery and have another team enjoy the spoils.
Lin hasn’t played since December 26th, when the Nets beat the Hornets — Lin’s former team — on a Randy Foye buzzer-beater. Brooklyn’s only win since that game came on Friday, when the Nets crushed the Pelicans, 143-114. That victory was preceded by 11 losses in a row, and followed by a loss on Saturday to none other than the Hornets.
Brooklyn is 3-9 with Lin in the lineup this season, not the brightest mark, but is vastly better than the 6-35 record the Nets have compiled across his two extended absences.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Greivis Vasquez, Randy Foye, Isaiah Whitehead, Caris LeVert, Sean Kilpatrick and Yogi Ferrell have all manned the point for the Nets throughout the season, other than Lin. Unsurprisingly, the mix of rookies, sophomores, current free agents and aging veterans hasn’t panned out too well for Kenny Atkinson’s bunch.
But, then again, the important thing is to remember that even with Lin, the Nets still likely wouldn’t be a playoff team this season, even in the watered-down Eastern Conference. A healthy Lin would make the team more watchable — simply by a factor of the Nets having a natural ball-handler, you know, handling the ball — and maybe diminish the Celtics’ chances at landing a top-4 pick, but an above-.500 team? Unlikely.
The troubling development with the Lin situation is that it feels very reminiscent of past Nets teams and regimes, in which simple injuries flow into season-altering ailments.
After leaving November 2nd’s win over the Pistons, Lin wouldn’t play again for a month and a half, all the while the organization assured that it wasn’t a very serious hamstring strain. He returned on December 12th against the Rockets, but missed another game two days later with back tightness.
Seven more injury-free games, then another left hamstring flare-up leading to his current 13-game sojourn to the sidelines. Is this a case of Brooklyn being extremely cautious with a player the team just committed to both in terms of money and years? It’s definitely possible, but to this extent seems like overkill.
The more likely scenario is that Lin’s injury is simply more serious than the team has let on, which is not exactly the best way to kick off the tenures of a new front office, new coach and — supposedly — new “culture” in Brooklyn. But, we’ve seen basically every Net regular rest when healthy at some point this year, even after multiple off days, so I wouldn’t put the first situation past the organization.
What is frightening is that Lin hasn’t been too injury-prone throughout his career. As a regular the last four seasons with the Rockets, Lakers and Hornets, he played at least 71 games each season. Halfway through his first year in Brooklyn, Lin has missed 31. If he were to not return this season — a 3-5 week timetable puts a possible return at somewhere around the All-Star break — he’d miss a total of 70 contests.
If this season tells us anything, though, that timetable means nothing in practice. By the time that arbitrary date-range ends, who knows how many games out of the No. 8 seed Brooklyn will be, and if that will changes how the Nets handle Lin.
Hamstring injuries are notoriously tough to monitor because they aren’t contact injuries as much as exertion injuries. So even when Lin is deemed healthy enough to return to action, a strict minutes limit would likely to put in place and even then, the wrong step here or there could lead to another prolonged stint on the bench.
Obviously, if there is any long-term concern to Lin’s health, it doesn’t make sense to rush him back to the court, especially on such a bad team. The worry is that such a concern might be legitimate and for the Nets, who are already starting the race a few meters back without the benefit of a top pick until 2019, it could be another debilitating blow to a franchise that has a fairly weak history of keeping star players healthy.