The great lesson of Linsanity — at least, as we understood it in February — is that expertise can be flawed and impressions faulty. Jeremy Lin taught us not to assume too much, especially as it pertains to Jeremy Lin.
The Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets will attest to this.
Yet as we survey the ever-changing, perpetually dysfunctional Knicks landscape, it is hard not to draw one hard conclusion: It’s the end of Linsanity as we know it.
The sudden and surprising change in head coaches almost ensures it.
Lin blossomed because he played in a system that perfectly suited him, for a coach who believed in him and needed him. Lin restored the aesthetics and the excitement to Mike D’Antoni’s frenetic offense and restored faith at Madison Square Garden.
But D’Antoni left the building Wednesday, taking his speedy, free-flowing offense with him. His replacement, Mike Woodson, is an old-school coach and Larry Brown disciple who emphasizes defense, ball control and isolation play. He does not push the tempo, or rely heavily on the pick-and-roll. He holds a tight leash on his point guards.
He prefers veterans to rookies. He wants the offense to run through his stars. He will run most of his plays for Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.
None of this bodes well for Lin.
“Woody’s inclination would not be to play him,” said a person who has worked with Woodson.
This will be a delicate matter for Woodson, who has 23 games to establish himself, right the ship and get the Knicks in the playoffs. Despite his recent struggles, Lin remains wildly popular at the Garden, and with fans around the world, who were captivated by his incredible, come-from-nowhere rise.
Lin is beloved by most of his teammates, who appreciate him for reviving their season with a seven-game winning streak and what seemed like a million uncanny clutch plays. But circumstances have changed, and Woodson cannot afford to be sentimental.
The Knicks have lost 8 of their last 11 games, leaving them in a dogfight for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. And Lin is no longer the dominant force who carried them in February. His production over the last nine games — 14.4 points and 7.3 assists — was solid, but he shot 37.7 percent and averaged 4.2 turnovers over that stretch.
In his first game under Woodson on Wednesday, Lin had 6 points, 6 assists and 6 turnovers. That he struggled so badly in a 121-79 victory seemed like a bad sign. Woodson, according to his former associate, will not tolerate many six-turnover games from his point guard.
This is where D’Antoni was so critical to Lin’s success. D’Antoni not only provided the platform, but he also gave Lin the freedom to explore, to create and to make mistakes, to make the aggressive pass and to take the open shot, without fear of reprisal.
Anthony was never comfortable in a Lin-centric offense. He bristled over having to “sacrifice for the system,” which ultimately led to D’Antoni’s resignation. But Anthony remains the Knicks’ most dynamic player and the one most critical to their long-term success. So as Woodson edits the Knicks’ playbook, it is a certainty that Anthony will not be asked to sacrifice much of anything.
In Atlanta, where Woodson guided the Hawks to three playoff appearances, the emphasis was squarely on his stars: Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. He ran so many isolation plays for Johnson that his offense became known (derisively) as Iso-Joe. Those plays will now belong to Anthony.
“His best players get the most shots,” the former associate said. “Melo’s going to love it. Amar’e’s going to love it. And the other 12 guys are not going to like it so much.”
Lin could lose the starting job to Baron Davis, a seasoned former All-Star who is bigger, stronger and a better defender. Toney Douglas, whose strength is his defense, could get another look under Woodson, after being benched by D’Antoni. Mike Bibby, who played for Woodson in Atlanta, could also win a greater role.
It seemed telling when Woodson referred to the 23-year-old Lin, a virtual rookie, as being “in a learning stage.” He then invoked Red Holzman, “who taught me that rookies were to sit and listen and learn,” when Woodson was a Knicks rookie in 1980.
Lin’s unusual journey, from Harvard to the N.B.A., with stops in the Development League and on various couches, has taught him to be an optimist. While he acknowledged that D’Antoni’s offense “was perfect for me,” he said he can adapt.
Yet with D’Antoni gone and Anthony back in the forefront, Lin may never get the same opportunities to shine. The Knicks have no room for error, nor does Woodson, who is coaching for a contract and the permanent job.
Lin is auditioning too, for the entire league, as a free-agent-to-be. A few weeks ago, it seemed a certainty that the Knicks would re-sign him, even if they had to use their entire midlevel exception. But D’Antoni is gone, the offense is changing and everyone has an interim title. A new coach and general manager could decide to spend the money elsewhere.
Lin has crushed conventional wisdom before. He may do it again. But in the Knicks’ twisted universe, there are no certainties and, for now, no room for Linsanity.