Jeremy Lin's gone from starter to bench player to forgotten man. It's been a stunningly swift and merciless plunge, one orchestrated by a coach who clearly never wanted anything to do with him.
Lin — who never deserved to lose his starting job to Patrick Beverley in the first place — is now no longer even the first option off the Houston Rockets' bench. Not really. Not in true practice.
In three of the last four games, another bench player has received more minutes from coach Kevin McHale than Lin. In two of those games, two other bench players logged more time than Jeremy Lin. And it would be four for four if Jordan Hamilton hadn't been promoted to the starting lineup Saturday night against Detroit when Chandler Parsons had another one of his one-game absences.
Remember how everyone defending the point guard starter switch argued that the move really benefits Lin and maintained that he'd get just as many minutes and be featured better as a sixth man?
Yeah, how's that working out?
Jeremy Lin is marooned in nowhere land, without a defined role, a coach's confidence or a sure future of his own.
It's appears now that discounting and diminishing Jeremy Lin has been part of the agenda since Day One. Slowly but surely, McHale's made Lin as irrelevant as the coach and general manager Daryl Morey apparently always wanted him to be. Morey and McHale may no longer be able to cut Jeremy Lin on Christmas Eve, but they can ensure he has no shot at being a real NBA factor.
What's the problem you ask? The Rockets are rolling (8-2 in February and 19-6 overall since the calendar flipped to 2014) and Houston NBA excitement's the highest its been in years heading into Tuesday night's Toyota Center showdown with a safely clear masked LeBron James.
No doubt the Rockets are devastating — and arguably the most entertaining team in basketball — when they're playing the Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers of the world. Dwight Howard's throwing alley oops to Terrence Jones, James Harden has his pick of wide open teammates to hit and any old guy off the street (or at least out of the Denver Nuggets' doghouse) can take advantage of all those uncontested threes.
Things get a little more complicated against the LA Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder though. The teams the Rockets need to beat to reach what should be championship visions don't roll over for the speed team. Patrick Beverley hits the big three against a collapsing Phoenix Suns team, but faced with the Clippers he struggles to five points, two assists, four turnovers and six fouls. He fouls out while Chris Paul (14 points, nine assists) and Darren Collison (19 points) take turns absolutely torching him. He has to be restrained from almost going after a taunting fan.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Lin is marooned in nowhere land, without a defined role, a coach's confidence or a sure future of his own.
Lin could have been the X-factor for the Rockets against elite teams. He should have been the X-factor. His NBA success, talent (you don't get a triple double off the bench without being incredibly talented) and playmaking skills scream this out. But no one's listening and that chance is all but gone now.
Jeremy Lin's been messed with so much this season that his confidence finally appears shot. He looks like he's caught in-between on everything and who can blame him? Lin's hesitating, almost overpassing. He's turning down open shots. He's lingering outside the 3-point circle, just another one of Morey's zombie long range shooters rather than the lane attacking rim difference maker he is.
All the while, Lin's minutes go down and talk of a "slump" is fueled by McHale, who helpfully offers that he isn't worried and that Lin will snap out of it.
Snap out of what? Getting jerked around like a toddler's favorite plush toy?
Kevin McHale's Big Issue
One might assume this is all working out great for McHale. After all, he got named Western Conference Coach of the Month on Monday for that fantastic February. And he's rightly being lauded for his skill at getting the best out of Dwight Howard.
The star in limbo is sure to lead to many lost dreams, no matter how many folks don't want to see it.
It's one great house of cards though. McHale's diminishing of Jeremy Lin is liable to cost him his job in the end. The Rockets won't be able to live up to the supersized expectations with their third best player reduced to a footnote. McHale will get a pass these playoffs, but before long the pressure will build and you be can sure that Daryl Morey won't be the one leaving the building.
The coach has turned these Rockets into a much faster-paced version of the 2012-13 Brooklyn Nets, a squad that excelled at beating up on lesser teams. Like the Nets of last season, the Rockets are setting themselves for a four vs. five first round playoff series and the instant disappointment that can come with it. Maybe that's an improvement over what the Rockets were earlier this season when they fell to the Sacramentos, Utahs and Lakers of the league. But it shouldn't be close to enough. Not with this talent. Not with such wide-open opportunity.
Unless Morey rescues McHale with a Kyrie Irving (less and less likely with the superstar breakthrough which CultureMap called at last February's Houston NBA All-Star Weekend now apparent to all) or a Rajon Rondo, the coach will ultimately be doomed by his inability to accept Jeremy Lin's talent.
Precious time and chances will be gone by then though. It's all going to be no consolation for Lin, Rockets fans or owner Leslie Alexander.
The star in limbo is sure to lead to many lost dreams, no matter how many folks don't want to see it. Maybe entertaining is enough. Maybe the high probability of beating a Miami Heat team in the second game of an early March back-to-back with your rested squad is all the thrill required.
For McHale's not just slamming the door on Jeremy Lin. He's in danger of prematurely closing the Rockets' championship window.