Call it karma, plain bad luck or simply one of those crazy twists that sports always seems to deliver, but Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale suddenly finds himself completely dependent on the player he's dismissed, discounted and seemingly tried to demoralize.
Jeremy Lin is the Rockets starting point guard again — and there's seemingly little McHale can do about it. A devastating knee injury to Patrick Beverley — a torn meniscus, the same type of knee injury Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook suffered when Beverley lunged at him in a very debatable timeout signal play — has knocked Beverley out indefinitely and more than likely for the entire season. (NBA information guru Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports first broke the news of Beverley's injury).
You have to feel for Beverley — and the fact the injury happened during the NBA's version of a free bye (a game against the ever-losing Philadelphia 76ers) adds no small insult to the injury. Still think Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's strategy of resting his players throughout the regular season is crazy?
As unfortunate as Beverley's injury is, it actually gives the Rockets a chance to be a more dangerous playoff team.
What's truly bizarre is where this injury leaves the Rockets. They need to lean on Lin as their playoff lifeline after a season spent taking shots at his confidence. The way Lin's been treated is dizzying. From starter to sixth man to . . . sometime seventh and eighth man.
All the while Jeremy Lin still put up some crazily good games — rescuing the Rockets with his defense on Spurs All-Star point man Tony Parker on Christmas, popping off the bench to deliver a triple double against Cleveland, blitzing Portland for 26 points. No matter, his time would be reduced with no notice, no logic.
As usual, Lin showed nothing but class and a good teammate's inclination when hit with the news of Beverley's torn up knee. "Praying for a speedy recovery for my bro @patbev21!! Gonna miss this dude on the court...," Lin tweeted.
It's not Patrick Beverley's fault that Kevin McHale lost his coaching mind and seemingly became intent on limiting the impact of his third most-talented player. As unfortunate as Beverley's injury is, it actually gives the Rockets a chance to be a more dangerous playoff team.
If — and this is a monstrous IF — McHale starts playing Lin the 36 to 38 minutes a night he should be playing. If McHale starts treating Lin with the same respect he shows inconsistent forward Chandler Parsons.
Beverley is a modern day Bill Laimbeer in a smaller body and there's no doubt his relentless annoying of the opposition will be missed. But Lin is a much better passer, rim attacker and defender despite the myth making that's built Beverley up as some supposed defensive stopper.
Lin never deserved to lose his starting point guard spot to Beverley in the first place. The move always made little true basketball sense — with those rationalizing it often reduced to spewing nonsense about Lin not being any good anyway.
Jeremy Lin Saves McHale?
A more bitter, less professional player than Jeremy Lin might balk at the idea of saving a coach who clearly messed with his career. But there's little worry of that here. Lin will attack any additional responsibilities he's given with his customary drive.
Lin is a much better passer, rim attacker and defender despite the myth making that's built Beverley up as some supposed defensive stopper.
He'll get Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones more easy shots. He'll shatter the absurd argument (see that Portland comeback) that he and budding superstar guard James Harden can't play well together.
If McHale can stomach letting Lin thrive. If McHale opens up his eyes and sees what Lin truly is. If McHale puts the team first.
Patrick Beverley is down and out. Jeremy Lin is back in the starting lineup. That's one crazy twist.
Want another one?
Consider the real notion that Lin suddenly holds McHale's fate in his hands. There's no question that the Rockets playoff fortunes will play a large role in determining McHale's long-term future in Houston. It's no mere coincidence that the Rockets haven't extended the contract of McHale yet like some Houston columnists have prematurely pleaded for them to do. Next year is the last year of McHale's original four-year deal with Rockets owner Leslie Alexander and it's a team option year.
McHale needn't worry though.
If he finally truly trusts Jeremy Lin, he'll be sitting pretty once again — getting credit for leading an "undermanned" team deeper into the playoffs than anyone expected.
A lot of people will think the season now rests on Lin. Instead, it actually depends on McHale and which way he goes.