Charlotte, N.C. — The changes started with the superficial. Jeremy Lin sported a teal Charlotte Hornets jersey instead of a purple and gold Lakers uniform. Lin also wore a giant mohawk filled with endless hair gel as opposed to, well, a normal haircut.
“Just something different,” said Lin, who’s wearing the look with a few family members and friends. “Right now, I’m the only one who has to deal with the public critique.”
Lin no longer has to deal with as much public scrutiny in Charlotte (17-13) as he did last season with the Lakers (5-27). Then, Lin lost his starting spot 20 games into the season amid Byron Scott’s frustration with his consistency. But Scott said Lin is “playing pretty well” after signing with Charlotte this offseason to a two-year, $4.3 million deal.
Lin continued that during the Lakers’ 108-98 loss to the Hornets on Monday at Time Warner Cable Arena. He posted 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting and four assists in 34 minutes off the bench. Lin appeared equally aggressive both with attacking the basket and on defense, two areas that Hornets coach Steve Clifford raved about regarding Lin all season.
“We’re in the playoff hunt. Obviously it’s good to be back on the winning side of things,” said Lin, who has averaged 11.8 points on 42.8 percent shooting and 3.2 assists in 25.5 minutes per game, which nearly mirrors his career averages through 5 NBA seasons. “I want to keep growing as a player. I’ve learned a lot here already, just under [Clifford’s] system and his defense stuff. He’s really good.”
The Lakers and Lin hardly looked like a good mix last season.
Lin lost his starting spot only 20 games into the season in favor of NBA journeyman Ronnie Price amid Scott’s frustration with Lin’s play. Lin lost his starting nod again once the Lakers prioritized developing Jordan Clarkson. Though he never publicly criticized Scott, Lin often admitted his uncomfortable feeling in his system amid clogged spacing, stagnant ball movement and infrequent use of pick-and-rolls.
Lin also conceded adjusting playing with Kobe Bryant because of his ball-dominant habits and his frequent injuries inhibiting practice time. But Bryant and Lin showed affection for each other when they went head-to-head. Though Bryant delivered a hard foul that knocked Lin to the ground, Bryant went to him soon afterwards to exchange pleasantries. Later on, Lin helped Bryant off the floor. Then, Bryant patted Lin on the back and placed his hands softly on his neck.
“I told him during the game, ‘Man, I’m happy for you,'” Lin said, referring to Bryant’s pending retirement and farewell tour. “‘I hope you’re at peace because you deserve what you’re getting.'”
Lin also feels he deserves what he’s getting, admitting he’s “having fun out here.” Friends have also observed that Lin is “smiling a lot more on the court.”
But even when Lin wasn’t smiling last year, he still remained graceful with coaches, teammates and staff members alike. He also sent personalized “Thank you” cards to a few reporters that regularly cover the Lakers, including yours truly. More importantly, Lin also misses Los Angeles considering the close friendships he has formed and maintained both there and in his hometown of Palo Alto.
“I just have such a high affinity for that place,” Lin said. “I love the city and a lot of my friends who aren’t in NorCal live in SoCal.”