When the NBA schedule initially came out, everyone's eyes immediately scanned the games for one word: "HOUSTON." They landed on tonight, December 17, Jeremy Lin's return to Madison Square Garden. But the storylines seemed a lot simpler then than they do now.
After all, back then, to many NBA observers (and sad Knicks fans), the Knicks looked like the team in chaos, the many MSG factions battling each other and ultimately deciding to bring back only players in their late 30s, while the Rockets, with their super-smart stat-based GM, representing youth, the new vanguard, with Lin and (later) James Harden. By December 17, neither team would be expected to be a title contender, but the Rockets would have a future, while the Knicks would be grasping to recapture a long-lost past. And Lin would be cheered, for what he was, for what he did, for what we lost.
Well: It hasn't worked out that way at all. The Knicks have the second-best record in the NBA, their point guards, the Lin replacements, are playing terrific, Carmelo Anthony has raised his game to an MVP level, and the Garden is roaring every night. (The Knicks remain undefeated there.) Meanwhile, the Rockets are coming off a loss to Toronto, are currently out of the playoff chase, and Lin openly admits, "I'm doing terrible." The Lin story is an afterthought in New York. We have so much more to think about, from Amar'e Stoudemire's return to Carmelo Anthony's injury (he's a game-time decision tonight) to the sense that this might be the best Knicks team in almost twenty years. Lin's ascendance is a lovely memory — and one could still argue that the Knicks should have kept him around anyway and have an actual young player on this team — but right now this Knicks team has bigger fish to fry.
All good, all reasonable, all well. But after the (more justified by far, but still) booing of Mike D'Antoni last week, we still wonder: Could Lin possibly be booed tonight? It's not an academic question: Even Raymond Felton, Lin's replacement, felt obliged to spur the crowd to give Lin love. "They should give him a standing ovation when he comes back here, without a doubt," Felton said. Think about that. The then-portly point guard whose acquisition, for all intents and purposes, meant the end of Lin's time here, imploring Knicks fans to cheer Lin, not to boo him. That's just insane, and tells you all you need to know about the Knicks' start. One can sense Lin's apprehension about it as well; he said yesterday "I'm definitely ready to get it over with."
We'd have to think the MSG crowd can hold two opposing thoughts in their minds simultaneously: Jeremy Lin was a terrific Knick who provided a ton of joy and excitement, and that the 2012-13 Knicks are better off without him. (Though the 2014-15 Knicks, we're not so sure.) But considering the Frank Isola "85 percenters" of the world, and the Stephen A. Smith ridiculousness of Lin "salivating over green instead of orange and blue," what seemed to be an organized Lin Dissent Tour (not unlike the Mets did, less successfully, with R.A. Dickey on his way out the door), well, we have some worries. Hopefully the crowd will roar for Lin when he's introduced, and it will be a lovely moment that everyone remembers ... and the Knicks then blow the doors off the Rockets and don't have to think about them, or Lin, again until next season. That might be the best thing for everyone, including Lin. But we'll know tonight. We are both dreading it and absolutely cannot wait.