TORONTO - Like everybody else in the NBA, the Raptors could have had the accidental superstar, Jeremy Lin.
The difference between the Raps and all the other teams that missed out on their own version of Lin-sanity is they were forever close, forever knocking on the door, interested in Lin. Just not interested enough.
Bryan Colangelo liked Lin from the day he first saw him in a pre-draft workout in 2010. “We knew one thing about him after bringing him in,” said Colangelo. “We knew he was one tough kid.
“He took one of the hardest hits I’ve ever seen on a court and one of the toughest falls. He got hit from behind, crashed to the floor, eventually got up. We didn’t think he’d get up, to be honest. And he shook it off and continued the workout.
“We were extremely impressed by that.”
The Raptors were impressed with his toughness — just not necessarily his game. They talked after the workout, the general manager and the Harvard kid, with Colangelo unconvinced Lin could play in the NBA, unconvinced he would be drafted. “I asked him, ‘What’s your status going to be if you’re not drafted? Where are you going? Do you know who’s interested in you?’ I just wanted to keep the dialogue open.”
The Raptors have had all kinds of opportunities to reconnect with Lin since that pre-draft crash but for various reasons and circumstances, it just never happened. But it almost did.
It almost did just a month or so ago. Earlier this NBA season, with the New York Knicks in complete disarray and relationships rather friendly between Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, interim general manager Glen Grunwald, and Colangelo, there had been some serious talk about a deal for one of the Raptors’ point guards. No one will say who approached whom about what, but if you play the elimination game, it was probably the veteran Anthony Carter, who was supposed to be heading to New York.
The Knicks thought they needed somebody, anybody to help and Carter, with 12 seasons of work behind him, was an inexpensive and experienced answer.
The situation got so bad for the Knicks that D’Antoni was actually telling people around the league that he had no choice, he was running out of players, that he had to play Lin. Not that he wanted to.
Colangelo, who can’t talk about these kind of things, figured to himself that if he moved one of his point guards to open up a roster spot, there was the possibility he would add the tough kid, Lin, either by trade or waivers, depending on how the Knicks proceeded.
The deal was discussed but never happened.
Then the impossible and incredible occurred all at once: Lin got onto the Knicks floor and hasn’t gotten off since, becoming the accidental star in the process. The undrafted Lin, who couldn’t get a college scholarship, couldn’t find an NBA job, got a start for the Knicks and the team going nowhere, with its stars, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudamire out with injuries, hasn’t lost a game since. Four starts, five wins.
Lin’s totals, the best first four opening starts in history: 28-23-38-20 points in the four games, along with eight assists a night.
This is Rudy, only a better story and an athlete who can play. This is the short version of Rocky, but it’s not scripted and it’s not fiction. This is a Vince McMahon storyline playing out for real in the NBA. And this is a feature film coming to a theatre near you and Toronto is alive for a basketball night — the Raptors had to turn down media credentials for Tuesday night’s game with the Knicks — because, frankly, there’s never been a story like this one before, in any sport, at any time.
“We thought maybe he could help a team under the right circumstances,” said Colangelo, sharing his thoughts on Lin. “But not quite like what (he’s doing). This level is remarkable. It’s also being done on the world’s biggest stage. It’s the Knicks. It’s Madison Square Garden. He’s doing it without Amare and Carmelo. It’s just so many things coming together in this perfect situation.
“You have to give Jeremy credit. If it’s one or two games, you can call him a flash in the pan. But the fact it’s gone five games and he’s distributing the ball and he’s scoring 20-plus points, it’s a great story. It’s a testament to what kind of young man he is. He has more than a lot of us thought he had. Sometimes it’s a very fine line between being in the league and not being in the league. He’s not only toed the line, he’s jumped to the other side of it.”
And like most things NBA, that’s great for Jeremy Lin, great for sport, great for basketball, just not great for the Raptors.
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