Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson is trying to do two things at once. He wants to give Jeremy Lin, who just signed a $36 million contract to return to New York City, room and time to grow into a positive role with the Nets. At the same time Atkinson also — but he has to be careful saying it — wants Lin to be a superstar. Atkinson is doing his best to temper expectations for Lin in Brooklyn, to buy his new point guard time to adjust. The coach is saying boilerplate things like “[Lin]’s going to have to figure out how best to play in this system,” and “we’re going to have to figure out how to use him.”
But Atkinson can’t really keep a lid on his expectations forever. “Obviously we want him to play like he did when he was in New York for that brief stretch. I’d love that,” Atkinson confesses. You mean that stretch where Lin lit up the NBA, was on the cover of back-to-back Sports Illustrated issues, and started a craze known as Linsanity that persists to this day? You want that, Coach? Because that is Jeremy Lin as superstar, not Jeremy Lin — really solid NBA player. Secretly Coach Atkinson wants Lin to be even better than he was then. Because Lin is a better player than he was when he left New York for Houston. He’s a better defender, a better ball-handler, and he’s even a better penetrator — always his strength. And now Lin’s got a pick-and-roll partner in Brook Lopez he didn’t have with the Knicks. Atkinson’s not alone in wanting Jeremy Lin, superstar. So does New York City.