Much like Isaiah Thomas signing a 10-day contract on April 3 with the Pelicans, Jeremy Lin is just looking for one more chance in the NBA. Based on his G League production this past season, he’s earned it. As I said last week, the league has a problem with its veterans being cast aside in favor of younger players with cheaper deals. Lin’s current standing as an NBA outsider is yet another casualty of this trend.
When the NBA ushered in its two-way contract system prior to the 2017-18 season, the change highlighted an already growing tendency for teams to prioritize cheap, undrafted and occasionally unworthy players over league veterans, who would be guaranteed $1-2 million more in salary under the current bargaining agreement. NBA owners would tell you, “It’s simple mathematics, you gotta love us,” but it’s a systemic issue that’s punched tenured workers in the face like this Mike Tyson shot from AEW last night.
Businesses everywhere prioritize cheaper, and theoretically, higher upside entry-level employees in favor of the slightly more expensive senior, associate, or mid-level worker with more experience and who is likely just flat-out better. Just because the NBA is a sports league doesn’t make it any different. In the NBA, more undrafted players have been getting opportunities to prove themselves, not because they’ve all deserved them, but because billionaires are cheaper than dudes who look for OnlyFans videos on PornHub instead of paying themselves.
Sure, in the NBA, you’ll find your Duncan Robinsons, Fred VanVleets, Kendrick Nunns, and Alex Carusos once in a while, but at precisely this point of the season, you need veterans if you’re chasing playoff success. For every one of those dudes, there are a bunch of others who aren’t those dudes. (I’ll acknowledge that having this conversation before the season may be slightly different, but only slightly.)
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But, you know, why pay Veteran X $2 million when Joe Schmo from a Power Five Conference, fresh off a 12-point-per-game college career, could occupy that same spot for less than half the cost?
For those veterans who do earn a spot, many ought to follow Danuel House’s lead and not take the three-year non-guaranteed deal for NBA pennies. After bouncing from the Washington Wizards to the Phoenix Suns, House caught on with the Houston Rockets in 2018-19, rejected a non-player-friendly contract, and only signed on through that year. He later accepted a much more worthwhile three-year extension worth over $11 million, which he’s currently in the second season of.
Never mind how vital his voice is at this time, on the court, Lin has been hit hard by the NBA’s veteran problem. The numbers even prove it. As the South China Morning Post points out, Lin is the G League’s only top-10 scorer this season who has yet to earn an NBA contract and, at age 32, the oldest player there by eight years. In nine G League games this season, Lin’s not only averaging 19.8 points and 6.4 assists, but the 11-year pro and nine-year NBA vet also had shooting splits of 51/43/88 from the field / three-point range / and free-throws. The 6.4 dimes per outing were good to make the G League’s top-five, and he even shot over five threes and nearly four free throws per game.
And it’s not like Lin sucked on the way out of the NBA either. Having covered him during his time with the Brooklyn Nets, his play on the court was never the overriding issue; it was his inability to remain on it that led to his eventual exit. The Harvard graduate only played 37 of a possible 164 games in two seasons, but when he played, the Nets were so much better, even as he played on a minutes’ restriction. And when we last saw him in the league before spending time with the Chinese Basketball Association, he was a third-string point guard behind Kyle Lowry and VanVleet on the 2019 NBA Champion Toronto Raptors. After playing 51 games with the Atlanta Hawks earlier that season, whom the Nets traded him to, Lin logged 23 appearances with the Raptors, averaging 7 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in less than 19 minutes per game. His shooting splits were only 37/20/81 in the condensed run. With the Hawks, he averaged 10.7 points and 3.5 assists on 46/33/84.5 splits. And that 2018-19 season, he played 74 regular-season games, followed by eight in the playoffs.
Furthermore, given the volume of injuries this season, someone should call this dude. As ESPN’s Baxter Holmes notes, via the Elias Sports Bureau, “2021 All-Stars have missed 15 percent of games this season, [which is] on pace to be the second-highest rate in NBA history. The only season that saw a higher rate was the 2014-15 season [16.8 percent].”
The Denver Nuggets are closing in on Austin Rivers, and although Thomas’ 10-day with the New Orleans wasn’t renewed, he’s reportedly drawing interest from the Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, and his former team the Boston Celtics.
There isn’t much more Lin could’ve done with the Santa Cruz Warriors, who are the G League affiliates of the Golden State Warriors, and you probably couldn’t name half of their bench. Besides, if billionaires want to save money, two 10-day contracts are just over $220K.