Charlotte Hornets

In stellar return to Charlotte, ex-Hornet Jeremy Lin proves he’s moved past injury

Atlanta Hawks guard Jeremy Lin, left, and teammate Dewayne Dedmon, right, battle Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for a loose ball. Lin, who spent one season with the Hornets, scored 19 points off the bench Tuesday night at Spectrum Center in the Hawks’ 113-102 loss.
Atlanta Hawks guard Jeremy Lin, left, and teammate Dewayne Dedmon, right, battle Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for a loose ball. Lin, who spent one season with the Hornets, scored 19 points off the bench Tuesday night at Spectrum Center in the Hawks’ 113-102 loss. AP

Towel on the floor, perfectly placed for his back, legs hoisted up on a folding chair, and a fat sack of ice on his six pack.

Let Jeremy Lin’s timer begin.

Ten minutes like this post-game — it’s a recovery routine veteran Vince Carter taught him, to help with aches and soreness and to promote “freshness” — after his Atlanta Hawks’ 113-102 loss to the Charlotte Hornets Tuesday night, and then Lin springs back up off the floor of the visiting locker room.

Weird, right? Jeremy Lin in the Charlotte Hornets’ visiting locker room.

“I actually realized,” Lin said, “I think this is the first time I’ve played back in this building since I ended up leaving.”

Lin’s lone season with the Hornets in 2015-2016, four years after “Linsanity” made him an overnight celebrity, was an unequivocal success. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound guard averaged 11.7 points and 3 assists per game for Charlotte as a spot starter, helping the team to its most recent playoff appearance.

But when it became apparent after that season that the Brooklyn Nets would offer Lin a substantial raise as well as a starting spot, he opted out of his second year with Charlotte and migrated north.

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Still, Lin likely never could have imagined the path he’d take back to Spectrum Center. After hamstring injuries limited him to 36 games with Brooklyn during the 2016-2017 campaign, the 2017-2018 season brought new promise...

Until Lin ruptured his right patella tendon on opening night, costing him the entire season.

“It’s been a year and about a month now, and those injuries take a lot of time,” Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce said. “We saw in preseason that he was climbing back and getting his cardio in in addition to getting over the mental and emotional side of the injury.”

So when Lin popped back up off the locker room carpet, effortlessly and without any hitch in his knee, it was a subtle reminder of how far he’s come.

“I think conditioning-wise, knee-wise, I’m good. I think the biggest thing I’m continuing to try and fight for is my rhythm, and that’s coming,” Lin said. “Today I threw an alley-oop pass off the backboard that I’ve never done in my life before. Just small things like that, that’ll come back. Everything is gonna slowly come back, and I’m just going to keep fighting for it, keep working hard.

“The beauty and the struggle, as I like to say.”

Only against his former team, it was mostly beauty and very little struggle. Lin led the Hawks in scoring with 19 points off the bench, making 7 of his 9 shots in just 18 minutes. He scored at the rim, drove off pick-and-rolls, hit a 3-pointer and knocked down all four of his free throws.

Not bad for a guy who couldn’t walk at this point last year.

But for Lin, who has demonstrated throughout his career the ability to excel in the NBA, performances like Tuesday’s aren’t about the physical part of playing. The ice packs, the recovery techniques — that’s not the part of his game he’s most worried about.

It’s the mental aspect. Trusting his game is back, not if it’ll come back.

“I’m past (any apprehension about my body),” Lin said, “but I do think the mental component is trusting that my game is back, or trusting that I have the ability to explode and get to the rim. I’m not fearful.

“It’s not trusting my body, it’s trusting my game.”

And what better place to work on that than against the same players who so inspired him years ago?

Lin said he still keeps up with a number of Hornets players, specifically listing Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller and Nic Batum as those he’s spoken to frequently. He was able to meet up with a handful of those guys pre-game whether in the weight room or chapel, and even went so far as to have dinner with some of the staff members.

Then, of course, he proved to them that he’s still largely the player he was when they shared a locker room.

After he bounced up off the locker room floor, Lin took a few minutes to speak to reporters about his injury, his recovery, and his performance Tuesday. Then, as he’s done so many times before, he threw on a towel and headed into the showers after a stellar bench effort.

Not quite as glamorous as the home locker room he’s accustomed to in Charlotte, but hey, maybe that’s the struggle.

It’s about the only one Lin has left.

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