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Zach Lowe: Jeremy Lin’s performance adds to confusion over Nets-Hawks trade

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Going back to last spring, before the Draft, the Nets were unsure that Jeremy Lin would be ready for training camp. He was working hard, but recovery from a ruptured patella tendon is long and difficult.

Lin reinforced that doubt in an interview that ran on the Nets official website July 12. He told Tom Dowd that he was not yet satisfied with his level of explosiveness and that he had not fully practiced in a 5-on-5 or even 3-on-3 format.

“A lot of it is really just seeing how it feels week to week,” said Lin in the interview since removed from the Nets site. “As long as there’s no issues, then keep going forward. I honestly don’t even know dates. We don’t try to put dates on it because there’s no rush back.”

Later that night, Lin was traded to the Hawks in a surprise move. The Nets sent Lin, a second rounder in 2025 and the right to swap picks in 2023 to the Hawks for the draft rights to 6’5” French shooting guard Isaia Cordinier and a heavily protected second rounder in 2020. The Nets then quickly turned the cap space they gained in the Hawks deal into other assets, taking on Denver’s Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur’s contracts as well as a moderately protected (1-12) first rounder in 2019 and an unprotected second in 2020. The Nuggets saved $43 million in salary and luxury taxes.

Now, Zach Lowe writes that the Nets were wise to doubt whether Lin would return as the same player he had been before the Opening Night injury in 2017. And he suggests the Hawks blew it badly that night.

Jeremy Lin cannot be 100 percent recovered from the knee injury that cost him last season. He moves with a leaden creakiness -- unable to gain separation, unsteady in traffic, glued to the ground. He does not look like an NBA player right now.

His performance is so poor, Lowe adds, that Atlanta is sometimes going point guard-free in the second halves of games. Lin’s early woes were not unexpected, Lowe notes, but questions why the Hawks would do the deal with Brooklyn when they had other options.

Neither the Hawks nor the Nets expected Lin to open the season at full strength. But Lin’s early struggles reinforce confusion over why Atlanta bothered absorbing him into its cap space as part of what was effectively a three-team trade with Brooklyn and Denver. Brooklyn dumped Lin to free room for Denver’s unwanted contracts -- and a top-12-protected first-round pick that came with them. The Hawks acted as middleman when they could have done the Denver deal themselves.

Indeed, Lin is making $13.8 million this year (including trade bonus). Atlanta’s defense, of course, is that they were going to get rid of Dennis Schroder and wanted a veteran point guard to help ease Trae Young’s transition into the NBA.

Still, Lowe is mystified by Atlanta’s choices. He notes the Hawks had the cap space to take on the two contracts the Nets acquired — Faried and Arthur— and acquire those same two Nuggets picks the Nets wound up with.

[T]hey could have gotten an equivalent first-rounder from the Nuggets, and signed any number of cheapo minimum-salaried point guards -- Shabazz Napier and Seth Curry come to mind -- in Lin’s place.

At the end of the day, of course, none of that matters to the Nets who whether laughing up their sleeves at the Hawks front office or not wound up with a lot of assets that night (and later that week when they traded Arthur for Jared Dudley and a lightly protected second rounder in 2021. Arthur has since been waived.)

As for Cordinier, the 21-year-old the Nets wanted in the deal, he is being eased back into action as he recovers from the double knee surgery he underwent in January. On Saturday, his second game back, he scored seven points for Antibes in the French League, shooting 3-of-5 in almost 20 minutes.