Houston Rockets' Jeremy Lin speaks to the media at a news conference prior to an NBA basketball game between the Rockets and the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)
NEW YORK (AP) — Jeremy Lin returned Monday to the home he never thought he was leaving, reflecting fondly on Linsanity but not trying to recreate it.
Lin made his only trip this season with the Houston Rockets to Madison Square Garden, where he went from scrub to sensation last February during a memorable stretch of basketball that made him a worldwide star.
"It was the time of my life, just being able to play basketball and for us to win games and do it in the fashion that we did was so much fun, and energy and buzz, so definitely something I'll remember forever," Lin said during a pregame press conference that even drew a visit from Spike Lee.
Lin received a loud, appreciative cheer during starting lineups from fans, some still wearing the Knicks No. 17 jerseys that the team couldn't keep on the shelves last winter.
The Knicks insisted he would return, and Lin went into free agency believing it. But the Knicks declined to match the contract Lin signed with the Houston Rockets, and Lin said it was "a little weird" to return Monday as a visitor. Lin wouldn't talk much about the summer, beyond saying everything happens for a reason. But Knicks coach Mike Woodson, who refused to discuss Lin earlier this season, seemed to place the blame on Lin for the point guard's departure.
Lin originally agreed to an offer sheet with the Rockets worth about $28 million over four years. The terms were then amended to about $25 million over three years, the final year worth nearly $15 million but would cost the Knicks more than twice that in luxury tax payments under the harsher penalties in the new collective bargaining agreement.
So the Knicks traded for Raymond Felton, and signed Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni.
"We wanted Jeremy back. I made that public back in the summer when we were going through the recruitment process, but things changed from a business standpoint and Jeremy decided to take the Houston deal and he has every right to do that," Woodson said.
"I think as an organization we've moved on. I mean we were able to go out now and field guys like Kidd and Pablo and Raymond, and we're excited about those three guys that we've fielded man, because they've come in here and they've put us in this position, in terms of our 18-5 record and sitting at the top of our division," Woodson added. "So it's no knock against Jeremy, he did what he had to do, by making his decision and we've done what we did what we had to do and we wish him nothing but the best until he plays the Knicks."
In reality, Lin was simply doing what he had to do as a restricted free agent, since the Knicks weren't going to make him an offer until another team had set the market for him. But he had no complaints about the way the things played out, praising Felton for the way he's played for the first-place Knicks.
"It all happened the way it was supposed to," Lin said. "Going into this summer, I thought I'd be coming back to New York, but everything happens for a reason. There's no hard feelings either way and right now I'm in a different place in my life, different chapter, different city, different team."
Lin came into the game averaging just 10.8 points, far below the 24.6 points and 9.2 assists he averaged in those first 10 games of Linsanity last Feb. 4-20. Lin may never reach that level again, and he's OK with that.
"I just need to stay focused and have tunnel vision when it comes to that," Lin said, "and I don't think anybody from the Rockets organization is expecting me to recreate anything and I'm not, either."
But he'll always enjoy thinking about it.
"It will always have a special place no matter how long I play, because that was the beginning for me," he said.