Commentary

Lin's prospects grow with Mavs squad

Guard becomes a hot commodity, nears NBA contract with summer performance

Updated: July 17, 2010, 12:20 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

LAS VEGAS -- That nice little story about Ivy Leaguer Jeremy Lin getting a shot with the Dallas Mavericks' summer league team is about to get serious.

Lin is on the verge of signing an NBA contract, and it could be with the Mavericks, who view him as an intriguing developmental point guard and a strong candidate to run the club's new D-League affiliate that begins play this fall in Frisco.

"We're in discussions as we speak," Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said Friday afternoon. "We are extremely interested in him as a young player."

Lin
Lin

Suddenly, the player deemed too flawed in most major areas to survive in the NBA is in contract discussions with three teams, according to league sources. The Los Angeles Lakers are believed to be one, with an Eastern Conference team the other.

"We know we could lose him just as easily," Nelson said.

Lin's agent, Roger Montgomery, said additional teams inquired about the Harvard graduate Friday after Lin's exceptional effort Thursday night when he battled toe-to-toe with John Wall, the Washington Wizards' No. 1 overall draft pick. While those other teams could be considered, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Lin is studying the roster fit of the three frontrunners. Montgomery and Nelson are expected to talk in the next 48 hours, with Lin's decision expected soon afterward.

"I haven't slept much in a while. It's been really exciting," Lin said. "Obviously, it's a dream come true and it's great to be able to get that offer now in the summer league than have to go through training camp. I can't remember the last time I've had problems sleeping. It's been a crazy day or two."

If financial offers and plans for Lin's development are relatively equal, he seems to have an affinity for the Mavs and Nelson, who was the first NBA executive to latch onto him in April at the Portsmouth Invitational, and the only one to offer Lin a summer league roster spot.

"He said he loved my game and the way I played and my basketball IQ, but then he said, 'I think you're about one year away from the NBA, so I want you to come play for my D-League team,' " Lin said. "That's how it started. He didn't draft me because he still thought I needed a year to develop, but he wanted me to come play for them, get comfortable with the city, get comfortable with the organization."

Lin arrived in Las Vegas with NBA executives labeling him as a 'tweener, unsure if he's a point guard or a shooting guard or good enough to play either. But Lin's aggressive drives, combative defense, court savvy and leadership have knocked the socks off those executives -- who now deem him a combo guard -- and turned Lin into a crowd favorite. And now, the skinny point guard out of Palo Alto (Calif.) High School, who could only garner walk-on invites from Pac-10 schools, is about to make his and his family's dreams come true.

Throughout the summer league, Lin's father, Gie-Ming, his mother, Shirley, and his two brothers, Josh and Joseph, have watched every minute. Peter Diepenbrock, Lin's high school coach and an enthusiastic promoter, arrived for Thursday's game and will remain through the weekend as the Mavs' squad closes out the five-game summer league Sunday.

"When you talk about what he's done this week here, he's turned the thinking about him from a negative to a positive," said Diepenbrock, who won a California state championship with Lin in 2006. "The other thing is Jeremy is a point guard. He played off-guard in college, but in my opinion Jeremy is a point guard. He is the ultimate leader. We talk about his basketball ability and all that, but he is a guy who speaks his mind.

"When he was a freshman in high school, he's telling seniors, 'You're supposed to go here, you're supposed to do this,' because he has just an innate feel for the game and a confidence in that feeling that he knows exactly what people should be doing, when they should be doing it and he's not afraid to speak his mind. The point guard, first and foremost, is a leader on the floor."

Lin could become the first Harvard player in the NBA since Ed Smith in 1953. As a senior, Lin nearly guided the non-scholarship Crimson to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1946. He averaged 16.4 points and 4.4 rebounds. He went undrafted and was widely considered a nice story but not an NBA player.

Much like his 8.0 scoring average with 2.0 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 15.7 minutes in four summer league games, Lin's stat line doesn't tell the whole story of his production and value. The Mavs came to Las Vegas seeking to train the electrifying guard Rodrigue Beaubois to run the point but will leave knowing that Lin -- while not the complete athlete or pure shooter as Beaubois -- is the superior point guard.

Lin took over the team for much of the second half against the Wizards as Beaubois sat on a poor outing and a slight ankle injury. Lin gave Wall all he could handle at both ends while leading a comeback and drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd with several fearless drives to the rim.

If Lin signs with the Mavs, he could give them potential long-term insurance in case Beaubois does not develop as hoped as a floor leader.

"He makes everybody else around him better. That's a sign of a real player," Nelson said. "A lot of times, and we've been through this before with a guy like Steve Nash, people have a hard time projecting certain players. I just know every team those guys were on won. Jeremy's got some of the same characteristics."

Lin's father saw it almost immediately when he put a basketball in the hands of his three sons at an early age. All three grew up playing all the time. Lin's older brother, Josh, stoked the competitive juices in Jeremy and younger brother, Joseph, who will be a freshman member of the basketball team at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., this fall.

"It's been all of our dreams to go to the NBA," Joseph said, "and he's actually going."

Gie-Ming came to America from Taiwan in 1977. He met his wife, Shirley, who also emigrated from Taiwan, at Old Dominion University in Virginia. That's where Gie-Ming started watching games on TV and instantly fell in love with basketball. He studied players such as Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the Lin boys' favorite player, Michael Jordan.

He played pick-up games with his sons three times a week and taught them the moves of the pros he saw on TV. As they got older, Gie-Ming took them to Golden State Warriors games and watched games on TV every chance they could.

"One time, in high school, he went to the AAU national tournament," Gie-Ming said. "And when we got home, I told him that I hope one day I can see him on national TV."

That day could be rapidly approaching.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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