The New York Knicks said Saturday their point guard had an MRI exam this week that revealed a small, chronic meniscus tear.
With the regular season ending April 26, the biggest story in basketball this season is probably done regardless of whether the Knicks make the playoffs.
He was barely holding on to a place in the NBA back in February. Now, after the back-to-back Sports Illustrated covers and popularity around the world, he has to go back to the bench when he wants to play most.
“If this was done very early in the year, obviously … I don’t know where my career would be. I could be, would be definitely without a job and probably fighting for a summer league spot,” Lin said. “But having said that, this happening now hurts just as much, because all the players, we really put our heart and souls into the team and into the season, and to not be there when it really matters most is hard.”
The Knicks will continue to turn to Baron Davis in place of Lin, the undrafted Harvard alum who became the starter in February and turned in a series of brilliant performances, kicking off Linsanity.
Lin is averaging 14.1 points and 6.1 assists, but the numbers tell only a small part of the story.
New York coach Mike Woodson, addressing reporters before the Cavaliers game, said it will be unlikely the team signs any point guards. In addition to Davis and Mike Bibby off the bench, Woodson said Toney Douglas can expect to see an increased role.
“I haven’t had a chance to sit down with [general manager] Glen [Grunwald] and [owner) Mr. [James] Dolan and see. My thinking is that we’ll probably go with what we have,” Woodson said. “I don’t think there’s a whole lot out there right now who will make a big difference for our ballclub.”
The Knicks were under .500 and a mess when Lin was given a chance to play extended minutes at point guard for then-coach Mike D’Antoni on Feb. 4 against New Jersey.
Lin, the first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent to play in the NBA, scored 25 points with seven assists in that New York victory, was inserted into the starting lineup two days later against Utah, and took the Knicks on a seven-game winning streak that gained worldwide attention.
“We’ve got to go on, but he’s a big piece of our puzzle and what we’ve been doing as of late. All is not bad — we have three veteran point guards sitting over there — but we’ve just got to make do until he’s able to get back in uniform,” Woodson said. “But it is a big blow. He was starting to come as a player and it’s not a career-ending injury. Plenty of people play with meniscus problems. He’ll bounce back. We will anxiously await for him to get better.”
Lin left the Knicks’ easy victory over Detroit last Saturday, saying afterward he could have returned for the fourth quarter if the game had been close. He took part in shootaround before their game Monday and believed he could deal with the pain.
Though the swelling went down, the pain never did, and after testing the knee again Friday and Saturday, he decided to have the surgery.
“I can’t really do much. Can’t really cut or jump, so it’s pretty clear that I won’t be able to help the team unless I get this fixed right now,” Lin said before the Knicks played Cleveland. “It’s disappointing for me, it’s hard to watch the games and I think I’d want to be out there obviously more than anything right now. But hopefully, it’s a six-week rehab process but I tend to heal fast, so hopefully, I can come back as soon as possible and still contribute this season.”
It’s the second serious injury loss of the week for the Knicks, who are fighting for a playoff spot.Amare Stoudemire is out two to four weeks with a back injury, leaving the Knicks without their second- and third-leading scorers for perhaps the remainder of the regular season.
In addition to Lin and Stoudemire, the Knicks also have dealt with injuries to Jared Jeffries(right knee inflammation) and Carmelo Anthony (groin), while Tyson Chandler (groin) and Davis (hamstring) are playing through minor injuries.
Lin will be a restricted free agent this offseason but said he’s more concerned with getting healthy than getting paid.
“I’m not even worried about that right now. It’s not like a career-ending thing or it’s not something that will bother me,” Lin said. “Once it’s fixed, it’s fixed. It’s the most simple surgery you can have and I’m more concerned about this season.”
Even so, Lin hopes to be back with the Knicks next season.
“I think New York, the way the city, the fans, the writers, media, everybody, it’s been an unbelievable journey,” Lin said. “I would love to keep this team together as long as we can, everybody, top to bottom. We’re growing as a team, we’re finding an identity and we’re getting better. We have so much potential, we have so much talent and I think it’s a process in terms of reaching our potential.”