A touch of the perceived tension between new Nets point guard Jeremy Lin and former Knicks teammate Carmelo Anthony bubbled to the surface before Saturday night’s first preseason meeting, but Nets coach Kenny Atkinson pulled the plug on any theatrics by choosing to rest Lin and veteran forward Luis Scola.
“We planned it a long time ago,” Atkinson said. “Each game, you’ll see a couple of guys resting. We want to see different guys play.”
Asked if avoiding the distractions he encounters every time Lin faces the Knicks was part of the thinking, Atkinson said, “Not at all. It was completely based on wanting to see other guys play. Each guy has an individual plan. This is part of our plan.”
Without Lin, the Nets’ offense suffered in a 116-98 loss to the Knicks. Center Brook Lopez played only 13 minutes and scored three points. Anthony Bennett topped the Nets with 15 points, Sean Kilpatrick had 13 and Joe Harris added 11.
On Friday, Anthony was asked about the Nets’ signing of Lin to a three-year deal worth $38 million, and the Knicks star said, “He is the face of that franchise, believe it or not. They paid him, and now he has the ball in his hands. So now he’s one of the franchise players over there.”
Anthony went on to congratulate Lin, but his “believe it or not” phrase conveyed an element of surprise at Lin’s success. On Saturday morning after the Nets’ shootaround, Lin brushed off Anthony’s comments as “no big deal” when he spoke to reporters.
Lin said he didn’t regard Anthony’s comments as a slight of any sort. “No, I don’t think it’s a big deal, to be honest,” Lin said. “I’m not really too worried about it.”
Pressed about his relationship with Anthony, Lin said they are friendly whenever they see each other. “Every time I’ve run into him or had any interaction with him, he’s been really nice to me and really cordial,” Lin said. “I’ve never had any personal issues with him; we’ve never gotten into a fight or an argument in person or through texts or anything. I’ve never had anything remotely hostile with him.”
Former Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said in a recent interview that Anthony’s jealousy during “Linsanity” back in 2012 “was real.” Lin said he was “thankful” for his former coach’s remarks, but he has moved beyond that time to focus on his new leadership role with the Nets.
Atkinson, who was an assistant with the Knicks and worked with Lin and Anthony during “Linsanity,” also downplayed perceptions of a rivalry. Asked if Anthony’s recent comments hinted at past tension with Lin, Atkinson said, “I didn’t interpret it that way. Jeremy is a good player. We’re excited to have him here, but I didn’t interpret [Anthony’s comments] in any negative way.”
Lin made no secret about wanting to return to New York, so it’s natural to assume he will feel something extra against the Knicks. But Atkinson said, “He’s got to take every game the same way. My message to these guys is that we’re trying to establish our habits. I hope he takes every game with the same competitive mentality.”