HOUSTON - It’s a tradition. Every August and September we try to catch up with the team’s players to find out what they’ve been up to as they unwind from the season before while simultaneously ramping up for the campaign to come. Last month Rockets.com’s Jason Friedman provided an exclusive look at Dwight Howard’s workouts with Hakeem Olajuwon, and caught up with sharpshooting rookie Isaiah Canaan and assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Thus far this month has found rookie Robert Covington, point guard Patrick Beverley, lead assistant coach Kelvin Sampson and Chandler Parsons in the spotlight.
Taking his turn in the hot seat today: Jeremy Lin.
JCF: I know how hard you work on your shot – in fact you just wrapped up a marathon shooting session. When it comes to making improvements, have you tweaked anything mechanically or is your process more along the lines of the 10,000-hour theory of putting in the necessary time in an attempt to master the art?
JL: I don’t know if you’d call it a mechanical change, but I am trying to make things just a little more fluid. I’m going to try to jump a little less high, but keep the motion more fluid so that there’s less of a hitch. But to be honest the change that we’re talking about is so slight that you probably won’t even be able to tell the difference and I’ll be able to feel just a small difference. And then, yeah, of course just putting in as many reps as possible. The same old stuff.
JCF: So from a comfort and confidence standpoint where do you feel now? I hate to make too much of a big deal about your shooting because you did knock down about 40 percent of your shots from downtown during the last three months of the season. But how would you describe your comfort level with your shooting stroke now?
JL: Yeah, I think you hit on a big thing – a lot of it is mental; just believing and trusting in your shot. I think that’s something that I’ve hopefully taken steps forward with, just walking in and believing that it’s going to go in. I think it’s always a constant battle but that’s definitely an area, when you’re talking about improvement, that is as important or more important than anything.
JCF: Well that brings us back to one of the other topics we talked about earlier this summer which was your goal to work on your mental toughness. Obviously that goes hand in hand with your confidence in your shooting stroke. Is that something you’ve been able to achieve this summer?
JL: That’s one of those things where it’s not like I can go home in the offseason and just become mentally tough by doing mental exercises to get tougher. I think so much of it comes from your experiences from each season. I think there’s a buildup or a mindset that you go into the season with which, for me, I think it’s there. Then it’s just a matter of maintaining it and building upon it as you go through the ups and downs because you really can’t recreate those situations. That’s something that is definitely really important.
JCF: So what, then, is the attitude you’re taking into this season?
JL: I’m just going out there to play and not worry about anything: about proving myself to anybody, or proving my worth, or trying to live up to a contract, or whatever. I’m just going to go out there and play completely free of all the expectations and all the noise, the pressure. With the signing of Dwight and the emergence of James, there’s going to be a lot more spotlight, but for me it's just a matter of going in everyday and doing my best. I’m just going to play the way that got me here.
JCF: To that end, I feel like you’re sort of back in the underdog role again. Do you feel that way as well?
JL: Yeah, but it’s where I’m comfortable, though (laughs). It’s funny, my whole life has been like, ‘He can’t do it, he’s not good enough,’ and then something happens and I kind of breakthrough a little bit, and then after a while it’s like, ‘Sure he’s here, but he can’t make it to the next level. He made it to college but he can’t make it to the pros,’ and on and on. That’s been the cycle I’ve been going through. Now it’s, ‘OK, Linsanity happened but he can’t maintain it.’
So I’m definitely more comfortable in the underdog role and I definitely feel like I’m back there once again.
JCF: Those ups and downs, that struggle – I assume that’s when you lean upon your faith the most.
JL: Yeah, that’s the character building right there. I think, not having the benefit of the doubt in many situations, or having to prove yourself and fight through stuff, it’s not just me that’s fighting through – it’s God giving me the strength or the opportunities to be able to do it. At the end of the day, one thing I’ve been trying to focus on is just staying faithful and being faithful to Him regardless of what’s going on and trying not to become too attached to the current circumstance or current situation.
JCF: That ties in to what you were saying about mental toughness and the benefit of experience: how it makes such a huge difference during tough times to be able to lean on specific memories of circumstances in which you overcame the stumbling blocks before you. There’s comfort and confidence to be found in that knowledge and those experiences.
JL: For sure. And also sometimes we become so focused on getting to the next level that we kind of forget where we came from. For example: this summer – yeah, those trade rumors weren’t enjoyable and it sucked but I remember rumors from earlier in my career of getting cut, or wondering if I’m going to make it one more day or am I going to be sent to the D-League. So I always have to constantly remind myself of where God has taken me on the journey.
JCF: Well one of the more recent stops on that journey took you to Aspen to workout with Hakeem Olajuwon and Dwight Howard. So I assume that means no more pick-and-rolls for you – it’s all Dream Shake all the time from now on. That’s how it works, right? One week with Dream and you’re a Dream Shake master?
JL: Yeah, I think so. If Coach McHale or Dwight want tips from me about how to operate in the low-post, I’ll definitely work them out. I think my rate is going up, though (laughs).
JCF: Yeah, you need to get to the point where you can command as much as Dream.
JL: I know, right? Yeah, it was such a good, fun time. Just learning from him, obviously I might not spend any time in the post this season, but even the amazing footwork he uses down in the low-post is still applicable to guards – we just use it a bit further out.
JCF: I also heard through the grapevine that you also had some pretty epic one-on-one games with Dwight. How exactly does that work with the obvious size discrepancy between the two of you?
JL: That was interesting (laughs). We were both basically just shooting jumpers the whole time. It was just for fun. We were messing around. I was only allowed to take two dribbles and with two dribbles I can get into the paint but I’m not going to be able to shoot over him so I shot a lot of jumpers. And then the triple-threat isn’t exactly his strong point so he ended up shooting a lot of jumpers, too.
JCF: Well what I heard was that there were a lot of rules and restrictions that had to be put in place.
JL: Yeah, I had a dribble limit. And then we had an agreement that he probably shouldn’t be allowed to just back me down and dunk on me – that probably wouldn’t have been as fun.
JCF: So who won? I guess that’s really the most important question here.
JL: I won one and he won one.
JCF: And this was basically a jump shot competition? This is not going to help your reputation, Jeremy.
JL (laughs) There was more to it than that. But I’ll just leave it at that …
JCF: Well jokes aside, I assume the biggest thing that came out of that week was just the bonding opportunity you guys had.
JL: Absolutely. I think the initial step is just respect. Watching the way he works and him watching the way I work, and being able to put that together is huge. And for us to take time out of our schedules to do something like that, it just builds friendship, it builds respect for each other, and then I think the byproduct of that is trust, and when you talk about being a good team I think it’s all about trust. I think the teams that trust their coaches, that trust their players, that trust that their help-side will be there, I think those are the best defensive teams and those are the best teams in general. So hopefully we took a big step toward that.
JCF: I know there’s still so much work to be done and this team still has so far to go, but by just about any objective measure this team has the potential to be a legitimate title contender. This is a unique situation for a lot of the players on this team, yourself included. Does it make you approach the season any differently, or does it simply make you more excited?
JL: It definitely makes me excited. I’m no stranger to the limelight at this point with the way my career has gone so the spotlight being on us isn’t going to change a great deal for me. But I’m really excited and one of the things I’m most excited about is I’m coming back to the same city I was in the year before. I don’t have to do any apartment hunting and I don’t have to figure out where the arena is or all of that. I’m a lot more comfortable coming in. I know everybody, and I can’t tell you how good that feels. The last four years I’ve been in a different city every single year and that’s not even including the D-League trips. So for me to be in the same place, I’m really happy about that.
JCF: How much are you looking forward to the competition that is going to exist internally? Because when you look at this roster, the talent goes three or four deep at almost every position.
JL: I think that’s going to help us. I think it’s so important to push each other in practice. Management has done a great job by surrounding us with really good players. We’re also going to have great veteran leadership. Even if the older guys aren’t playing as much, they can still help in so many different ways just from a chemistry and advice perspective.
JCF: Speaking of advice, this is my last, and far and away most important question: Did you get a chance to check out Chandler’s dating advice column in Seventeen magazine?
JL: (laughs) What?!? I had no idea that was even a thing. First of all, I’m very interested to know what he said.
JCF: So you didn’t know about this?
JL: No! I had no idea. If people out there read that, please disregard everything Chandler said.
JCF: Would you, in a million years, take dating advice from Chandler?
JL: Ummmm …
JCF: Alright, let me ask that a different way: Would you, in a million years, allow your daughter to take dating advice from Chandler?
JL: (laughs) I guess it depends on how serious he wants to be at the time. He’s definitely smart and knows what he’s talking about, but it depends on whether or not he wants to be serious at the time. He’s a clown. He’s a funny guy. But at the end of the day, he knows what he’s talking about so I’d be interested to hear what he said. I didn’t even know that happened. I’m definitely going to talk to him about that one.
JCF: There’s a lot of talk in there about twirling your hair to get a guy’s attention …
JL: Oh my … (laughs) OK, never mind. I don’t think I’d let my future daughter take any advice from Chandler.