Swing State Pres

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

BTRTN: Here Comes My COVID-19th Nervous Breakdown

“You better stop, and look around --
Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes
Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown”
--Lyrics from “Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown,” written in 1965 by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones

Everybody's feeling it. It's all piling up. Disaster upon disaster. A global pandemic that is both ravaging and humiliating our country, shocking systemic racism, economic blight, and every day new revelations about a President who seems intent on exacerbating our every crisis. Maybe you had yours a month ago, maybe yours is coming next month, but Steve is sure feeling it as he discusses, with apologies to the Rolling Stones, our widespread societal agita in “Here Comes My COVID-19th Nervous Breakdown.”


“Um, Steve, can you focus for a minute? …Uh, there’s a reason why we are all on this ZOOM call…”

I continued hovering over the CNN alert that had popped up on my Apple watch and then gradually shifted out of multi-tasking mode and looked up at the grid of images. Six guys were staring intently into their cameras, looking mighty somber. 

“Hey, guys!” I called out, mustering a semblance of enthusiasm. “How’s everybody?”

Fred cleared his throat and began, appearing to be speaking for the group. In the rectangle to his left, I could see John, arms crossed, nodding grimly as Fred spoke. 

“Steve, we all felt that we needed to talk to you. All of us.”

So summoned, I awkwardly lurched so far forward into the camera that my nostrils fleetingly filled my entire ZOOM rectangle.

Shuuuure,” I said, forcing an air of nonchalance as I twitched uncomfortably, feeling the laser stares of six buddies. “So, whassup, dude?”

Dude,” Fred parroted back, clearly annoyed with my ‘tood, “We need to talk.  I mean, man, your last few BTRTN columns… total downers, pal. All total bummers.”

I suddenly realized what was going on. Fred and John were staging a ZOOM-tervention! Damn, I had only heard about these for the first time a couple of days ago, and my buddies were suddenly trending on this one. Fred, having made his point, stared at me, expecting a response.

Danny jumped in to fill the awkward silence. “Steve, it’s just that… you know… you used to be, you know, funny. Funni-er, anyway. Funnier than you have been recently. That last one you wrote? I mean, come on, that was sort of harsh, don’t you think? We have a lot of friends who live in the South and the West…” Joe vigorously nodded as Danny spoke, emphatically seconding the message like a overly-shaken bobble head. 

John had been waiting patiently. “It’s simple, Steve. Your blogs used to be funny. Now you are a goddam firehose of depression. It’s non-effing-stop, man. Last week you essentially accused every Southern Republican governor of being an ignorant sycophant enabler who was sending their citizens to the slaughter, the week before was the doozy about how what divides the United States is now bigger than what unites us, and, oh, then you accused Trump genocide. Hey, man, we get it! Bad news everywhere!! Apocalypse now! But we count on you to at least try to lighten it all up a bit… slip in a few jokes, some word play, that’s all we’re asking for, really… is a little word play so hard?"

I slumped in my chair and pointedly pretended to read some urgent alert on my iPhone, like an insolent child absorbing a tongue-lashing with aggressively passive-aggressive immaturity.Then it hit me. They were right.

“Look, guys, you have to understand, this is an awful time to be a blogger! Basically, everything sucks. The pandemic sucks! The embedded, intractable, systemic racism in our society sucks! The unemployment rate sucks! Our police suck! The carnage the pandemic is causing to our educational system sucks! Trump sucks, Barr sucks, McConnell sucks, Jared sucks, Ivanka sucks – I mean, it all effing sucks!!!! Sucks! Sucks! SUCKS!” I paused to catch my breath. “Maybe I didn't realize how much it is all getting to me..."

Suddenly the room began swirling and I was sweating profusely and panting. I was dizzy and hot and had a Charley horse the size of Indiana in my right thigh.  I bolted upright, and realized I was in my bed. I jumped up, hopped wildly about my room to ease the ferocious clench in my quad. I had fallen asleep with the tv on and now Seth Meyers was flying at 70 mph through his antic attic monologue, the bathroom lights were on, and I had knocked my water glass over onto my iPhone, which was still flashing with three alerts from The New York Times.

Of course! The ZOOM-tervention had all been a miserable nightmare

But I realized what was happening. 

After months of sheltering-in-place, I have been hanging on to my sanity by just a wispy gossamer thread, and suddenly that last tenuous connection had been caught in the backwash of a 747 take-off. Time to let go…cue the Stones

“…here it comes… here it co-omes… here it CO-OMES! HERE COMES MY COVID-19th NERVOUS BREAKDOWN!”

Hey, it’s a thing. 

It’s already happened to a lot of people. 

Have you had yours yet? That sudden plunge into the deep-end of despair as the enormity finally sinks in?

It is that dissonance between “enough of this already,” and “our country has not even begun to solve this thing, indeed, many parts of the country are busy making it worse.”

It is the anger of “we did everything we were told to do,” and “the Federal government did nothing.”

It is the frustration of “we stayed home with the expectation that the government would implement a contact tracking and tracing system so that we could re-open safely,” and a President intentionally undermining the creation, centralization, and funding of such a program.

It is the reality that the people who are doing all the right things are depriving themselves of hugs, touch, embraces, or kisses, while the people who are cavalierly doing the wrong things -- defying social distancing and shunning masks -- are the ones enjoying hugs, embraces, and kisses.
  
It is human to simply want to relax, to begin to engage in some semblance of normalcy. We are all doing it, each in our own ways. But the risk has not been reduced. Rather, we have merely increased our tolerance for risk. All, just in order to stay sane. 

It is the soul-crushing daily death tally, and the knowledge that a stunning percentage of those deaths are only partially attributable to a potent virus, but must also be blamed on the callous indifference, ignorance, appalling selfishness, and corruption of our president and the Republican leaders who kneel before him. 

I can’t say I’m surprised that I am losing my grip.

What triggered it now? It could well have been the massive display of ignorance, arrogance, and selfishness that is causing wild contagion rates in the South and West... and still the utterly inadequate response from governors in Texas, Florida, and Arizona. Maybe it was William Barr’s latest torpedo to our system of justice, or the newest evidence of Putin's sickening hold over Trump. More than likely, it was all of the above and then some, the accumulated despair and ruin of three and half years of Donald Trump.

But I am smack in the middle of my COVID-19th nervous breakdown, and today – bear with me -- I am well into my rant and I am just going with it. 

We’ve spent one hundred days wandering in a desert of social deprivation, thinking each visit to the Whole Foods meat counter is going to be our last, coping with dopey ZOOM backgrounds, second guessing whether the social-distancing walk we took with that Match date is going to take down our whole family, and now the “Y” claims to be re-opened and the only piece of equipment I want to use has already been reserved through July. 

Those simple, simple human activities that leaven the daily burdens and bring comfort – a dinner out, a ballgame, a neighborhood cook-out, a 5k race, a baby shower, pounding IPAs while dancing to a decent bar band on Saturday night – it is as if our very humanity been locked behind unseen gates. 

The people who are doing the right thing are behind masks, so we don’t even know if they are smiling at us. The smug smiles on the people who defiantly don’t wear masks sicken us. Literally, and  metaphorically. 

For so many, the pandemic has suddenly intensified reality, creating a sine curve of emotion in which each swing of mood is a greater deviation off the horizontal axis. Loneliness is intensified, despair hangs a like a dead weight on top of daily frustration. Fleeting moments of joy – a video of a baby’s first birthday – can send the heart soaring, but only for the duration allowed by your Instagram feed. 

People who live together in cramped, overcrowded apartments face the daily trauma of heightened risk, stakes, and stress… contagion to one is contagion to all. 

Many couples are experiencing an entirely new and profound stress on their relationship: one partner remains extremely cautious, while the other is eager to embrace the re-opening of bars, restaurants, and gyms. Tensions build.

People who have long lived on their own realize intensified isolation, but they have also discovered that in many ways their experience coping with life as a single person has made the adjustment to sheltering-in-place easier than what they see in married couples and families. It's not a brutal adjustment, just business as unusual.

The virus shocks us with an entirely new understanding that our society is brutally unfair. Those with the ways and means to opt out of urban life are finding that zero-commute sheltering-in-place near water, grass, and trees is an idea whose time may have come for the long term. Those without choice must ride the subway, eat at the distressed deli, and work alongside the person who is coughing too often. Once again, it is the minority populations who are bearing the brunt of the suffering caused by the entitled, white, wealthy one percent that manipulates the strings of puppet politicians. 

Everyone – everyone – can tell you how COVID-19 has turned their life upside down. There are a handful of people who can tell you (and I am extremely fortunate to count myself among them) that the pandemic has actually created unforeseen positive circumstances and silver linings. But for every such fortunate soul, 999 will grit their teeth and describe a world traded-down, diminished, and with hardship at every turn. 

The pandemic will only exacerbate societal inequity.  Public schools in well-to-do suburban towns are doing a good job of remote schooling, and a town full of suddenly-stay-at-home parents who have aspirations for an Ivy offspring can helicopter their children like never before. But in the urban school where the parents are scrambling just to make ends meet? What will the long-term societal cost be of a year of schooling dramatically reduced or essentially lost entirely?

All of this could be an overwhelming burden to the most effective of governments and the most brilliant and inspiring leaders. That we chose this particular moment in our history to hand the keys to the country to a malignant urinary tract infection of a human being makes us cry out in anguish.

And now we are realizing that many states – mostly in the South and West, dominated by Republican governors who suck up to Trump -- tried to return to normal too quickly, and now are only prolonging the perverse abnormality, intensifying the suffering, and -- yes -- creating the very real possibility that the pandemic will roar back into the Northeast and Midwest. Sure, we have our share of idiots here, like the individual who traveled to Florida, returned, and immediately attended a high school graduation ceremony, triggering an outbreak of COVID-19 infections. Andrew Cuomo is wary that the sloppy, lax, and casual governance of Southern and Western states will undermine the success New York has shown in wrestling the virus to a draw. He announced that "any New York employee who voluntarily  travels to a high-risk state will not be eligible for COVID protections we created under paid sick leave."

So the point is freely conceded: my last few posts have been a dystopian vision of what happens when entire regions of the country ignore science, and how the ignorance and politics of those states could set the entire country burning anew. But mine was a more accurate depiction of what is unfolding in Texas, Florida, or Arizona than anything local citizens are getting from their government officials. 

Let's face it. The entire Presidency of Donald Trump has been one, long, agonizing exercise in learning that every time you say “things can’t possibly get any worse” you are simply goading the gods into proving that you are mortal, unimaginative, and foolishly steadfast in a flawed belief. Things can get worse. And as long as Donald Trump is President, things will get worse. 

More executive powers will be seized. More lines will be crossed. More racists chanting "White Power!" will be retweeted. Those who stand on principle and in defiance will become the targets of an utterly corrupt Attorney General. Voting procedures will be undermined.

And maybe we have finally learned a lesson about our humble place in the cosmos. At this point, we’d be fools to rule out asteroids, hurricanes, volcanoes… or domestic violence not witnessed since Gettysburg. 

One good thing that may come of all this is that Americans finally stop their utterly fallacious and egregious belief that this country is the greatest nation in the world. We have been humbled, humiliated, exposed, embarrassed, and revealed to be a country that is comprised as much of weak, selfish, lazy, ignorant cowards as we are persons of decency, compassion, and worth.  Europeans are banning us from traveling there. Good riddance, you stupid Americans. This is the first world war in which you are not needed and not welcome. Indeed, in this war, you are enabling the enemy.

My Dad, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, would have felt betrayed that the country he risked his life for was now a palace of corruption, greed, self-interest, and exclusion. My mother, who never suffered fools, would have felt her blood pressure rise nigh to bursting were she expected to countenance the coarseness, malevolence, ignorance, and stupidity of this President.

They would both have been disappointed to see how my generation squandered of the sacrifices of theirs.
 
Sure, let’s all do everything we can to get Joe Biden elected. 

Let’s hope it will be the first step on a very long, very painful, and very difficult process of re-educating the citizens of this country that unless we create a land of equal rights, equal opportunity, equal justice, and equal aspiration to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we are fated to sink once again into the cesspool of the next Donald Trump.

For my part, I will make a renewed effort to find the few flickers of humor in Donald Trump’s dungeon of cruelty and self-involvement.

Ok, there it was. I think it's over now.

(Cue Mick).

There it was, there it wa-as, there it wa-uz… there was my COVID-19th Nervous Breakdown.

I really want to wake up from this nightmare, but this time I don't think I will be able to.



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Thursday, June 25, 2020

BTRTN: In Which State Are You Most Likely to Contract the Coronavirus?

Since March, Tom has been meticulously recording, tracking, and analyzing comprehensive data on the growth of coronavirus contagion in major nations, as well as in each of the fifty states in the U.S. Today, Steve offers perspective on one of the more frightening trends yet in the morphing U.S. pandemic...and why it may be much harder to reverse the new surges. 

The South will rise again. And again. And again the week after. With COVID-19 cases, that is. 

And the Wild West? It is raging, on a path to become a whole lot wilder. 

What’s the state in which you are most likely to be infected with the coronavirus?

That’s easy. It is the state of Denial.

Yes, if you live in a state of denial – like, for example, the President of the United States – you are failing to realize that the American West is burning. The South is aflame. The rates of contagion in many of these states are shockingly high, and no one seems to be willing to take the decisive steps to tame them. Certainly not a President who is trying to pretend that the new cases are merely a reflection of increased testing, and not the Governors whose political fates are tied to Trump's.  

Here are the simple facts: overall, the U.S. is witnessing a frightening uptick in coronavirus cases, with new weekly infections increasing by 36%.  However, the increases are skewed to the West and the South. The number of new cases in the West is up 58% vs. one week ago. New cases in the South have increased 42% versus the prior week. The most worrisome situations are in California, Florida, Texas, and Arizona, which have the lethal combination of large populations and contagion rates above 50%.

The absolute numbers are larger in the South than the West. There were 107,857 new cases in the South last week, compared with 75,787 the week before.  For context, the entire number of new cases last week in the original epicenter of the pandemic – New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut – was 7,197, a reduction from the prior week’s total of 8,375.

Contagion is geometry, not simple addition. If those the rates of new cases in the West and the South were to continue at their current level for just two weeks, each of those regions would be adding more new weekly cases of the coronavirus than were added in the entire United States last week. Each. 

The numbers are scary. 

But what is terrifying is that the contagion does not appear to be being met with any of the urgent action and harsh measures that enabled Northern states to finally wrestle the virus to a daily draw. Indeed, many of these states do not even seem to have learned from the scientific facts about containing contagion that are readily available through observation of the processes used in other states and countries. 

The memory of the situation in New York City in March and April is still raw and vivid, as we recall images of overwhelmed hospitals, terrified citizens, and a governor who told brutal, harsh truths on a daily basis. Back when people suddenly realized that New York City had become the global epicenter of pandemic catastrophe, the metropolitan region was mandated into a non-negotiable and comprehensive lock down by state and local governments that was grounded in science and guided by medical wisdom. 

Residents in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut generally took the lock down extremely seriously. New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey flattened their curves. These states are now beginning to re-open, and we have yet to see sharp spikes or a resurgence of contagion. 

There’s a little known but very important story behind those numbers that is acutely relevant today. 

Back then, Donald Trump liked to say that New York “cried wolf,” as Trump claimed that New York's projections about how many hospital beds and ventilators it would need turned out to be higher than the actual case. It was true: New York did not end up needing as much of the capacity of the quickly reconfigured Javits Center and the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort as had been anticipated. 

But there was a simple and profound explanation: the high initial projections were based on fears harbored by health officials that only roughly half of the population would agree to follow social distancing and shelter-in-place protocols. When 90% of the population adhered to these requirements, the need for beds and ventilators dropped significantly.

In other words: the New York metropolitan area – following the powerful leadership of Andrew Cuomo – took the pandemic with utmost seriousness. They listened to Governors who were, in turn, listening to scientists. There was a broadly embraced culture of commitment to take the hard actions and the sacrifices necessary to stop the virus. That culture of commitment saved lives. It flattened the curve.
  
But there appears to be a decided cultural difference in what is happening in today in many states in the South and the West. Call it denial.

Right now, many Republican governors are rolling with the direction of a President who desperately wants people to believe and act as if the coronavirus was just one more annoying little risk that humans beings must deal with as they once again go about their daily business. 

The data reflects this attitudinal perspective. The rate of new weekly cases in states with Republican governors is up 47%, well above the U.S average. States with Democratic governors are up 31%... scary, yes, but below the U.S. average.  

Share some of these statistics with friends from these regions and prepare to be scolded that you are making an unfair comparison. They will say that you can’t contrast the statistics about Southern and Western states that are only being hit with the full brunt of the pandemic now relative to statistics about New York that is now emerging from the worst of horrendous carnage. 

Hmmmm

This perspective may seem logical at first blush, but misses the much bigger truth: for precisely the same reason, Southern and Western states had an enormous opportunity to observe and learn from what was occurring in the Northern urban areas. Their ability to manage the virus should have been vastly superior to the situation in the early states by virtue of the fact that they had so much more time to observe the relative strategies and success rates in the states and indeed countries that had been hit before them. They had the time to design implement broad based testing and contact tracing programs. They could have used the advantage of time to be vastly better prepared than New York was at the dawn of the pandemic's outbreak in the U.S.
  
Learn? Nah. Many of these governors seemed to feel that they were naturally protected from COVID-19 by the fact that their populations did not have the urban density that made New York and Detroit breeding zones for an intensely contagious virus. Denial, it turns out, is not necessarily a densely populated state, it is simply governed by dense leaders. 

And now we have the wonderful contrast of North Carolina and Oklahoma, two Southern states that differ in local leadership… North Carolina is led by a Democrat, and Oklahoma is governed by a Republican. North Carolina’s Democratic Governor, Roy Cooper, refused to loosen social distancing protocols when pressured by the White House, and Donald Trump elected to move the Republican Convention out of his state.  Oklahoma, however, is led by Republican Kevin Stitt, who allowed Donald Trump to hold his first political rally in the state capital of Tulsa. Masks optional, social distancing protocols be damned. 

Last week, coronavirus cases in North Carolina were up by 7%. Weekly cases in Oklahoma were up 83%. Do you begin to see a pattern?

Turns out that in the great states of Denial, politics drive public health decisions.

Follow this: one of the reasons Trump cites for justifying his resumption of indoor rallies is that he thinks it is only fair that he be allowed to gather his supporters, just as crowds have been allowed to gather for the “Black Lives Matter” protests that have blossomed across the nation. The unstated message is profound: in this logic construct, Trump positions the “Black Lives Matter” protests against societal and police racism as his political oppositionthey get to hold rallies, why can’t I? 

Leave it to Trump to fail to discern the difference between a protest march against egregious violations of human rights and a political rally. 

Heck, leave it to Trump to fail to see the difference between an indoor rally in which masks are optional and no social distancing protocols are followed, and an outdoor march in which masks and distancing were prevalent.

It sickening to articulate this point out loud, but nonetheless fair to hypothesize that one of the reasons Trump has chosen to take such an aggressive, divisive, and demeaning stance toward the Black Lives Matter movement is that he sees the advantage in shifting the national dialog away from the coronavirus. He thinks it is a winning strategy: ridiculing the Black Lives Matter protesters will please his base while simultaneously diverting the focus from the spectacular rise in COVID cases in the states that support Trump the most.  

Those who paid any attention to Donald Trump’s remarks at his Tulsa rally will note the extremes to which Donald Trump went to avoid the elephant-sized virus in the room. Trump devoted large chunks of his rambling monologue to defending his halting walk from the podium at his West Point address, and even to his ability to drink a glass of water with one hand. When you would rather talk about your inability to drink a glass of water than a raging Category 5 public health disaster, you pretty much know what is being forcibly shoved to the bottom of the agenda. The only mention of the virus was when Trump referred to the pandemic with the racially-charged phrase "Kung Flu."

There’s one last unspoken but fascinating reality in the politics of COVID-19. You have yet to hear of a single Republican voice imploring the President of the United States to wear a mask and adhere to social distancing measures to protect his own life. Think about it. 

Here is a guy who has completely, wholly, and unabashedly seized the entire identity of his party. There is no other person in the party who is in a position to replicate the ferocious loyalty and devotion that Trump wields. There is no central, organized belief system holding the party together, only the cumulative blather of Trump’s twitter feed. It is obvious: the fate of the party and the election is wholly bound up in a single individual. Yet no one in his party is saying, “please, Mister President, for your own safety, and so that our party may succeed in November, take care of your own health. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing.”

It is that simple: Republican leaders slavishly bow to Trump, and many mimic the utterly cavalier attitude Trump takes to the virus. The signal that is sent to his followers is that the pandemic is not to be taken seriously. Citizens adopt a cavalier attitude. It is a cultural mindset, and a cultural mindset will not be easy to change.

At the end of April, Newsweek reported on a study that ranked the states according to how thoroughly they had adhered to social distancing protocols. 

Of the ten states that were rated as poorest in conforming to social distancing protocols, eight had Republican Governors: South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. 

The ten states with the best adherence to social distancing? Eight had Democratic Governors: Maine, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Vermont, Hawaii, and New Mexico. 

Social distancing, sheltering, and masks will stop the spread of the virus, but only if citizens make a fanatical commitment to them. New Yorkers got the message loud and clear from Andrew Cuomo. Republican governors are not sending the same message.

The four states that should have us the most worried are California, Florida, Texas, and Arizona. These states  have both a large population and a 7-day new case rate of over 60%.


                                    Population      7-Day New Case Rate   Weekly New Cases Per Million Pop
Arizona                          7,278,717                 72%                                  2,617
California                     39,512,223                 59%                                     747
Florida                         21,477,737                 71%                                  1,224
Texas                           28,995,881                 78%                                     937

One of these states has a Democratic Governor... Gavin Newsom of California. Newsom was given high marks for his early sweeping lock down in the most populous state. By virtue of is huge population, California trails the other three states when ranked by the relative measure of "new cases per million of population." California has huge challenges with this new spike, but it is clear that Newsom takes this threat extremely seriously.

The other three states -- each with contagion rates above 70% -- have Republican Governors... and they have been among the staunchest Trump supporters on COVID-19 issues.

Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey has been one of Donald Trump's most reliable sycophants, allowing Trump to hold a rally just this past Tuesday, even as his state's contagion rate roared out of control. 

Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a world-class Trump acolyte who, is the guy who allowed college students to continue their spring break raging on his state's beaches even as the virus wrought havoc in New York City. A study conducted using cell phone data showed that six of the counties in the United States that showed the most widespread local travel in the month of March-- and therefore the least compliance to sheltering-in-place -- were in Florida, where DeSantis had failed to order a statewide lock down until April 1.

And Texas is, of course, home to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, the man who suggested that his state's senior citizens would willingly sacrifice their lives to the coronavirus in order to maintain a thriving economy. “No one reached out to me and said, 'As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that America loves for its children and grandchildren?' And if that is the exchange, I'm all in,” the Lieutenant Governor asserted.

The messages coming out of the leaders of these states has consistently be one of supporting Trump, minimizing the threat of the virus, and eagerly re-opening their states for business. 

We wish we could say that this stuff was really hard to predict, but predicting gets a lot easier when you have a wealth of existent, real world data to model projections from. The data tells a simple story: as contagion rates start to spike dramatically, there are only three choices: (1) develop a vaccine or a cure, (2) flatten the curve by re-implementing strict social distancing and shelter-in-place measures, including masks, and (3) allow the virus to flood the population on the theory that eventually a “herd immunity” will develop. 

Right now, the three Republican governors seem to be going for an option number 4, which is to ignore the fact that there are only three choices.  Option 4 is denial. 

It was only back on April 26 – the day Georgia announced that it was “re-opening,” despite meeting none of the CDC’s published criteria for such a move – that we published a piece entitled “Operation Gambit: Kemp Offers Georgia as a Test for What Happens When We Ignore Science.” Reflecting on the inevitability of a second spike in cases due to Governor Kemp’s premature action to open the state, my brother Tom predicted pretty much precisely what would unfold in Georgia over the next 60 days:

“And it is easy to see that as this first wave continues to slowly wind down to 500 cases per day – still a ton – a new ‘second wave’ will emerge slowly but soon enough, additive to the first. The second wave could build the same way as the first, though not as fast, given the caution of the populace and the fact that not every business is open. Without testing and proper contact tracing in place, slowly, inexorably, the dozens of new ‘second wave’ cases that emerge in the next few months will turn into hundreds and then thousands yet again. With a more cautious re-opening policy, Georgia’s 20,000 cases today might have ended at, say, 60,000, but the new cases that emerge could ultimately drive it well beyond that."

Guess what? As of yesterday, there were 69,381 cumulative cases in Georgia, and the rate of contagion had spiked back up to 55%... meaning that Georgia is adding new cases at the rate of 9,351 a week. Oh, yes… just as Tom predicted:  that is a trajectory that will lead Georgia’s infection rate “well beyond” 60,000 indeed. Sometimes there is little solace and no joy in being able to make a prediction that is, well, dead on

Here's the crux of the matter. We've now proven that you can pretty much stop the coronavirus in its tracks if you are able to implement a 100% lock down, with masks, social distancing, proper personal hygiene, and sheltering-in-place. You can shut it down if you can put such a program in place.

The problem is that you just can't flip a switch with people, particularly with people who have been told for months that the coronavirus isn't all that big a deal, and they shouldn't be worried about it. People who have been getting that cultural message from their leaders, colleagues, and personal ecosystem for four months are simply not going to switch overnight to the 90% compliance that we witnessed in New York. That cultural re-education will take time, and it will take and absolute and emphatic reversal from their government leaders -- starting with Trump-- in order for it to happen. We have yet to see any of Ducey, Abbott, or DeSantis take the kind of bold, uncompromising stand that Cuomo took when his state was on fire.

So the wild, wild West is about to get a lot wilder. The South will rise again next week. And the week after. And it will keep rising until somebody realizes that the curve has to be flattened. Highly restrictive social distancing protocols will need to be implemented. Masks must be required. Sheltering in place will be re-instituted.

The biggest shame of it all is how easily avoidable it all was. You could sense it in the newscasts and in conversations with friends living in the south. “You people from New York City don’t get it. We’re fine here in Texas. We’ve only had about ten COVID cases in the whole city. And yet we’ve got to lock down in our houses, ruin our economy, all because of what’s happening in New York City. It’s just not that big a deal here… it makes no sense. Your cure is worse than the disease.”

And all that time, the virus was traveling, silently spreading, building its geometric velocity until it reaches a point when officials finally begin to feel the impact on local hospitals and healthcare providers. As the geometric proliferation continues to mushroom unchecked, the elderly care facilities will begin to crack and the death toll among this most vulnerable population segment will swell. The razor thin infrastructure of rural healthcare facilities in the American South will be inundated. 

BTW: please spare me from any more misguided Facebook links telling me that the “cure is worse than the disease.” The Northeast is actually re-opening, and doing so with every indication that it will not experience another wrenching spike. It is the South and West that are soon going to discover the extended, unending economic carnage that results from never coming to grips with the problem.

Now, it will be extremely difficult to reverse what is happening, because of a cultural attitude, powerfully enforced by political allegiance. It will be hard for many people in Southern and Western states to suddenly admit that they were wrong to believe Trump, wrong to listen to their politically motivated governor, and wrong to think that science would not happen in their state. 

Yesterday, in Texas, where new cases have increased in the past week by a gruesome 78%, Republican Governor Greg Abbott demonstrated the box that Republican Governors are in. He “urged” proper behavior, but did not mandate it, as Andrew Cuomo had in New York in March. Abbott was advocating but unwilling to Governor-up and give orders. Like a parent who is afraid of disciplining a wayward child, Abbot was coaxing but refusing to take action.

“We want to make sure everyone reinforces the best safe practices of wearing a mask, hand sanitation, maintaining safe distance, but importantly, because the spread is so rapid right now, there’s never a reason for you to have to leave your home unless you need to go out. The safest place for you is at your home… if we are unable to contain the spiraling spread of COVID-19, there will be more requirements put on business, including even considering having to ratchet back on the expansion of opening businesses in Texas. Closing down Texas again will always be the last option.”

Yes, it is going to be very difficult to put this evil genie back in the bottle, as now the politics of saving face, maintaining consistency with past positions, and allegiance to an ignorant President continue to warp the judgment of the local leaders who must actually implement policy in the South and the West.

What appears more likely is that a number of large Republican states will have to live with a constant coronavirus presence, as the number of infections soars and elevates the odds of routine spread. The coronavirus will become a chronic illness, never eradicated until such time as a vaccine is developed and broadly available. Facing that degree of inundation and their allegiance to Trump, one wonders whether these states will have the will to commit to a new, sustained lock down. The unfortunate people under the sway of Trump will learn, over a painful and protracted period of time, that this disease is indeed far worse than the cure. 

Or, consider these breathtaking words of supposed comfort from Vice President Mike Pence just this week. "The past five days, deaths are down to fewer than 750 a day, a dramatic decline from 2,500 a day a few weeks ago—and a far cry from the 5,000 a day that some were predicting." Do the math, Mike. You appear pleased that the U.S. is "down to" 750 deaths per day. Multiple that by 365 days and tell me that 273,750 American deaths per year is a figure that makes you feel proud of the work you and your administration are doing.

If you want to avoid contracting the coronavirus, there is one state to steer clear of. 

It is the state of Denial.  



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Friday, June 19, 2020

BTRTN: Part 6: The Jeremy Lin Saga Continues: Agony and Ecstasy, Pride and Prejudice

We depart from political coverage and renew our annual series on the extraordinary career of global basketball icon Jeremy Lin.  Lin’s story took yet another remarkable turn this year, as, with no NBA options, he became the face of the China Basketball Association.  The CBA became the first major entity to suspend its season due to COVID-19 and now will be among the first professional leagues to resume play – beginning tomorrow.  Lin’s role in all of this has gone well beyond “basketball player,” as you will read.

The first in this series, "The Strange and Badly Misunderstood Career of Jeremy Lin" was published five years ago and examined the many twists and turns Lin's career had taken from his Linsanity days with the Knicks until that time, February, 2015, when Lin was in the midst of a lost year with the Lakers.  Subsequent articles, published each year in February since, have tracked Lin’s renaissance with the Hornets, the promise and the pain of his time with the Nets, and last year’s comeback with the Hawks.  We have delayed the publishing date this year so that we could encompass all of the events leading up to the “re-start,” and we pick up the story from where the last one left off, with Lin at the cusp of his Raptor stint in February, 2019.
The links to the other articles in this series are provided at the end of this installment.  If you like the series, please share the articles with others on social media.

THE RAPTORS

Former Raptor Jeremy Lin signs with Beijing Shougang Ducks ...I happened to be in Toronto on February 13, 2019 – the night of Jeremy Lin’s debut as a Raptor -- and, delighted at my fortunate circumstance, I bought a ticket and wandered over to nearby Scotiabank Center.  It is hard to recapture the sense of opportunity in the air, both for the Raptors and for Lin.  The Raptors clearly were a team poised for a deep run in the playoffs, and Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster has just made the Big Move, securing Marc Gasol from Memphis for the stretch run.  Gasol would be the final piece in Ujiri’s go-for-broke-in-2019 strategy, the culmination of a roster overhaul that began with the stunning trade for Kawhi Leonard (with only a year left on his contract and a known predilection for this LA home) for franchise favorite DeMar DeRozan.  The overhaul also included the firing of NBA Coach of the Year Dwayne Casey, replacing him with long assistant Nick Nurse, also a highly controversial move.

The Lin pick-up was a modest one, but it was expected to pay immediate dividends.  Combo back-up guard Fred VanVleet has just torn ligaments in his thumb and would be sidelined indefinitely (for five weeks, as it turned), and Lin would slide into VanVleet’s slot behind perennial All-Star Kyle Lowry, and also perhaps see off-guard time next to Lowry along with the inconsistent Norman Powell.  The crowd that night included many Lin fans; one could never forget the huge roar that accompanied Lin’s buzzer-beater over the Raptors in the midst of Linsanity seven years before – an incredible roar for a visiting player who had just stuck a dagger into the home team.

A year ago, no one would have predicted Jeremy Lin could possible occupy such an auspicious role.  He had missed virtually the entire 2017-18 season, all but 25 minutes he logged in the Brooklyn Nets’ season opener before tearing a patella tendon, an injury that cost him not only the season, but also threatened to end his career.  In his absence, the Nets handed the ball to the newly acquired D’Angelo Russell and moved on, while Lin rehabbed in obscurity in Vancouver.  Eventually, over the summer of 2018, the Nets traded Lin to Atlanta, where Lin excelled as a backup to the rookie sensation Trae Young until his buy-out departure in February, 2019, which gave him a playoff opportunity with the Raptors.

It is perhaps instructive on the state of fortunes in the NBA to ponder the fates of those mentioned thus far, in just one short year.  After playoff heroics that brought home the Raptors’ first title, Leonard moved on to Clippers.  Far from being one-hit wonders, the champion Raps, while Leonard-less, are leading the East, champion contenders again.  VanVleet, more or less viewed as Lin’s equal at the time of Lin’s arrival one year ago (they were both averaging about 10.5 points per game, Lin the more efficient shooter and more natural point guard, VanVleet the better defender and long-range threat), has blossomed to the point where he is seen as a potential max player as a free agent this coming offseason.  Russell is gone from the Nets, traded to the Warriors after the Nets signed Kyrie Irving, as part of the deal that brought Kevin Durant to the Nets as well – and he has moved on from the Warriors as well, traded again to Minnesota.

And that takes us to Jeremy Lin, now in the CBA, after being unable to secure any deal with the NBA.

Lin’s brief saga in Toronto has been well-documented.  The short version: after a promising start, Lin played erratically, even poorly and never secured Nurse’s confidence.  When VanVleet finally returned, Lin’s role was sharply reduced.  He failed to crack the postseason rotation, and never played important minutes, even when VanVleet endured a horrendous, extended slump that was far worse than Lin’s regular season issues.  Lin emerged with a ring – no small accomplishment, the first NBA player with Asian roots to do so -- but his comeback storyline was tarnished in the process.

So what really happened in Toronto?  How did a player who, at one point in late December, 2018 was the only NBA guard shooting both 50% overall from the field and 40% from the three-point line, clearly outperforming expectations in Atlanta, fall so short of them in Toronto?

It started well.  In Lin’s first game in Toronto, against the Wizards (the game I attended), he filled the box score with 8 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in 25 minutes.  He meshed well with Lowry and was on the floor for a decisive 15-0 run that put the game away.  He even nailed his first three-point attempt, though it was waived off due to a foul away from the ball.

Back after the All-Star break, Lin’s second game was even better, in another win, over San Antonio, in a nationally televised ESPN game.  Lin was quiet in the first half, but came alive, Linsanity style, in the fourth quarter before the home crowd.  In just under five minutes, Lin scored 9 points (out of the Raps’ 11), on a side-step jumper from the right elbow, a twisting lay-up that resulted in an old-fashioned three point play, a jumper from the left side, and another from the right that finally put the Raps ahead 101-100.  He also had a nifty wraparound pass to Serge Ibaka for a jam, took a charge on DeMar DeRozan, and pulled down a few rebounds.  The Raps won this game in memorable fashion, when Raptors-present Leonard stole the ball at midcourt with 18 seconds left from Raptors-past DeRozan, the returning hero, and won the game on the ensuing jam – a validating sign of Ujiri’s gamble and a portent of Kawhi’s heroics to come.

The cautionary sign, for Lin, in these first two games was his oh-for-six from the three-point line.  Lin had been having an incredibly inconsistent year from long range.  With Atlanta, he got off to a poor start (3-14, 21% in October), followed by a blistering November (23-48, 48%), and ended back at 26% (18-70) for his remaining time.  It would get worse in Toronto.

After the solid start in his first two games, Lin embarked on what was without question the worst stretch of his entire career.  Apart from simply going cold – he missed his next 11 three pointers to make it 17 in a row -- he simply looked lost, uncomfortable and tentative, not sure of his role.  Night after night he struggled, and while he had a few solid games with the Raptors, notably a 20-point outburst against Knicks, by and large it was a slog, an agony to watch.  And rookie Coach Nick Nurse simply had too much else on his mind to create situations where Lin could find himself.  When VanVleet finally came back, he played exceptionally well, and back-up shooting guard Norman Powell also stepped up his game, shooting a torrid 48% from the three after the All-Star break.  When the playoffs arrived, Nurse had his backcourt quartet cooking – Lowry, Danny Green, VanVleet and Powell – and there was no room for Lin.

The playoffs were a wondrous run for the Raps, as Leonard put the team on his shoulders and carried them to victory time and again.  Lowry ran the show admirably, Gasol, after a tepid regular season performance down the stretch, found his rhythm in the playoffs, and Danny Green played his 3-and-D wing role to the max.  The Raptors dispatched the Magic in five in the first round, but ran into an up and coming 76er team in the second round, who extended them to seven games.  The Raps beat the Sixers in Game 7 on the strength of a Leonard four-bouncer from the deep corner as time expired, that finally dropped for the 92-90 win, one for the ages.  And as they headed off to face the Bucks for the NBA Eastern Conference title, it was clear that only one part of the machine was amiss.

And that was Fred VanVleet.

VanVleet, for no good reason, was suddenly stuck in a slump of utterly epic proportions.  Against the 76ers, he was essentially unplayable, shooting 3-24 for the series and 1-14 from the three-point line.  VanVleet’s first 15 playoff games, a five-week span covering the entire Magic and 76er series plus the first three games against the Bucks, were so wretched that the unthinkable was suddenly on the table:  giving Jeremy Lin a shot.

Lin had had his troubles, for sure.  But there was no denying the numbers – VanVleet’s 15-game stretch in the playoffs was far worse than Lin’s worst 15-game stretch within his 23 games with the Raps.  In fact, there was no comparison, except that VanVleet’s came during the postseason.  The difference was that while Lin could not hit a three-pointer, he was still hitting about half of his two-point attempts.  VanVleet could not find the hoop from anywhere, making only a third of his two’s.

 Per Game
G
MP
FG%
2%
3%
FT%
RB
AS
ST
BL
TO
PF
PT
VanVleet
15
20
26
32
20
71
1.6
2.7
0.6
0.4
0.9
2.2
4.0
Lin
15
19
37
48
20
74
2.4
1.9
0.3
0.3
1.1
2.2
6.7

But Nick Nurse stuck with his man, and ultimately he was rewarded.  VanVleet, perhaps inspired by the birth of his son, found his game, with a vengeance, playing superbly in the final three games against Milwaukee and through the Golden State series, not only on offense but defending Steph Curry tenaciously as well.  His comeback culminated with a stunning fourth quarter performance in Game 7, when he hit a trio of treys and made three free throws as well, giving him 12 points at the most crucial of times.  In the case of Nick Nurse, sometimes it’s the buttons you don’t push that work out the best.

So there would be no playoff redemption for Lin, no positive note to end on – quite uncharacteristic for his career, when second half surges (notably in LA and in Brooklyn) would vindicate early season woes or injuries.  This was the opposite, and it plunged Lin into an offseason of uncertainly.

Why did Lin fail in Toronto?  There are a number of theories, and which you believe neatly defines where you stand in the polarized world of Jeremy Lin.  His supporters believe that Lin was simply worn down after a long comeback year, that anyone who misses a full year needs more than a year to recover (see:  Gordon Hayward).  Plus it was a new system, requiring more freelancing, and Lin never felt comfortable in it.  The pick and roll, Lin’s bread and butter, was not featured much in Toronto, and certainly not for him.  Furthermore, among Gasol’s world class talents is an ability to run an offense from the point, which further relegated Lin to a minimal offensive role.  And finally: everyone has a slump, and Lin’s simply occurred at the wrong time.  Nurse, notably loyal, probably never intended a big role for Lin in the playoffs to begin with; he was simply insurance, a quality fifth guard if injuries demanded one.
2019 NBA Finals - Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors : News Photo

The critics, on the other hand, simply wrote him off without consideration of any of these factors..  He’s washed up, lost his quick first step, never as good as Linsanity, a poor defender, can’t shoot the three.  For the detractors, Atlanta was a distant memory, the injury was discounted, and all that was left was that bad Raptor stint aftertaste.

But whatever one may make of Lin’s Toronto adventure, he won a championship ring there, experienced the ecstasy of a championship run, a parade and a celebration in a wonderful, cosmopolitan global city with teammates who supported him.  He was the first NBA champion of Asian descent, however limited his on-court contributions, and that is quite a distinction.


THE OFFSEASON

No one really saw it coming.  Despite the poor performance in Toronto, there was every expectation that Lin would find a job in the NBA without too much difficulty.  He had had a fine year overall, and would be stronger with the comeback year behind him (he had been notably cautious in training camp and in the very early days with the Hawks). 

While there would be no starter role for him at this stage of his career, he would certainly be among the better back-ups in the league.  He could play both positions.  He proved with Atlanta and Trae Young that he could be a mentor for a young point guard on a developing team, and he proved with Charlotte he could be a fine role player on a contending team.  He is notably a team-first player, a fine locker presence, and there can be little doubt of his global appeal, and strong draw in cities that have large Asian-American communities.  The NBA has become a guard-driven league, and there are simply not enough quality guards to fill the demand.  And, if it came to it, for a franchise that simply needs some juice to offset a poor product with little else to attract fans (did I say “New York Knicks?”) he would be a fine distraction.

With Lin part of the Raptors championship run, there was precious little time between that Game 7 climax on June 13 and the July 1 start to the free agency period, and Lin Nation filled it with speculation on which teams would be most likely to sign him.  It seemed a healthy enough list, and with few quality free agent point guards available, it seemed to be only a matter of time before the puzzle pieces fell into place and Lin found his slot.

The top free agents were the Celtics’ uber-talent Kyrie Irving and the long-suffering Kemba Walker of Charlotte.  After that, Darren Collison was next, but, surprisingly, he retired to pursue his religious convictions just days before the free agency period.  Other starters on the market included Ricky Rubio, Patrick Beverly, Goren Dragic and Rajon Rondo, and the latter two were aging (both 33) and coming off injury-riddled years.

These players would play musical chairs for the positions they vacated and others that were open, including the injured John Wall’s position in Washington, as Wall was expected to be out for the year.

Lin would compete with another group of players for back-up point guard positions, and there appeared to be a long list of openings.  Tony Parker was retiring, Atlanta, Phoenix and Miami ended the season without a proper back-up per se, and it seemed likely that Jose Calderon, Ray Felton and Devin Harris, all in their mid-30’s, were likely to be gone.  Lin stacked up well against his competition, a collection of fellow vets and callow youths.

But in the end, this was not a good season for veteran free agents.  Not only was Lin shut out, but so were bigger names, including, most prominently, Carmelo Anthony and Jamal Crawford, the latter having scored 50 points in his final game in 2020.  Apparently, NBA teams collectively decided to go with younger, less expensive projects than veteran talent.

Having said that, the Lin case stands alone.  It is hard to argue that Ish Smith, Isaiah Thomas, Michael-Carter Williams and Tim Frazier were more deserving than Lin, especially given the intangibles Lin could bring as a mentor, locker room presence and (more tangibly) as a global drawing card.  There is something insidious about Lin losing this particular game of musical chairs.  And that is, Lin was never going to be given the benefit of the doubt.  Dion Waiters, setting league standards for “conduct unbecoming to a team” continues to be thrown a million lifelines; Isaiah Thomas, almost surely the worst defensive player in the league and with greatly diminished offensive skills, receive shot after shot.  The NBA is populated with third-rate talents like Frank Jackson, Dennis Smith, Dante Exum, Brad Wanamaker and Gary Payton II, who still command roughly 15 minutes per game – and there is no room for Jeremy Lin?

Lin, always honest, perhaps to a fault, despaired publicly, and in tears, at a forum:

“I’ve given more of myself to God every single year and every year it gets harder. In English, there’s a saying, and it says, ‘once you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way is up,'” Lin said at an event in Taiwan. “Rock bottom just seems to keep getting more and more rock bottom for me. So free agency has been tough, because I feel like in some ways the NBA’s kind of given up on me. I always knew that if I gave anyone a reason to doubt, they would.”

There is much we don’t know; it is certainly possible there were training camp invitations with no guarantee of a rotation spot, just a spot on the bench with no opportunity aside of injury.  But clearly Lin was not willing to take the chance to just sit it out and wait for the phone to ring, the choice made by Carmelo Anthony and Jamal Crawford.  After Steph Curry went down, who knows if early backer Joe Lacob might’ve had Warriors’ management give Lin a call.

But Lin had another opportunity that was indeed highly tempting.  And he acted.

On August 27, Lin signed a $3 million dollar a year contract with the Beijing Ducks of the China Basketball Association, binding him to the club until their season ended in March, leaving open the possibility of a late season NBA stretch.


CHINA  AND THE DUCKS

The CBA was an obvious choice for Lin, though not for most NBA fringe players.  The Euro League is the better league, with more talented players, by a wide margin.  But Lin’s ties to the Asian world made it the only choice for Lin, and he himself had hinted for years that his basketball journey would lead to China, albeit not quite this soon.  He is an icon there, and it seems likely that whatever his agent’s possible protestations that the Euro League would be the best path for a return trip to the NBA, Lin never seriously considered that alternative.

The CBA, as it is commonly referred to, even in China, was founded in 1995 and is a robust entity.  The nation is basketball-crazy and NBA legends such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are revered there.  China is a crucial market for the NBA.  When Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for the Hong Kong, it infuriated the Chinese government so much they simply took the NBA off the air.  The freeze, according to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, cost the NBA “several hundred million dollars” in lost revenue.

The CBA has 21 teams with colorful names such as the Nanjing Monkey Kings and Sichuan Blue Whales.  They play a 43-game season in regimented rounds, moving lockstep through the year.  There are two conferences, a North and a South, and there is, of course, a postseason.

The league has self-imposed constraints on foreign players that directly impact the talent level of the league.  Each team can have only two such players on the roster at any one time; it can have more under contract, but only two can be on the active roster for any game.  And within the game, those two foreign players can only share the court only in the second and third quarters; they cannot both be on the floor in the first and fourth quarters.  This poses an obvious problem for teams, in that their foreign players are often their two best players, so they must be forced to choose which to go with at various points in the final quarter.  Obviously the Chinese are intent on developing their native players.

The CBA also plays by slightly different rules than the NBA and the Euro League.  Two important differences are a slightly closer three-point line, and the lack of a defensive three-second rule.  These rules, in particular the latter, have had very important consequences for Jeremy Lin, one helping the the weakest part of his game, his three-point shooting, the other hurting the strongest part, his ability to go to the hoop.

And the nature of the NBA, Euro League and CBA differ from one another.  While the NBA balances the individual with the team, the Euro League is more team-oriented while the CBA is more individually oriented.   In the NBA there are currently two players averaging more than 30 points per game, and 28 more averaging over 20..  The Euro League (which plays only 40 minute games), has only two players averaging more than 20 per game; the leading scorer, Alex Shved, averages 21.5.  The CBA, on the other hand, has six players scoring over 30 per game and 29 more averaging over 20.

The CBA’s ethos is that foreign players come here to shoot, and shoot often, and they are judged by their scoring totals more than, say, their contributions to winning championships.  Jimmer Fredette, a many-time NBA wash-out, is the poster child for CBA ball (from an American perspective); he averaged 37 points per game for three consecutive seasons with the Shanghai Sharks, hoisting 27 shots per game, including 12 three-point attempts.  (By contrast, noted NBA gunner James Harden averages only 23 shots a game, and 13 three-pointers.) 

The CBA is highly point-guard centric.  The premium the league puts on pace and scoring virtually demands that each team have a capable point guard, and most import them.  For point guards who have no particular aspirations to win championships, the CBA is a bit like heaven.  Of the top 11 scorers in the league, all averaging over 27 points per game, seven are point guards.

The Beijing Ducks are a storied franchise in the CBA, perennially achieving a winning record, with three CBA titles in the last decade.  This is largely due to the triumphant career of Stephon Marbury.  “Starbury” had a solid NBA career, a two-time All-Star and reliable 20 points-per-game scorer.  But after a reasonably unsuccessful stretch with the Knicks and a brief stint with the Celtics, he was waived out of the NBA at age 31.  He thus began a second career in the CBA, spending seven years with the same Beijing Ducks with whom Lin signed, winning those titles that had proved so elusive in the NBA.  He became a legend in China, honored by a statue, no less, outside the Ducks’ arena.  Retiring after the 2017-18 season, Marbury ultimately took on the position of head coach for the rival Beijing Royal Fighters, and he dresses for those games in traditional Chinese attire.

And so Jeremy Lin arrived in this context.  And if there was any thought that the season would settle into a routine of any kind, that notion was completely shattered.  This was to be yet another season of ups and downs for Jeremy Lin, with the “ups” on the court, the “downs” off it.


THE SEASON

Lin served notice that he had arrived in China right at the start of the exhibition season, when he dropped 40 points – more than his NBA career high of 38 – in his very first game.  This was surely a point of pride, an announcement that, far from beaten, he was ready to reassert himself at center stage.

And while he did not hit that marker during the regular season, he started off the regular season with 25 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds in an easy 103-81 Ducks’ win over the Tianjin Gold Lions.  In classic, slashing Lin style, he went straight to the rim, and was rewarded with 12 chances at the free throw line, making 11.  But the woes remained from the three-point line when he whiffed on all five attempts, and, befitting his return to “high usage” status, he also made 4 turnovers.

The Ducks won their first four games and six of their first seven, as Lin settled into a steady level of production, leading the team as he filled the box score.  Game after game Lin delivered big, with slash lines speaking to both his production and his consistency:  in the five games following his debut, he went for 24/8/6, 26/7/4, 27/7/6, 28/5/9 and 26/3/4.  

Jeremy Lin's double-double not enough as Beijing Ducks lose to ...Lin’s game also passed the eye test.  He was a more consistent performer than in the past, not only from game to game but also within the games, scoring less in Linsanity-esque spurts, but rather steadily accumulating points throughout games.  His production was particularly impressive because he was usually double- or even triple-teamed.  The Ducks would run the pick and roll time and again, and often the opposition big man would jump out to try to smother Lin with the double. 

And Lin took an utter pounding.  Far from showing any deference to the basketball legend in their midst, his CBA opponents seemed to be intent on bludgeoning him at will.  He was knocked to the floor a mind-boggling 25 times in his first three games, and the pace did not let up.  He relied quite a bit on his short mid-range game, using a turnaround jumper and side-step moves to great effect.  Lin was a top percentage shooter in the NBA last season from the “elbow” and he has continued to be extremely effective there in the CBA.

The lack of a defensive three-second violation rule meant that there were always big men clogging the lane, ready to thwart his drives.  This did not particularly inhibit him – note the average of nine free throws per game – but it did make it more difficult for him to close.

He also was no Jimmer Fredette; rather, he embraced the team concept, looked to involve everyone, and looked for the open man, especially when double-teamed.  Far from turning into a typical import mad bomber, he continued to be frugal with his shots – averaging only 16 field goals per game -- and efficient in his scoring, averaging 1.5 points per shot, well above the very respectable 1.3 PPS of his NBA career.

On the defensive side, he was a stalwart, the highest rated defensive point guard in the league.  No one could accuse him of conserving energy on the defensive end.  He continued to take charges proficiently, although he blocked shots at a lesser rate than in his NBA career, perhaps because Udoh and Hamilton were able to plant themselves down low and swat away the down low efforts of Lin’s opponents themselves.

And, importantly, Lin proved himself able to handle the pounding and avoid injury, missing only one game due to back spasms.

The Ducks are a good team by league standards.  They had finished the 2018-19 campaign with a 31-15 mark, good for fifth best in the league and a playoff run that extended to the second round.  Lin in effect replaced Aaron Jackson, who had had a fine season, joining his former Nets’ teammate, the center Justin Hamilton.  The Ducks had also signed a third foreign player, another center, Ekpe Udoh, who had played nearly 400 games in the NBA.  The signing of the trio ensured that each would have to sit for a while to conform to the two-foreign-player limit, and that was Udoh at the start.

The Ducks had several fine local players as well, notably the power forward Xioachaun Di and the slick ball-handling guard Shuo Fang, who as the year progressed began to split point guard duties with Lin, as a means of reducing the battering Lin was taking.  The team was coached by Yannis Christopoulus, in his third year, a Greek coaching lifer who is an animated presence on the sidelines.

As the season progressed, Lin’s solid play if anything improved, most notably with the long-awaited return of the three-pointer to his arsenal.  Lin upped his long range proficiency from 32% in November -- not much better than the weak 29% he had compiled over his wildly inconsistent long-range shooting in 2018-19 -- to 44% in December, and his overall shooting percentage climbed to 49%.  He racked up nine free throws per game and was hitting 89% of them (higher than in any of his NBA seasons), continued to average six rebounds and assists per game, while cutting his turnovers down from four to three.

But this fine run on the court was darkly interrupted by a stretch of personal tragedy for Lin and the Ducks.  First in late November, a man described as Lin’s closest friend, the Taiwanese-Canadian actor Godfrey Gao, just 35 years old, died suddenly of cardiac arrest when filming a television show.  Just over a week later, former Ducks’ captain Ji Zhe, died of lung cancer at age 33.  These tragic deaths would cast a shadow over the early part of the season, but more was to come.

Far from letting these tragedies affect his play, Lin rose to the moment.  He went for his CBA high of 36 on December 3, hitting 10 of 16 from the field (2-5 from long range), 14-14 from the free throw line, and adding 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and no turnovers in a 109-86 win over the Guangzhou Loong Lions. 

Less than a week later, he recorded his top moment, when the Ducks honored Zhe with a ceremony that saw the late captain’s #51 jersey retired.  In the game that followed, the emotionally drained Ducks battled a middling Shenzhen Aviators team in a nip and tuck affair.  The Aviators pulled ahead with two seconds left, 100-99 on a steal and a trey.  The Ducks had no timeouts to call, so Di inbounded to Lin, who caught it near midcourt, surrounded by three defenders.  Lin quickly sidestepped two of the defenders, crossed midcourt and let fly, managing to draw contact from the remaining defender on the way up.  Sure enough, he got the call, and calmly sank all three free throws with no time on the clock for a thrilling win for the mourning home crowd.  For the night, Lin put up his typical 25/6/4 slash line. 

The Ducks ended December with an excellent 15-8 record, well in the playoff hunt.  Justin Hamilton had played extremely well in the month of November, and when Udoh replaced him on the roster in December, there was no fall-off.  Both essentially were 20/10 players and integral to the Ducks’ success, and Udoh was a ferocious shock blocker as well, averaging nearly 5 blocks per game.  But come January, a month with fewer games due to the Chinese New Year and All Star break, it was Lin’s turn (in a pre-arranged agreement) to sit while Hamilton and Udoh were both active.

This plan did not last long. 

The Ducks managed to win two games without Lin, over lowly Sichuan and Tianjin, but then were crushed by a Shandong team in the thick of the playoff hunt, by a staggering 37 points. The Ducks managed to beat another weak team before heading into the All-Star break.

Lin was back for the All-Star game itself, and it was a rousing show.  He led both teams in scoring with 41 points, though 18 of those points came in an inventive one-on-one game that followed the first quarter, featuring Lin against the Southern Divisions’ star Zhuo Rui.  Lin played a strong game overall, and lost out on the MVP to Rui as the South eked out a 167-166 win.

Back to the regular season and the Ducks played another playoff contender, Qingdau, and again were crushed, this time by 23 points.  With that loss, Ducks’ management had seen enough, and truncated the rotation plan, restoring Lin to the roster well before the end of the month.  Lin was rusty, but played well enough to lead the Ducks to two straight wins, before another loss brought their record to 19-11.

And then all hell broke loose.


TRAGEDY…AND FAR WORSE

It was on December 31st that the World Health Organization made its first public announcement about a novel coronavirus, officially termed “COVID-19,” in the city of Wuhan in the eastern part of China.  By the end of January, there were nearly 12,000 cases of the virus and more than 200 deaths, and it was time for decisive action.  China responded in many ways, limiting flights and instituting quarantines.  Among those actions was the suspension of the CBA season indefinitely, which was announced in late January, when the league was on the New Year hiatus.  Quite abruptly, Jeremy Lin’s season was on hold, after he had played in only 24 games.

During the New Year hiatus, Lin received word that the CBA would be suspended, so he headed home to Palo Alto to wait it out on January 25.   And yet another bombshell had occurred – the unbelievable death of former Lakers’ superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash north of Los Angeles, on January 26.

Lin was among the first from the extended NBA community to offer his condolences via his Twitter account:  “Uhhhh, Noooo…life is too precious.  RIP Kobe.”  And later on Instagram:  “RIP Kobe From sharing the same bday to opponents to teammates … respect for everything you did for the game and world. Gone too soon, life’s truly too precious #legend.”

The true nature of Lin’s relationship with Bryant is unknown.  The most newsworthy aspects were generally of the negative variety, many of them indelible.  From the Linsanity days, there was Kobe’s press conference prior to his first game versus Lin in the midst of Linsanity, when he declaimed any knowledge of Lin.  That night, of course, Lin torched the Lakers in response for 38 unforgettable points and a win. 

Jeremy Lin Recalls The Time Kobe Called Some Of His Teammates Bums
Once Lin became teammates with an aging Bryant on the Lakers, the two were not a good fit – for the third time in his career, Lin was the point guard who needs the ball matched up with a usage-sucking superstar (Bryant following Carmelo Anthony with the Knicks and James Harden with the Rockets).  And there were a series of incidents that appeared to cast Bryant and Lin in adversarial roles.  There was Bryant widely reported taunt that his teammates, including Lin, were “soft as Charmin”; there was Bryant rushing to commit a foul to stop the clock in a close game, racing by Lin, who had been instructed by Coach Byron Scott to wait until the 10-second mark to do the same; and the celebrated “wave-off” by Lin, in the closing minutes of another close game, when Lin ignored Bryant, who was plainly calling for the ball, and instead made an astonishing three-pointer over Chris Paul as the 24-second clock wound down.

But the backstory is almost certainly more mixed and perhaps even positive.  Certainly Lin has made many more positive statements about Kobe than he has about either Anthony or Harden.  In their first camp together, Lin referred to Bryant as a mentor, helping him to be a better defender.  Through the season Lin said Kobe and he would exchange texts designed to help him improve his game.  And in his death Lin certainly focused on the positives in their relationship.

As the pandemic spread across the planet, jumping to each continent with massive deadly consequences – as of this writing, there have been more than 8.6 million cases and over 450,000 deaths -- Lin took on an outsized role in the sports world.  He became a notable and loud voice in defense of Asians who had been victimized by prejudice and racism in the wake of the virus, earning headlines by ripping Donald Trump directly on Twitter:

I wish you would powerfully support the vulnerable people that will suffer due to our mismanagement of this virus, including those that will be affected by the racism you’re empowering


NBA, Jeremy Lin, Donald TrumpLin wrote a long article on The Player’s Tribune, calling for unity in the face of the scourge.  He wrote another reflective piece on his Instagram account, reflecting on the entire range of tragedy that he had personally endured and witnessed over a period of months:

 “Time flies and life is a blur. As I sit back and reflect, all I can say is this past year has been so crazy. The NBA and China’s relationship soured, my friend Godfrey suddenly died filming on set, last year’s Beijing Ducks captain G-Man was diagnosed w a terminal disease midseason and passed away, the coronavirus became a global health emergency, and Kobe/Gianna/7 others passed away in a tragic accident….Today isn’t guaranteed. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Nothing in life is guaranteed. Live life to the fullest, pursue the best version of yourself. If you aren’t content along the journey, you won’t be content at your destination. I learned this lesson the hard way. Find joy, find purpose, find truth. Love radically, serve generously.

Life is too short and too precious for time to be wasted. I’ve lived in China this past season and now being back on US soil, I’m saddened by the racist comments regarding the virus in China. There are real people suffering and real heroes working around the clock in service to others - please don’t let your fear or ignorance rob you of seeing that. This world needs more compassion and empathy. We are all imperfect humans - we all need grace. You have one life to live, focus on what really matters in life. And pray that God blesses us with the chance to see tmrw 🙏

And he backed his words with actions, donating $1 million to coronavirus relief agencies, among the first athletes to step up to the crisis.

He even made basketball news, revealing that, back in 2012 when he was a free agent, he had pleaded with his agent to get the Houston Rockets to lower their “poison pill” offer to make it easier for the Knicks to match, undercutting whatever doubt may have still existed that Lin wanted to return to New York that fateful summer.  And, after nearly a decade of being whitewashed out of Knick history, the Knick-owned MSG channel approached Lin about finally replaying every game from the Linsanity run on the cable channel, a surefire ratings booster in the barren landscape of sports programming.

Finally, after one false start in April, the CBA announced it would resume play on June 20, with the remainder of the season to be held in two locations, and a new schedule announced with 13 more games per team, for a total season of 38, slightly shorter than usual.  The regular season would end in late July, to be followed by the playoffs.


AN ASSESSMENT

With the season about to re-start, we can ask, how has Lin fared so far in China?

Evaluations of Lin’s play in China are in the eyes of the beholder, of course, and as always.  His detractors lead with the very fact of the CBA itself; even the most sublime performance would be discounted simply because of the fact that the CBA is a far cry from the NBA.  And if that was not enough, they would point to the seven point guards, most of them NBA wash-outs, who have compiled loftier scoring averages than Lin.  And still others might say that Lin has a long way ahead to match Marbury’s championship record yet, that the Ducks are not among the league’s elite teams.

Yes, it was certainly to be expected that anything short of Fredette’s points per game combined with Marbury’s ring would be a disappointment to some.   But Lin was never, ever going to hoist them up at a Fredette rate.  He has always been a selective and efficient shooter, and, while a score-first guard, has always sought to involve his teammates and, of course, plays only to win.

But the stat to date is nevertheless exceedingly impressive, as Lin sports a 24/6/6 slash line, driven by excellent shooting percentages across the board. 

MPG
Pct.
2FG%
3FG%
Pct.
REB
AST
STL
BLK
TO
PTS
34.2
47.7%
51.6%
36.2%
82.7%
5.8
5.8
1.8
0.2
3.5
24.1

It is important to note that Lin is averaging only 16 shots per game, far fewer than his point guard counterparts (Dominique Jones, who leads the CBA in scoring at 38 points per game, is averaging 27 shots per game).

Simply stated, he is playing winning basketball, as evidenced by his team’s 19-11 record.  He dominates the ball on the Ducks, evidenced by his usage rate of 33.5%, and makes the team click.  Using more advanced stats, he has a 116 offensive rating and a 106 defensive rating (tops among point guards) for a net +10.  His play may not bring a championship to the Ducks – the Guangdong Southern Tigers, featuring China legend Yi Jianlian and Marshon Brooks, who is having a splendid season and probably deserves a shot in the NBA – are 28-2 and dominating the CBA.  But he has earned high marks for his team play, stayed true to his game, stayed healthy and simply played superbly.


WHAT NEXT?

The question becomes, what next for Jeremy Lin, after the 2019/20 season concludes?  (It does not appear that he will be eligible to sign with an NBA team for this year’s playoffs, even if the timing worked.)

This is, of course, a two-part question:  the first is, will Lin receive any legitimate NBA offers, that is, with a commitment for a rotation slot, not merely a seat on the bench?  And then, even if he gets one, will he return to the NBA, or continue in China, which, on the court, has been an excellent experience for him?

There is only one thing clear about the NBA free agent season that emerges later this year – it is not a very exciting class.  Anthony Davis is the only superstar in the group, and it would be a stunner if he did not return to the Lakers.  It’s a pretty big drop-off from there, down to Brandon Ingram, DeMar DeRozen, Gordon Hayward, Danilo Gallinari and Fred VanVleet as the next big five – all solid players, but none in the superstar category.

More germane to Jeremy Lin’s prospects, not one NBA starting point guard is a free agent.  Every single starter is signed through at least 2020/21.

There will be a very healthy market at the backup point guard position, so the game of musical chairs will begin.  There is no particular reason to think that Lin, one year older (at 32 as of his birthday in August), and a year removed from the NBA, will be in demand.  On the other hand, he has certainly proved that his has completed his comeback, his body is healthy and his game is sharp. 

His has a number of assets to offer, as always – the ability to play both guard positions, his ability to penetrate and break down defenses, draw fouls and his short range game.  He has re-discovered a capable three-point shot, and continues to play passable (and long-underrated defense), with a knack for taking charges.  Most importantly, he can run a second unit proficiently, and provide a scoring boost.  He still has the ability the deliver those Linsanity runs that can win games.  And those intangibles remain: his locker room presence, his ability to mentor young players and his global appeal.

It is interesting to note that backup point guards in the NBA are a bifurcated group:  they are either young and developing, or older, but not ancient, veterans (like Lin) who used to command starting roles.  You don’t find many back-up point guards who are 25 to 27 years old.  They are either on the way up or on the way down.

So, let’s break the 30 NBA teams down into two categories:  teams that are set with a signed, capable back-up point guard and those who are not.  Here are the back-ups in the “set” category; the back-up is solid and signed, or the teams feature two point guards in the starting backcourt, one of whom is on the court to run the team at any given time.  Also included in the charts are the backup’s free agent status, minutes played and Player Efficiency Rating, a catch-all advanced stat pegged to an NBA average of 15.0 (it is a fine stat for offensive play, but not so much for the defensive side).  Presumably none of these teams will be in the market for a rotation point guard.

Teams that Appear to be "All Set"
Team
Backup Point Guard
Age
Free Agent Status
MP
PER
(Irving/Dinwiddie)

signed


(Rozier/Graham)

signed


Brunson
23
signed
17.9
15.0
M. Morris
24
signed
21.6
14.9
(Harden/Westbrook)

signed


27
signed
18.9
16.2
A. Holiday
23
signed
23.6
11.7
Hill
33
signed
21.2
17.5
Schröder
26
signed
31.0
16.8
Burke
27
signed
13.2
15.4
Mills
31
signed
22.7
14.7

And below are the teams that will be playing musical chairs before next season.  Most have backup point guards who are either free agents or underachievers.  They will try to either fill or upgrade their backup point guard slot with someone on this list (including re-signing their own), or an up-and-comer (currently a third-stringer or a G-League prospect), a draft pick – or perhaps Jeremy Lin.  The NBA draft is not viewed as a particularly strong one, without many immediate impact players, and probably none among the highest point guards.  

Teams that are not "All Set"
Team
Backup Point Guard
Age
Free Agent Status
Minutes Played
PER
Comments
Rondo
33
PO
20.5
12.4
LAL looking for an upgrade
(Dunn/Satoransky)

Dunn RFA


If Dunn goes, may be potential
Wanamaker
30
RFA
19.3
11.8
Lin would be an upgrade
Carter
24
RFA
15.1
10.4
PHO has many young PGs
F. Jackson
21
RFA
12.9
7.7
J. Holiday also can play PG
(Lillard/McCollum)

    signed


POR went without backup PG
(Lowry/VanVleet)

FVV RFA


Not an option for Lin
MINN
23
UFA
19.7
16.3
Young and very talented
MIA
33
UFA
28.4
15.9
This is the Lin peer group, all longstanding veterans except for Mudiay.  All are UFA.  At this stage, Lin is middle of the pack of this group, certainly an upgrade over Mudiay, Knight and Della.
R. Jackson
29
UFA
24.2
15.0
Teague
31
UFA
24.8
14.6
WAS
28
UFA
24.2
14.5
Augustin
32
UFA
24.8
14.2
Mudiay
23
UFA
15.7
13.7
Knight
28
UFA
18.5
8.5
Dellavedova
29
UFA
14.4
8.1
Bowman
22
signed
22.6
9.2
Steph needs a back-up
Ntilikina
21
signed
20.8
9.8
Frank young, still raw
Joseph
28
signed
24.0
10.3
Joseph adequate

Celtics beat Hawks 129-108 — Boston Celtics — Bangor Daily News ...My favorite opportunity here for Lin is with Boston.  Brad Wanamaker is not a quality back-up for a playoff team, and Boston is surely a contender.  Neither youngsters Tremont Waters nor Carsen Edwards are likely to be capable options.  You want a proven quantity at the position.  Brad Stevens has long been a Lin fan.  And, of course, Kemba Walker is a fan of Lin’s from their time in Charlotte, where they worked together well. 

Having said all that, Lin is already in a sweet spot.  He’s the face of the CBA, playing in front of throngs of adoring fans, getting a steady diet of 34 minutes per game, controlling the action and piling up numbers in a winning situation.  That may be hard to walk away from.

I suspect, though, that pride would dictate a return to the NBA if the situation was promising.  Lin craves the top competition, and it would be a sensational comeback story were he to succeed once again under the  brightest of lights.

But regardless, any NBA future will likely depend in large measure on Lin’s performance in these last 13 games and then the postseason.  If he does not maintain his “first half” pace, that will be forgotten -- as Lin painfully learned last year.  And it all begins tomorrow, Saturday morning at 7:30 AM ET.


Here are the first five Jeremy Lin articles in this series, in order, starting with 2015.