Jeremy Lin will have left knee surgery and will miss six weeks, possibly ending his amazing breakthrough season.
The New York point guard had an MRI exam this week that revealed a small, chronic meniscus tear.
With the regular season ending April 26, the biggest story in basketball this season is probably done unless the Knicks make a deep playoff run.
He was barely holding on to a place in the NBA back in February. Now, after the back-to-back Sports Illustrated covers and popularity around the world, he has to go back to the bench when he wants to play most.
"If this was done very early in the year, obviously ... I don't know where my career would be. I could be, would be definitely without a job and probably fighting for a summer league spot," Lin said Saturday. "But having said that, this happening now hurts just as much, because all the players, we really put our heart and souls into the team and into season, and to not be there when it really matters most is hard."
The Knicks will continue to turn to Baron Davis in place of Lin, the undrafted Harvard alum who became the starter in February and turned in a series of brilliant performances, kicking off a phenomenon that was called Linsanity.
Lin is averaging 14.1 points and 6.1 assists, but the numbers only tell a small part of the story.
The Knicks were under .500 and looking like a mess when Lin was given a chance to play extended minutes at point guard for then-coach Mike D'Antoni on Feb. 4 against New Jersey.
Lin, the first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent to play in the NBA, scored 25 points with seven assists in that New York victory, was inserted into the starting lineup two days later against Utah, and took the Knicks on a seven-game winning streak that gained world-wide attention.
Lin left the Knicks' easy victory over Detroit last Saturday, saying afterward he could have returned for the fourth quarter if the game had been close. He took part in shootaround before their game Monday and believed he could deal with the pain.
Though the swelling went down, the pain never did, and after testing it again Friday and Saturday, he decided to have the surgery.
"I can't really do much. Can't really cut or jump, so it's pretty clear that I won't be able to help the team unless I get this fixed right now," Lin said before the Knicks played Cleveland. "It's disappointing for me, it's hard to watch the games and I think I'd want to be out there obviously more than anything right now. But hopefully, it's a six-week rehab process but I tend to heal fast, so hopefully I can come back as soon as possible and still contribute this season hopefully."
It's the second serious injury loss of the week for the Knicks, who are fighting for a playoff spot. Amare Stoudemire is out two to four weeks with a back injury, leaving the Knicks without their second- and third-leading scorers for perhaps the remainder of the regular season.
Point guard options
Davis still isn't 100 per cent after a herniated disk in his back kept him out of action until February. The Knicks also have Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas, plus rookie Iman Shumpert as point guard options, but none as good as Lin.
"We've got to go on, but he's a big piece of our puzzle and what we were doing as of late before he actually went out," interim coach Mike Woodson said. "All's not bad. Again, we've got three veteran point guards sitting over there and the rookie we could play some at the point. We're just going to have to make do until he's able to get back into uniform. But it is a big blow."
Lin flourished in D'Antoni's offence, and there was immediate speculation he would struggle — or even lose his starting spot — when Woodson replaced him on March 14. Instead, Lin kept on rolling, leading the Knicks to six wins in seven games before he was hurt.
Woodson said he's known of players that have played through meniscus tears, but that only Lin knows his body. Lin knew he would need surgery eventually, but hoped to delay it until after the season.
"He's elected to have the surgery and we've got to respect that, because only he knows the pain that he's feeling. And there is a problem, so it's got to be fixed," Woodson said.
The Knicks had already tried three point guards when they finally turned to Lin, who had been cut by Golden State and Houston before signing with the Knicks. D'Antoni immediately elevated him to the starting lineup after his performance against the Nets, and Lin responded with the greatest beginning stretch ever for a starter.
He was the first player with at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his first five starts since the Elias Sports Bureau began charting starts in 1970. He had a three-pointer to win a game in Toronto, scored 38 points to outplay Kobe Bryant in a national TV victory over the Lakers, then had 28 points and 14 assists in another nationally televised victory over the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
All along, the frenzy around him increased. Commissioner David Stern said he had never seen so much interest created by one player in such a short period of time. Knicks games were picked up by TV stations in basketball-crazed Asia, and Lin actually pleaded for privacy for his family in Taiwan.
Lin will be a free agent after the season and said he hopes to return to New York, but otherwise wasn't thinking that far in the future.
"I'm not even worried about that right now," he said. "It's not like a career-ending thing or it's not something that will bother me. Once it's fixed, it's fixed, it's the most simple surgery you can have and so I'm more concerned about the season."