It’s now official. After the 11:59 deadline passed last night, Jeremy Lin again became a Houston Rocket.
When I talked to him last winter [above], Lin expressed a lack of surprise regarding the outcome of his first stint in red. Now, he returns a $25million man, slated to earn ~$8million/year, the first indisputable face of this franchise since Yao Ming’s retirement.
It was a wild ride these past few weeks with Houston poisoning an offer sheet–I spoke to Fortune about the terms of that contract–New York boasting they’d match any offer, the Rockets and Lin renegotiating, and ultimately, the Knicks relinquishing the point guard in what seemed a fit of pettiness, opting to hand the reigns of the team to fat man Raymond Felton. Most curious was the Vegas saga where Rockets brass, offer sheet in hand, searched the premises to deliver the paperwork with Glen Grunwald nowhere to be found; they ultimately FedExed the ‘k’ to Knicks offices in New York, undoubtedly evoking Civil Procedure memories from millions of young attorneys and law students around the land: “if not in hand with the Secretary of State, always return receipt requested.”
The hoopla will continue the next few hours, if not days. The story after all is, not that Jeremy Lin is a Rocket, but that he has left the New York Knicks. But for our purposes, it’s the first big story in which the franchise has been involved since…? In my lifetime, no Rockets-related story has dominated the headlines to this degree. Somewhere, a smile is on Les Alexander’s face.
After the fuss dies down and Lin is reintroduced (the press conference will be tomorrow), the task will be integrating him into whatever this roster ends up becoming. Already the critics decry the move, dubbing it a PR stunt: after all, much of Lin’s star is in his brand, not his crossover.
Still, this was a good move. He may not actually be better than Goran Dragic (it’s debatable), but he’s three years younger with a willingness to improve. As ESPN Stats & Info has pointed out this week, Lin also produced more per 36 minutes than Dragic and Lowry. More impressively, Lin finished third overall in the league in points per possession in isolation attempts and third again in points per possession off pullup jumpers. The skills may not match the star, but let’s be clear: this is no slouch.
If Lin can give the team 14 and 7–reasonable expectations–combined with the marketing profits he’d turn, would $8million/year be so unreasonable? In Kevin McHale’s point guard centric “offense”–if the series of screen and rolls the team ran last year can even be called that–I wouldn’t rule out higher averages.
The Rockets didn’t get an All-Star. But the numbers and performance don’t lie. They got a guy, despite his warts, who is very good to perhaps even elite at scoring on his own off the dribble, something they haven’t had since Tracy McGrady’s last years. While not a savior, Lin is a weapon, something a lineup needs many of from top to bottom to succeed in today’s NBA.
For now, the weight will be on Lin’s shoulders to carry these Baby Rockets. It’s a daunting task. But if Dwight Howard is acquired, things would be different. In an interview yesterday, ESPN’s David Thorpe described a potential Howard-Lin pick and roll as “devastating.” Lin has a penchant for finding uncanny angles when given a screen and of course, when the roll man is Howard, the ball can be delivered anywhere within the vicinity of the basket. The chemistry developed between Lin and Knicks center Tyson Chandler last year would be duplicated and amplified.
Lin will have to improve. His turnover figures are eye-opening and his tendency to wilt against physical play are cause for alarm. Still, this was a player fresh off the waiver wire delivering on the biggest stage in the world. The jitters are to be expected.
Now the Rockets move forward. They have their face, expected to be introduced tomorrow. Rockets jerseys will again be purchased and there will be a name to be identified with the team. For at least a few more hours, they will stay in the headlines. Now they’ll turn to surrounding Lin with talent and fitting him into a scheme in which he can succeed. Now they’ll make the effort to push the player closing to matching the star.
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