We've discussed Jeremy Lin many times over the past few days, primarily in the context of the New York Knicks. But now that he's officially a member of the Houston Rockets, the Knicks' financial situation and intrasquad tiffs have faded into Lin's rear view. The issue now, as we look to the future of one of the NBA's most popular players, is primarily about basketball as it's played on the court. How will he fit in with his new team, and what can we expect to happen to "Linsanity" in this new environment?
The second question is easier to answer, at least in very basic terms. In New York, the Lin legend grew in part because of the city's status as an international cultural hub. Houston is a less high-profile town, to be sure, but it's not as if Lin won't have access to many of the same outlets, particularly internationally. Due to Yao Ming's eight-season career with the Rockets, the franchise is one of the most popular around the world, and obviously in the Asian markets that already consider Lin a transformational figure. This connection means that Lin is virtually guaranteed to stay one of the NBA's key players internationally, even if he sees a drop in form. That likely would have been the case with the Knicks, too, but the fickle New York media and the front office's inability to stay patient could very well have caused his popularity to dip.
Naturally, the extent of Lin's star power will depend on how he plays in Houston. In broad terms, he should do well. While Lin's performance with the Knicks last season involves a small enough sample size to call his projected level of play into question, the numbers suggest that he should be pretty darn good. As Kevin Pelton notes at Basketball Prospectus, conservative estimates of Lin's play over the life of his Houston contract say that he will be an above-average point guard. On top of that, the Rockets and general manager Daryl Morey invest and believe in their own analytics as much as all but a few other teams in the league. They have done their homework, surely, and wouldn't have ventured into this deal without confidence that Lin was not a flash in the pan. That doesn't mean he's a sure thing, but everyone involved has reasons to proceed with confidence.
[Marc J. Spears: Rockets land Jeremy Lin after Knicks decline to match offer]
Perhaps most importantly, their current roster is one that should give Lin every chance to succeed. Lin is apt to share the ball as a point guard, but he's at his best when he can handle the ball as much as possible, especially in a pick-and-roll game with active and mobile big men. Outside of shooting guard Kevin Martin, the Rockets don't have much in the way of proven scorers. Additionally, players such as recently drafted rookies Terrence Jones and Royce White, 2011 pick and incoming rookie Donatas Motiejunas, and fellow restricted free-agent target Omer Asik (whose Houston offer sheet is still not certain to be matched by the Chicago Bulls) should be able to play with Lin in the half-court. The Rockets have a history of maximizing their talent and will put Lin in a position to do what he does best.
That's not to say that the Rockets and Lin are a perfect marriage. In fact, in many ways the franchise isn't any more stable than the Knicks, although for very different reasons. Morey is arguably the most active GM in the league, constantly dangling players in trades and looking to improve his team in any way possible. Unfortunately, those tactics have their drawbacks. The Rockets often seem like a team without a long-term plan, collecting assets in the pursuit of a trade for a superstar that might not exist. They are a team in perpetual flux, one where a key player one day could be on his way out weeks later. Just this summer, Morey has parted ways with point guard Kyle Lowry and power forward Luis Scola — their two best players, in many observers' opinions — for cap room and future assets.
The short-term goal of those moves was to facilitate the acquisition of Dwight Howard and several bad contracts from the Orlando Magic. That deal is still a possibility, no matter what Howard says about not wanting to re-up with the Rockets when he becomes a free agent next summer. Zach Lowe of SI.com has looked at the contracts and believes that the Rockets could still take on two iffy contracts in any trade, presuming that certain Houston players are given up in return. If that blockbuster were to happen, Lin and Howard would form one of the league's best pick-and-roll combos. But even that result wouldn't be the end of the saga: Morey would need to pick up more talent to appease Howard so as to not turn Houston into Orlando West. Plus, even if everything goes swimmingly, there's no guarantee that Morey's approach to personnel management involves finding a core of three or four players and sticking to it for a prolonged period of time. Based on his track record, he could be a natural tinkerer.
In simple terms, that means Lin could be playing with a very different group of teammates not just from season to season, but from month to month. So while he's probably glad to say goodbye to the Knicks' tabloid environment, it's not as if he swapped it for a total lack of drama. Lin is probably going to be fine in Houston for all the reasons that made him a success with the Knicks during his ascent to stardom. Whether or not he competes for a championship and helps the Rockets become more stable probably depends on forces outside of his control.
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