Hey, remember when Daryl Morey tweeted about how he regretted letting go of Jeremy Lin? Apparently you can right past wrongs...and it just takes a 3000% salary raise to do it! I wish my former employers had that same attitude.
With the New York Knicks making the ridiculous decision ($) that bringing on the aging/bloated/inebriated corpses of Marcus Camby, Raymond Felton, and Jason Kidd were the right moves, the Houston Rockets have finally executed an off-season transaction that the fanbase can, well, kinda, sorta get behind.
In a vacuum, the Lin signing makes little sense. Kyle Lowry, since traded to Toronto, was a better player, signed for less money and less years. Unrestricted free agent Goran Dragic, since signed with Phoenix, was a more known commodity and flourished in Kevin McHale's offense, and inked for comparable dollars to Lin. And if the Rockets were truly committed to blowing things up, why not just turn the reins over to a replacement level guy like the already rostered Shaun Livingston?
But in the real world, I love the move. And here's why.
LIN AS A MARKETING TOOL
This one is fairly obvious. In the US, the Rockets are just another middling mid-market team. But in Asia, their brand is right up there with the winning tradition of the Lakers, the global reach of the Knicks, and the legacy of Jordan's Bulls. Having mined the Far East movement for years with Yao Ming, owner Les Alexander just added another money-making machine to his operation.
As an Asian-American, I know I'm jazzed about the addition of Lin to my team. I've got a whole Facebook feed to prove others are too. But I am curious to know what the sentiment is from the fanbase at large--judging from Houston sports talk radio the past few weeks, general responses range from indifferent to negative. Of course, some of these fans also think it makes no sense to trade for a top-five player like Howard, either. Suffice to say I can't be friends with those callers.
Regardless of public opinion, the bottom line is that Lin moves the needle. He can and will generate massive advertising and merchandise dollars. And if you pragmatically believe that sports business is more than just about on-field wins, then the Lin signing is nothing less than a massive success for the Rockets front office. Quoting Grantland's Jay Caspian Kang:
Does it seem weird to anyone else that the one team willing to take on Lin's now-huge salary is the one team that has direct knowledge of just how much money an Asian star player can bring a franchise via international marketing?
I'm just asking.
LIN AS A BASKETBALL PLAYER
If there is one position above all others where Morey has shown proficiency in talent evaluation, it's at point guard. Since taking over the reins as GM, Morey has drafted Aaron Brooks with a late first, fleeced Memphis for Lowry and Phoenix for Dragic, and made the correct decisions to trade Brooks (for Dragic, natch) and match Lowry's restricted offer sheet.
By the way, it's worth mentioning that the Rockets really liked Lin last summer. The front office just couldn't justify keeping a non-rostered player at the expense of the equally good Dragic, who had a guaranteed contract.
The big difference between a 23 year-old Lin and 26 year-olds Lowry and Dragic is, of course, that "P" word. At this point, Lowry and Dragic are pretty much known commodities. Both are serviceable point guards in a league replete with All-Star talent at the 1. Meanwhile, the cosmic Lin is chock full of Potential.
On a team that is currently going nowhere fast, that's gold. The Rockets' recent transactions (amnestying Luis Scola, trading Lowry and Samuel Dalembert, letting Dragic walk) leads me to believe that Alexander is finally allowing Morey to jump off the mediocrity treadmill. Simply, that means: go big or go young.
If the Rockets are truly committed to tanking for a year or two, it makes sense to play young players with potential and see if you already have a big fish on your team. Lin and Rockets hopeful Omer Asik both fit that bill, and maybe one of Houston's recent mid-round firsts like Royce White blossoms. If not, well, here's to favorable ping pong balls.
LIN AS A BARGAINING CHIP
Efforts by Morey to land either Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum this off-season have thus far been fruitless. Truly, it seems that every year, Morey faces and fails the Sisyphean task of reeling in a much-needed superstar.
The bottom line is that Houston has not been perceived as an attractive NBA destination. Sure, Morey offers zero state taxes, the John Lucas offseason connection, and oodles of humidity. That's been such a motivator that borderline All-Stars playing for Houston like Kevin Martin have just...stopped trying! It feels like there is All-Star repellent sprayed fully around Beltway 8.
Of course, if Howard started to think about the dollars or sense, he would realize that playing with Lin could be a financial windfall.
And you know what, if Lin is as good as Morey thinks he can be, a Rockets team led by Howard (or Bynum) and flanked by Lin could be the foundation to something great. I'd bet my bottom dollar that Morey is a top 5 general manager in the NBA, and if he could just cover his superstar shortage, the Rockets would be on the verge of something special. (By the way, how apoplectic must New York fans be, knowing that James Dolan and Mikhail Prokhorov are running their superstar-led teams into the ground?)
Is Lin the definitive answer to "how can we put you with an NBA Championship trophy today?" No, but I do believe that he can be a star on the basketball court. And in the meantime, he just made the Rockets much more entertaining and topically relevant. At the very least, Morey has already half-won.