CongratuLINtions, Houston: It's a Point Guard!
Over the last few weeks -- and, frankly, for quite some time before that -- the name Jeremy Lin has been twisted to fit any number of ridiculous puns (check out HPBasketball's Twitter feed on Tuesday for some hilarious examples), "Linsanity" chief among them as the young phenom brought crowds at storied -- and recently sleepy -- Madison Square Garden to its feet. Lin will still be playing in the Garden next year, but only twice a year.
After a couple weeks of speculation, a retooled offer, a poison pill, a game of hide and seek between the Rockets and the Knicks, and a final, agonizing will-they-or-won't-they couple of days, New York relented and agreed to let the 23-year-old point guard leave for Houston, a team that had cut him in training camp last year.
New York, we have a probLIN. That's it, I swear.
For those who haven't been following along, Lin was a restricted free agent, meaning he could sign an offer sheet with any team, but the Knicks would have three days to match. It has been widely reported that they would match anything "up to $1 billion." Lin's meteoric rise on and off the court in both play and popularity fueled speculation that the Knicks would never allow him to walk, especially with a rabid Asian fan base looking for a new hero since Yao Ming retired.
But a funny thing happened on the way to midtown. The Knicks and general manager Glen Grunwald got out-hustled by math wiz Daryl Morey, who negotiated a deal with Lin that included a balloon payment or "poison pill" in the third year of the deal. With New York committed to some substantial contracts in year three of the deal, it would have pushed them deep into the luxury tax territory, forcing them to pay as much as $45 million in penalties to the league.
It has been reported that Knicks owner Glen Dolan was incensed that Lin went back to the Rockets to negotiate a different deal before signing the original offer sheet the Rockets gave him. By adding the poison pill in that second deal, it crippled New York's chances of re-signing him. On Sunday, they all but sealed Lin's fate by trading for point guard Raymond Felton after signing Jason Kidd to mentor whichever young player was on the team, though ostensibly not in the art of getting a DUI and almost dying by running your car into a tree.
The Knicks loss is the Rockets' gain as they acquire a young point guard after losing Goran Dragic to Phoenix -- for a similar deal to what was offered Lin, though without a fourth guaranteed year -- and trading Kyle Lowry to Toronto. In some ways, the team was desperate for a replacement for arguably the best point guard tandem in the NBA last year. But Lin is a unique talent with a ton of upside. Yes, he is a turnover machine. Yes, he is a somewhat one-dimensional offensive player. Yes, his defensive game is nonexistent. But through this and some of the other deals made in the offseason, a pattern is beginning to emerge.
Morey has been much criticized for his lack of making a big deal for a player like Dwight Howard. But those talks are still going on and it appears that if they don't get Howard, they could end up with Andrew Bynum, who some believe might be a better option anyway. With the young talent that is emerging in the summer league and more young talent being added through trades and free agency, the Rockets could be building towards something.
Whatever the case, the team will be substantially different from last year. It is possible that the team could have only one returning starter in Chandler Parsons if Kevin Martin is, as many suspect, destined to be part of a trade before training camp.
If the team does indeed land a big-name player along with Lin and possibly defensive-minded Omer Asik -- a restricted center from Chicago who is expected to ink a deal similar to Lin's this week with Houston -- the criticism of Morey, while legit last year, might begin to die down.
One thing is for sure. Linsanity notwithstanding, this will be a very different team on the floor this year and, as Bill Murray said in Groundhog Day, "Anything different is good."
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