Any Rockets fan has heard the phrase “what a difference a year makes” half a dozen times over the last few weeks. But perhaps no player donning Rockets’ red epitomizes that phrase quite like Jeremy Lin, and it’s certainly not in the same positive context often associated with this new-look Rockets franchise.
A year ago, Rockets’ fans were just thrilled to be on the national stage in a close free agent competition with a major market team for a player of Lin’s popularity and – to a lesser extent – caliber. Red Nation, although skeptical, was just pleased to have a direction with a few young pieces with potential in place.
Prior to hitting the jackpot with the James Harden trade, GM Daryl Morey took two big gambles in free agency last year. He struck gold with Asik, whose impact defensively was monumental, who was second in the league in TRB% and whose pick and roll offense improved significantly as the season progressed. With Lin, the verdict remains to be seen, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that gamble has not paid off.
Lin on the block?
Regardless of what Morey is saying to the media about Lin and Asik’s availability, don’t believe him. In the weeks leading up to free agency and the weeks following its beginning, don’t trust anything coming out of a GM’s mouth, whether it’s which free agents he’s targeting or what his sandwich order for lunch was that day.
Lin and Asik are most certainly on the block, and Lin’s value can make or break the chances of adding that third piece Dwight Howard supposedly covets.
Rumors are rampant everyone wants Asik, whether it’s Atlanta, Portland or a slew of other squads. Paying an elite defensive center who rebounds like a mad man $16.6 million over two years is a steal in an era of basketball where elite centers are an endangered species. Obviously the key sign and trade on everyone’s minds involves Josh Smith.
For those who haven’t heard it a dozen times over the last week, Smith and Howard were teammates on the AAU Atlanta Celtics team years ago and have remained friends since.
Challenges to a sign and trade
J-Smoove wants a max contract, but he doesn’t deserve more than $10 million-$12 million a year based on the way he’s played as of late. His shooting selection is atrocious, he can’t hit a free throw and his poor offensive efficiency nearly negates his value on the defensive end. Regardless, in a market with few marquee free agents and in a league where players seem to have all the leverage, Smith will get the deal he wants or something extremely close to it.
If it were simply $10 million a year, the Rockets could make that work easily. Throw in Asik and one of their young PF prospects, such as Motiejunas or Jones, and they’re pretty much there. But if the contract starts touching that $14 million-$16 million range, the Rockets have a problem, because there’s only one player on the roster not named James Harden or Omer Asik who makes more than $2 million a year: Jeremy Lin.
But nobody wants Lin’s contract. Point guards are a dime a dozen, and you can find one who defends, can hit a 3-pointer and doesn’t dribble into traffic and turn the ball over three times a game for a hell of a lot cheaper than what Lin makes.
How Lin killed his value
Morey’s ability to sell Portland or any other team on Lin will probably have to involve his marketing potential and play at New York rather than anything he’s done in Houston, because he didn’t exactly have a season to write home about.
Although he was still a fairly efficient scoring guard (53.8 TS%), he scored nearly five fewer points per 36 minutes from a season ago (19.6 to 14.9) and underachieved at getting to the line, averaging nearly half as many free throw attempts per 36 minutes as he did in New York (7.0 to 3.7). His playmaking skills also took a dive from a 41.0 AST% to only 29.4% last season, and while some of that can be attributed to Harden’s ball dominance, there are no excuses for his lapses on defense, as opposing point guards smoked him for an average 16.9 PER.
In Lin’s defense, Harden’s signing certainly didn’t do him any favors, because they are very similar players who love to run the pick and roll, drive the lane and hit jumpers off the dribble. And Lin’s perimeter shooting improved considerably, as he shot 40+% in February and March. But he isn’t a good fit right now as this team’s starting point guard, and it’s no shock the team plays better with Patrick Beverley on the court.
If Morey can somehow convince Atlanta to take Lin’s contract, whether it’s by overselling his marketability (which is overrated at this point) or by throwing in one or two future first round picks, then the Rockets and their fans won’t have to worry about the situation anymore. But if Lin stays in Houston through the offseason, Morey will always we looking to pull a trigger on Lin to add another piece, especially if Dwight hikes down that mountain on Friday and announces he’s bringing his talents to Polk Street.
It’s in the Rockets’ best interests and in Lin’s for him to make changes in his game. He needs to work like crazy on hitting set jumpers, staying in front of his man on defense rather than gambling for steals and on ways to eliminate some of those mistakes he so often makes when driving into traffic. Linsanity is dead. The only thing preventing its revival is Jeremy Lin.
And if he doesn’t make those changes, expect Beverley to pick up more minutes and for Morey to ship him in a year as an expiring contract. But who knows. As Rockets fans can attest to, what a difference a year can make.