In the latest saga of a bizarre off-season, the Rockets have reportedly set up a meeting with Jeremy Lin in Houston for Wednesday, and withdrew Courtney Lee's qualifying offer, making Lee an unrestricted free agent.
He of "Linsanity" fame will come to Houston after being cut in training camp last winter a completely different player. No longer is he a minimum salary second year player struggling to make the roster, now he's coming off a season in which he captivated the nation with his inspiring play and heroic shot-making. He won't come cheap. Though reports surfaced of a $40 million offer the Rockets were planning, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle and others were quick to shoot those rumors down.
It is clear that the Rockets may be serious about Jeremy Lin, but why rescind the qualifying offer on Lee? If Lee had accepted his qualifying offer in excess of $4 million, the Rockets would be unable to pursue any other major free agents and would have to make some cap-clearing moves in order to accommodate Omer Asik's offer sheet.
If the Rockets want Lee back, they can still make it happen, but they lose the insurance in the form of their ability to match any offer Lee gets. However, judging from Lee's twitter, he may be on his way out.
Love to all the fans in Houston, the ppl that work hands on with the team, the staff, coaches,teammates for all the support! Oh can't for— Courtney Lee (@CourtneyLee2211) July 4, 2012
Though the Rockets have contended from the start of the process that Lee will be back next season, today's actions open the door to a departure. According to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, the Clippers, Mavs, Wizards, Bulls, and Pacers all have interest in Lee.
As much as the Rockets have to be in a position where they can give up somewhat replaceable players if they're due to be overpaid on the open market, the realization that Lee could be gone is a sad one. He's a tremendous teammate, player, and person, and if the Rockets lose him they will be missing a big bench contributor from last year. Damn you, economics.
Jump for some Linsane analysis!
On the surface, the Lin pursuit is perplexing. If you're going to sign a young guard to a big contract, why not give the money to Goran Dragic or Courtney Lee? I'd much rather give Dragic a couple of million extra per year to be the point guard of the future than overpay Jeremy Lin. Perhaps the difference in salaries would be greater, and perhaps the Rockets are optimistic that the Knicks won't match an offer sheet if Nash opts to go to New York.
If the Rockets do in fact go forward with Lin and agree on an offer sheet, that signals two things: Goran Dragic's price tag is far too high for the Rockets and that the Rockets intend on trading Kyle Lowry. With Dragic seemingly halfway out the door, many (including myself) speculated that Lowry would be the starting point guard, but the Rockets may intend to find a replacement in Jeremy Lin.
In that scenario, the Rockets could enjoy the double-barreled benefits of retaining a point guard and reaping the benefits of Kyle Lowry's trade value. Lowry is the Rockets' best trade asset on the table, and being able to use his team-friendly deal to facilitate a trade would be a huge boon the team's future.
As much as the hype machine has caused opposing team's fans to dismiss Lin's successes in rebellion to "Linsanity," he's a pretty darn good player. In an admittedly small sample size (36 games, 25 starts), Lin had a PER of about 20 and led the Knicks on the run that would plant them comfortably in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
He's 23 years old and has played less than a full season of basketball in the NBA. If New York is really willing to let him go (doubtful), there is a lot to like. Offering him $40 million may be obscene, but I see no problem with the Rockets' doing their due diligence on him with a meeting tomorrow.
If the Rockets emerge from their meeting with a massive offer agreed upon, they'll have some serious explaining to do. But if the Knicks sign Steve Nash to a multi-year deal and the Rockets can agree with Lin on a reasonable deal for a fraction above the mid-level salary, I could get on the Jeremy Lin train.