Entering play on Dec. 19, the Houston Rockets have split their first 24 games, going 12-12. There have been some high highs and some low lows.
Through it all, Jeremy Lin’s Houston Rockets are still a work in progress.
And when Lin made his first visit to Madison Square Garden on Dec. 17, he told the assembled press in MSG’s press room that nobody—not himself, not Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, nor anyone else in the organization—expected “Linsanity” to continue.
During the 40-day stretch within which Lin became a global icon, he had some very memorable performances. Two that immediately come to mind are the Feb. 10 contest against the Los Angeles Lakers in which Lin scored 38 points and had seven assists.
The other was a 28-point, 14-assist effort against the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 19.
Both were wins.
That Lin was able to put up those kind of numbers was somewhat shocking. But the fact that opposing teams hadn’t scouted him and weren’t fully ready for him wasn’t.
Linsanity wasn’t sustainable over the long haul, especially not once Lin had become a member of the Houston Rockets. Today, the deficiencies in Lin’s game are well known: He struggles operating from the left side of the court and doesn’t deal well with being trapped on a pick-and-roll.
Fortunately for Lin, that’s not why Morey elected to pay him $25 million over three years.
In Lin, Morey saw a 24-year-old point guard who was very raw but whose greatest attributes were things that couldn’t be taught or were nearly impossible to develop. The main one?
With the world watching and the pressure mounting, Lin delivered time and time against for the Knicks over the course of those 25 games, including making big shots down the stretch of close contests.
Lin’s quick step, ability to finish at the rim and pass-first mentality are quite difficult to teach at the NBA level, but they’re skills that he seemingly possessed from very early on.
Lin may have gotten paid more money a lot sooner than other young NBA players, but Lin is an NBA player because he’s talented. More than anything, he needed an opportunity to develop at his own pace, improve the weaknesses in his game and learn how to cope with being an everyday player (and target) in the NBA.
Houston presented him with the perfect situation and a great opportunity.
Today, the Rockets are a team that’s built for tomorrow.
Of the eight main cogs in its rotation—Lin, James Harden, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Carlos Delfino and Toney Douglas—only Delfino is older than the age of 26.
Two younger Rockets, Terrence Jones and Donatas Montiejunas, are regarded as top-notch prospects and are just 20 and 22 years old, respectively.
And as chronicled in this space previously, the Rockets are in a very good situation with regard to its available money under the salary cap this summer. As it stands, the Rockets currently have about $46 million committed to eight players for next season.
With the cap expected to be somewhere around $60 million for the 2013-2014 season, depending on how the Rockets manage their cap situation—and whether Morey decides to exercise a $3 million team option on Delfino or extend a qualifying offer to Douglas—the Rockets could easily have $10 million to go shopping on the free-agent market.
But with a copious amount of intriguing young talent and prospects, the Rockets could also use their cap situation as an asset for serving as a facilitator in a multi-team trade featuring over-the-cap teams.
Or, more obviously, the Rockets could attempt to flip some of those assets in a trade for a higher-priced talent whose team may be trying to get rid of him.
Pau Gasol, anyone?
Regardless of the route the Rockets take, two things are for certain.
First, Daryl Morey is a general manager who has traditionally gotten the most with the least and, with Lin, Harden and Asik, managed to recover nicely from a summer that saw the Rockets trade Kyle Lowry, lose Goran Dragic and amnesty Luis Scola.
Second, between young players, draft picks and potential money under the salary cap, the Rockets have assets.
What the Rockets don’t have is a finished team or a polished product.
This past summer, when Morey decided to pull the plug on the Rockets the NBA had come to know over the past few seasons, he did so with the intention of getting younger and better.
Signing both Lin and Asik to offer sheets that were too expensive for their incumbent teams to match was just the first step. On Oct. 27, Morey’s trade for Harden, though a major step in the right direction, wasn’t the final move.
Today, Linsanity is a distant memory, but it's not because Lin isn’t a good basketball player.
Today, Linsanity is a distant memory because we all already know that Lin is a good basketball player. No longer is he expected to live up to that standard.
Now, with a team full of fellow youngsters whose best days are probably ahead of them, Lin can focus on being a basketball player and on making those around him better.
Had Lin remained in New York, the pressure on him to live up to last year’s stretch of Linsanity would have been unreal. That’s especially true when you consider than Carmelo Anthony referred to Lin’s contract as “ridiculous” and J.R. Smith admitted that “some” NBA players may be jealous of the payday Lin was able to earn after just 25 starts in the NBA.
At this point, that’s all water under the bridge. Lin and the Knicks both seem to be better off without one another. And though Lin’s Rockets have defeated the Knicks twice this season, the Rockets aren’t quite ready to challenge for supremacy in the NBA’s Western Conference just yet this year.
The Rockets, after all the turnover and maneuvering, remain a work in progress. Along with Harden, Asik and general manager Morey, the franchise isn’t under any immediate pressure to win now.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and even though it seems like Linsanity was, nobody is expecting the Rockets to live up to any lofty expectations.
For Lin, that’s a good thing.