Follow the money.
Deep Throat gave that sage advice to Bob Woodward in All The President's Men. And it just might apply to Jeremy Lin's future with the Houston Rockets.
Follow the money.
First, some backstory. A mere eight games ago, the Rockets were riding a sensational streak in which they had won five straight, 11 of 14, and were sixth in the Western Conference standings. They were also the NBA's highest-scoring team, as well as their youngest—a combination that was causing the entire league to take notice of the Rockets' high-flying ways.
Then came the losing streak, currently at seven games. Rock bottom was Saturday night.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were without Kevin Love, Brandon Roy, fomer Rocket Chase Budinger and four more players. With only seven guys available to suit up, the T-Wolves called up unknowns Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale from the D-League to at least fill out their roster.
The result? Johnson and Gelebale scored more points (23) in the fourth quarter than the entire Rockets squad (20).
The embarrassment of this game, of being beaten down by a team composed of a makeshift roster and D-League nobodies, might be just the impetus this Rockets team needs to get back to playing their brand of basketball.
But one thing that's become glaringly apparent in the streak—and has been clear to me virtually all season—is the Rockets' inadequacy at power forward. Neither Patrick Patterson nor Marcus Morris have been able to provide consistent offensive or defensive presence down low.
During Patrick Patterson's 20-game streak, this writer called for him to be dealt while his trade value was high. It didn't happen. Now, if the Rockets want to upgrade at the position, Patterson has little or no attraction as part of a trade package.
So whom could they trade? Who could the Rockets part with that other teams would be interested in?
Perhaps we got a hint of that answer Saturday night. Coach Kevin McHale benched Lin and Chandler Parsons, along with Patterson, to start the second half.
To me, the benching is futile: McHale needs to make adjustments to counter those opponents have made to neutralize Harden. But perhaps the move was more than just an attempt to motivate.
Parsons, though often still very productive, has scored in double digits much more infrequently of late than he did from mid-November to mid-December.
Patterson has been in and out of the starting lineup, because of injury and his aforementioned ineffectiveness. He hasn't scored in double figures the entire losing streak.
Which brings us to Lin. It was another in a long string of sometimes oddly timed benchings. Though Lin has been unquestionably inconsistent offensively this season, it often seems just as he appears to get things going, Jeremy's suddenly riding the pine.
Could it be that McHale and management have soured on him?
If so, I've made one thing clear before, and I'll do it again now. The pairing of Harden and Lin, however unconventional, can work. Lin has to simply develop a short jump shot, and Harden has to look for Lin cutting to the basket more often.
Sure, a point guard with sole ball-handling duties is preferable as well. But because of how Harden operates, that may not be realistic, at least not right now.
The point being, this pair is young, exciting and talented. Both men are unselfish and passionate about putting the team first. In addition, Lin has started less than a season's worth of games in his career. He has more developing to do.
Though it may require patience in the short term, these are absolutely guys you can feel good about building around.
But because of their success through early January, expectations may have risen and patience may be in short supply at Rockets headquarters.
In addition, this writer doesn't make personnel decisions. If he did, Luis Scola wouldn't have been amnestied, and Patterson would have been traded at the end of November. The Rockets would thus have retained a power forward who could have lessened the impact of this losing streak, or upgraded by packaging both power forwards.
So right now I'm acting as detective.
Frequent benchings. A minimum of consideration when it comes to ball-handling duties. Few plays designed for him.
Could Jeremy Lin be on his way out of Houston?
Randolph makes $16.5 million. Smith makes $13.2 million. Millsap makes $7.2 million.
Where on earth would the Rockets find the green to obtain any of these guys?
So we follow the money.
There are only three Rockets who make more than $5 million. One is Harden, who's not going anywhere. The second is Omer Asik, who's exceeded all expectations at center. One would be hard-pressed to imagine the Rockets giving up their defensive star and only low-post weapon.
Which brings us back to Lin.
To make a trade, one must provide assets which can at least compare. The rules are complex, but essentially the Rockets can't trade for a player who makes more than 150 percent of their outgoing players' salaries.
Patterson and Morris together make only $4 million. And they are players no team covets.
The only player with trade value, and with a salary high enough to make a trade like the ones proposed above work, is Lin.
Will the Rockets do a deal?
If they do, they lose a player with unquantifiable box-office attraction. Lin fell just shy of the All-Star game, despite stats that Lin himself admitted did not justify an All-Star berth. Only Derrick Rose sold more jerseys in 2012 than Lin. And I can tell you from personal experience: When I put "Jeremy Lin" in my headline, that article's readership absolutely explodes.
In addition, the Rockets would lose a player with an unselfish attitude, the capability of electrifying a crowd and a fanbase, and one whom I believe has not yet realized his NBA potential. With time, an improved jump shot and the proper coaching, I believe Lin could be a point guard who harkens back to the styles of Steve Nash and John Stockton—though probably not their gaudy statistics (Stockton's assists record, for example, is nearly as unbreakable as DiMaggio's hitting streak).
If the Rockets were simply going by bottom line, the most prudent way to proceed fiscally is to keep Lin a Houston Rocket for as long as possible—perhaps even a career. But Rockets management may be eschewing the bottom line and eyeing quick fixes right now.
Were it me, I would urge McHale to make the necessary adjustments, and wait to see who comes available at the trade deadline, when uneven deals can more easily take place.
But if a trade happens before then, one need only follow the money to know that Jeremy Lin may not be a Rocket for long.
And if that happens, the Rockets had better be prepared to watch a whole bunch of ancillary money follow Lin right out the door.