Jeremy Lin is a fine basketball player whose steady production and significant potential outweigh the flaws that pop up from game to game.
As with any 25-year-old competing at the league’s most cutthroat position every night, with only 110 career starts under his belt, Lin is still developing and improving. He may never make an All-Star team, but on the court he holds immense value as a ball-handler who has nearly mastered the pick-and-roll, and shown a tremendous ability to end offensive possessions at the rim.
In his first season as a starter, Lin put up impressive overall numbers, all things considered. Here's how he matched up as an efficient shooter compared to every other point guard in the league. (This chart was created using infogr.am.)
Compared to the accumulative shooting average of every point guard in the league, Lin is above in some areas and below in others. This chart depicts just one area of basketball, but in the context of Houston, it's an important one.
If you’re to entertain whether Houston should trade Lin, the most important question in need of an answer is whether his particular skill set fits in with Dwight Howard and James Harden, the franchise’s two long-term pillars.
Above all else, that’s what’s vital here.
As the presumed starting point guard on a legitimate championship contender, Lin holds numerous responsibilities, some of which he’s yet to prove he can handle (such as limiting turnovers, playing sound, consistent defense against the pick-and-roll and spacing the floor with a threatening three-point shot). If those issues aren’t resolved as the season progresses, would the Rockets consider moving him or gut through the tough times because of Lin’s off-court marketable value?
As we saw when Houston traveled to Taiwan for a slate of preseason action, Lin remains a phenomenon overseas, in various countries where the league has prioritized building its overall fan base/clientele.
But to assume the Rockets franchise would suddenly shift their ideological direction—after prioritizing wins over everything else these past few years (general manager Daryl Morey successfully rebuilt Houston in a three-year stretch without ever attempting to bottom out)—doesn’t make a lot of sense.
If he fits in, he’ll stay.
If he doesn’t, he won’t.
But should the latter occur, thanks to the specifications of Lin’s deal (he was signed using the Arenas provision), facilitating a fair trade may be very difficult.
According to ShamSports, Lin’s cap number is approximately $8.37 million this season and next. But his actual salary is much different. For the purposes of a trade, that $8.37 million would be used to represent Lin’s worth. In reality, whoever has Lin on their roster will pay him $5.225 million this season and (wait for it) a whopping $14.89 million next year, even though his value related to the cap is $8.37 million—that’s the number fans will need to remember.
For owners dealing with real money, paying Lin more than he’s worth may be tough to chew.
The NBA is a business, and Lin is a financial asset as much as he is a productive basketball player. But even after factoring marketability into the equation, is paying someone who isn’t an All-Star the type of money reserved for an All-Star ultimately worth it?
The Rockets are all about bettering their 15-man roster in any possible way, and given the way their general manager tends to act right before the trade deadline (hint: he’s rabid), it’s safe to say anybody not named James Harden or Dwight Howard could be dealt as early as tomorrow.
Nothing should come as a surprise, and that includes Houston sacrificing Lin’s international appeal for the sake of becoming a better basketball team. That doesn’t mean trading him is the right or wrong answer, just that they’ll treat him like they do every other non-superstar on their roster.