If you're unlikely to win the NBA championship, there have to be other ways to remain relevant.
Lin first captivated that worldwide audience two years ago with an underdog run of success for the New York Knicks as the NBA's first American of Taiwanese or Chinese descent.
Last season, the Houston Rockets had additional international media on hand every day not because Dwight Howard joined the team but because of Lin. Even though Lin averaged just 12.5 points and 4.1 assists and split time with superior point guard defender Patrick Beverley, there is a star quality in a different sense to Lin.
And make no mistake, the Lakers are in pursuit of star power. That's why they decided to go all out in pursuit of free agent Carmelo Anthony and offer him a max contract even though they had reservations about how much of a winner he is. He has already proved to be a rare one-name-only marquee persona.
At a time when the Clippers have built a championship contender for the city and are transitioning to respectable ownership, the Lakers' move for Lin is an attempt to ensure the purple and gold colors retain their sense of royalty.
Having Lin—a hugely popular person and pitchman in China, the world's most populous country with 1.36 billion people, compared to the United States' 315 million—fits from a business perspective much like it did to overpay to sign Kobe Bryant to his contract extension.
And same as with Bryant, it's not solely a business transaction.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has been intrigued by Lin for a long time—to the point that Lin's family was led to believe the Lakers would draft the former Harvard standout with the 58th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. (The Lakers instead opted for power forward Derrick Caracter, whom, ironically, they waived at the height of the Linsanity phenomenon.)
The Lakers tried to sign Lin after he went unpicked, but the Golden State Warriors offered guaranteed money in the wake of Lin's show-stealing outing at summer league against John Wall. The Lakers also put in a waiver claim to get Lin once the Warriors later cut him in a salary-cap-clearing move, but the Rockets got him because their record was worse than the Lakers'.
Lin is still an inconsistent shooter dependent on driving to the rim, but Linsanity showed undeniable peak ability—which is why the Rockets overpaid to get him. He turns 26 next month—on the exact same day Bryant turns 36—and will get a chance to play more than ever and make or break his career with the Lakers.
If he makes it, the Lakers will have something huge. If he doesn't, the Lakers still will have brought in a new stream of revenue and excitement for this season—perhaps even the Western Conference's All-Star starting backcourt via fan vote given the global popularity of Bryant, Lin and the Lakers.
L.A. made this deal now because Lin fits its current parameters: He is a player who has upside and no future contract obligations beyond the coming season that might infringe on free-agent spending—plus the Lakers got the Rockets' 2015 first-round pick, likely to be in the 20s but serving as a means to more young talent if not a future trade asset.
The Lakers might make a similar trade with the Chicago Bulls, who could pay free agent Pau Gasol even more if the Lakers agree to a sign-and-trade and take back overpaid power forward Carlos Boozer. If Gasol winds up deciding he likes Oklahoma City, the Lakers could make a deal to take on overpaid center Kendrick Perkins and take back a young talent such as Perry Jones or Jeremy Lamb.
Despite muddling through a lost season, the Lakers resisted the urge to move Gasol before the February trade deadline in part because of the chance they could use him this summer to bring in assets via sign-and-trade. Even though the Lakers' hope has been to have Anthony and Gasol to help Bryant win right now, you can only try.
Those type of small decisions can add up to the big changes that put clubs over the top when they are later within reach of a championship. (Drafting project Marc Gasol and stashing him to use in the trade for Pau in 2008, for example, or trading Brian Cook and Maurice Evans for underachieving Trevor Ariza in '07.)
What is jarring for Lakers fans now is that their club is so far from title contention that it has resorted to serving as a pawn for player-dumping teams such as Dwight Howard's Rockets or the Bulls or the Thunder as they position themselves for title runs.
What the Lakers, and even to some extent Bryant, have accepted ahead of many fans is that you have to make sensible moves that can help. When you can get more opportunities, like those now for both Lin and the Lakers, without giving up anything, you take them.
Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.
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