If permitted to depart from sentiment, the Lakers would readily admit Lin is a member of the team now because the Houston Rockets had to cut salary in their failed push for a marquee free agent. Houston gave Lin up for nothing in order to create max cap room.
The Lakers, short on talent but long on money, opportunistically absorbed the final "poison pill" season of Lin's contract. He'll make almost $15 million this year, though just slightly more than half of that will count against the cap.
To put it mildly, Lin's departure from the Rockets was unceremonious. And his arrival in L.A. was just another non-needle-mover in a generally disappointing summer for the Lakers:
From "LeBron AND Melo" to "Jordan Hill, the Swagged One, Jeremy Lin, Ed Davis and Carlos Boozer" in like three weeks.— Tom Ziller (@teamziller) July 17, 2014
Focusing on the mechanics of Lin's arrival isn't productive. He and the Lakers can only look forward—into a future that, if everyone keeps expectations reasonably in line, might actually be pretty bright.
Lin isn't LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony (though his wild international popularity might mean he'll start the All-Star Game alongside them), but he is immediately the best point guard on the Lakers roster. So, that's something.
Replacing the mighty Kendall Marshall, who played more minutes at the point last year (2,256) than all other Lakers lead guards combined, won't be a particularly daunting task. L.A.'s reclamation project, who'll be toiling with the Milwaukee Bucks this season, took advantage of low expectations and the general disinterest of opponents to average 8.8 assists per game and shoot a surprising (Have you seen his shotput form?) 39.9 percent from long distance.
Lin has never posted distribution or shooting numbers like those, but he has been a key member of winning teams. With enough open shots and defensive inattention, it's fair to assume Lin could have posted Marshall's numbers last season. I'm not sure we can say Marshall would have equaled Lin's value in Houston, where the games actually mattered.
Good response from Kendall Marshall on a career-high 17 assists: "When you lose by 25, it really doesn't matter to be honest with you."— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) January 6, 2014
You said it, Kendall.
A relentless worker, Lin has always had the ability to get into the middle of the floor, and his three-point shot has improved in every season of his career.
|Year||3FG%||Attempts Per 36 Minutes|
Assuming Kobe Bryant is moderately healthy, Lin's steadily climbing accuracy will be important because no matter what, Kobe's penchant for ball domination will mean spot-up opportunities for teammates.
Lin isn't a great defensive player, but his failings aren't effort-related. If nothing else, his willingness to try on that end of the floor will help change the utterly uncommitted attitude that led to the Lakers ranking 28th in defensive efficiency during the 2013-14 season, per NBA.com.
L.A.'s new point guard will make mistakes. He'll bungle pick-and-roll coverages and probably fail to stay in front of quicker opponents on occasion. But he won't display the complete lack of passion that has led to the Lakers being mocked for their atrocious defense over the past two years.
Offensively, Lin has the opportunity to learn a few tricks from Steve Nash, who, believe it or not, is still on the roster. We have no reason to believe the two-time MVP's body will allow him to play significant minutes, but Nash has always been a great teammate. Lin's game has long featured a bit too much "put your head down and go," and he could definitely benefit from learning some subtler methods of attack from the crafty veteran.
And if all Nash does is convince Lin to go left once in a while, that's probably a win, too.
Lin can help the Lakers on the floor, but he might also carve out a long-term place in Los Angeles because of his marketability.
"This trade allows us to acquire a solid player who will make us a better team," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a team release on Lakers.com. "In addition to what he'll bring us on the court, we think Jeremy will be warmly embraced by our fans and our community."
The portion of the Venn diagram in which rabid Lin fans and devoted Lakers supporters intersect figures to be terrifyingly intense. It'll be some kind of crazy new species of superfan that will stuff All-Star ballot boxes, buy jerseys in droves and cop products across the globe in support of one of the game's most internationally beloved players.
Saying the Lakers need more marketing pull is like saying Bryant needs to play with a bit more of a competitive edge, but Lin's presence in Los Angeles is going to mean even more notoriety and international cache for the Lakers.
It sounds crass to talk about Lin as a marketing tool this way, but ignoring that aspect of his value is foolish. The NBA is a business, and the Lakers, as much as anyone, know that. Lin can make them bigger and more popular than ever in markets they have yet to penetrate.
Think Kobe is big in China now? Just wait.
Look, we all know Lin is in L.A. because he's on a short-term contract that gives the Lakers flexibility while they figure out how to rebuild the roster in a year or two. Nobody expects him to suddenly elevate the organization to the level of a contender.
We should expect the Lakers to continue pursuing superstars—even at Lin's position. But there's just something that feels right about this match, something that points to a long-term stay. If he's willing to sign a more reasonable contract after this year, both Lin and the Lakers could enjoy a stable, mutually beneficial relationship.
It makes sense that Lin might finally find a home in Los Angeles; it's a place full of itinerant transplants looking for somewhere to "make it." Lin's big break already came in New York, but his time there ended as abruptly as it began.
If the Lakers like what they see—a young, improving point guard who has very clearly demonstrated an ability to survive amid crazy expectations—Lin could become a fixture in L.A.'s future.