Grading LA Lakers' Trade for Jeremy Lin from Houston Rockets

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2014

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 08:  Jeremy Lin #7 of the Houston Rockets and Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers wait for a play at Toyota Center on January 8, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The Linsanity tour is about to make its third stop, this time with the basketball mecca that is the Los Angeles Lakers.

ESPN.com's Marc Stein first hinted that talks were in the works.

By now, the deal is no secret.

The Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen offers details:

The Rockets will send Lin and their first-round pick next season plus a future second-round pick to the Lakers to move Lin’s contract. Lin is due to earn roughly $15 million in the final season of his three- year contract with the Rockets, but would count $8.37 million on the salary cap. The Rockets will receive draft rights to an international player to be determined that the Lakers own the rights to.

So Houston won't inherit much from this deal directly, but then again, this trade is really about the big picture for Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

As Feigen noted, "The deal could be the clearest sign that the Rockets are confident they will land Bosh. They already had a deal in place to deal Omer Asik and his matching contract to the New Orleans Pelicans."

In other words, from Houston's perspective this deal was a means to an end—and a big end at that.

Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out as expected. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, "Chris Bosh has reached agreement on a five-year, $118 million contract to re-sign with the Miami Heat, league sources told Yahoo Sports."

Is this move still a success for Houston? Some grades are in order for both sides of the equation.

Houston Rockets: C+

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat looks to pass as Boris Diaw #33 of the San Antonio Spurs defends during Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ack
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This trade was premised on Houston actually landing Bosh.

ESPN.com news services reported that, "The Houston Rockets believe they will have commitment "soon" from Chris Bosh to sign with the team after Miami Heat teammate LeBron James announced Friday he is leaving to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a source close to the situation told ESPN.com's Marc Stein."

That report further indicates that Houston has already, "made a maximum offer to Bosh of four years, $88 million, according to sources."

Though it seems highly unlikely that Morey would have made this move without strong confidence that Bosh would follow suit, he may have overestimated where the Rockets stood vis-a-vis Bosh.

And it could be a costly mistake.

Now the Rockets are without a key role player and could be suckered into overspending on a Plan B or C just to use up that cap space before matching Chandler Parsons' offer from the Dallas Mavericks.

All told, Houston's maneuverings could still produce some dividends, but they won't be Bosh. By operating so quickly, the organization is in position to sign someone with its open cap space the Lin trade creates. ANy signing must take place before the Rockets match the Parsons offer.

Houston received Parsons' offer sheet on Thursday, giving them three days from that point to match the offer—which the team can do even if it means going over the salary cap (and it most certainly will).

Houston can still thank LeBron James for making a timely decision. Had he waited until next week, for example, Bosh might have remained undecided about his future—leaving Houston in quite the lurch.

But now the Rockets are faced with a detour of sorts, looking to make a splash in a market that's quickly drying up in terms of premium talent.

It's the next step that matters. Trading Lin could still look like a wise move in the event Houston could land a versatile forward like Luol Deng (who could conceivably spend some time at the 4-spot). But without cashing in on the available cap space, losing Lin was a lost cause.

Los Angeles Lakers: B

Things are less clear-cut for the Lakers. There are at least a couple of factors that make this trade a successful one on its face.

First, Los Angeles desperately needed some insurance at the point guard position.

The 40-year-old Steve Nash has played in just 65 combined games over the last two seasons on account of injuries. Should his health fail him again, Kobe Bryant and Co. will badly need Lin's services in the backcourt. And even if Nash stays healthy, Lin has proved he can succeed as either a starter or sixth man—so his flexibility in that department doesn't hurt.

Second, Lin only has one season remaining on his contract, meaning the Lakers didn't forfeit their long-term cap flexibility. That could be pivotal when the club makes another run at top-shelf free agents in 2015 (and perhaps 2016 after that).

And while it might not mean much, it's probably a good sign that Lin is reportedly excited about his new home.

It wouldn't take much for Lin to feel more valued than he did in Houston, where Morey and Co. used Lin's jersey number in graphics designed to lure Carmelo Anthony.

Lin responded by tweeting a Bible verse: "Luke 6:29 - If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them."

In other words, Lin should be a much happier camper for the moment.

Nevertheless, this trade wasn't a total win for Los Angeles.

With Lin counting $8.37 million against the cap next season, L.A.'s ability to pursue other free agents has been severely compromised.

The organization still has room to make some things happen in the free-agent market, but it will be limited in its ability to pursue needed wing help like Luol Deng or Trevor Ariza—both of whom are in store for major paydays in the wake of deals Parsons and Gordon Hayward landed.

Given that the market for guys like Deng and Ariza has exploded in recent days and weeks, that may not be such a bad thing. The last thing Los Angeles can afford to do is overpay for second-tier free agents, locking them into super-lucrative multiyear deals that preclude the future acquisitions of more elite talent.

So there's no imminent disaster for L.A. Better to overpay a guy for one season than to overpay one or two guys for four seasons.

There is, however, very real doubt that Lin will be worth over $8 million this season. From that perspective, you have to believe the Lakers may have been able to find better value by adopting a more patient approach.

Moreover, this deal looks especially bad when viewed as a consolation prize. In effect, this trade represents the first step in general manager Mitch Kupchak's Plan B after having missed out on prizes LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. From that purview, coming up with Jeremy Lin (and whoever comes next) is a huge downgrade from what might have been.

The Lakers are supposed to be better recruiters than that. This is a premier NBA destination, a storied franchise—not one accustomed to settling for scraps.

Lin is slightly better than "scraps," but he's probably never going to be a star.

The 25-year-old averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 assists last season, mustering a solid but unimpressive 14.31 player efficiency rating. Though he was in and out of the starting lineup and never seemed to fully find his comfort zone in Houston, there's no reason to believe a change of scenery will do him any favors.

At least for now.

It's worth remembering that one of Lin's breakout performances with the New York Knicks came against these Lakers. Back in February of 2012, Lin dropped 38 points on Los Angeles, cementing his status as one of the season's very best stories.

If he returns to that kind of form, this becomes much better than a B-deal for the Lakers.


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