Can Jeremy Lin Restart Career Through Fresh Start with Los Angeles Lakers?

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2014

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04:  Jeremy Lin #7 of the Houston Rockets points down court against the Oklahoma City Thunder during a game at the Toyota Center on April 4, 2014 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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Jeremy Lin is in the market for a Hollywood ending.

And thanks to the Houston Rockets' trade-happy standard operating procedure, he appears to have stumbled into the ideal destination.

The Los Angeles Lakers acquired Lin, a future first-round pick and a 2015 second-round pick in exchange for the rights to center Sergei Lishchuk. The deal was cooked up as a means for Houston to clear cap space. At the time, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was in hot pursuit of All-Star forward Chris Bosh, who was an unrestricted free agent until he agreed to return to the Miami Heat.

With Lin's starting position in Houston usurped by Patrick Beverley, a change of scenery may have been overdue. The 25-year-old started all 82 games in his first season with Houston, but he started just 33 games last season.

Much to his credit, the production remained fairly steady.

In 2013-14, Lin averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 assists in just 28.9 minutes per contest. Though many onlookers interpreted those results as a sign that Lin wasn't the star he'd previously been cracked up to be, a couple of caveats are probably in order.

First, expectations surrounding Lin were off the charts. He'd risen to the fore with an injury-riddled New York Knicks team on which his numbers blew up when given an opportunity to play. He was playing alongside a lineup of cobbled-together role players, giving him the perfect opportunity to shine in every respect.

Second, Houston's rotation was a different beast altogether. With James Harden demanding the lion's share of touches and often dominating the ball, there was little room for Lin's heroics to take center stage. Harden's 26.8 usage rate ranked him 12th league-wide, indicating just how heavily the Rockets relied on him.

Lin may remain a sixth man initially in Los Angeles, but he'll have a chance to regain some of the momentum he built with the Knicks. The Lakers need a steady hand alongside the sometimes electric Nick Young. They needed a source of stability and composure in the second unit.

It may not translate into big numbers, but it could certainly yield a noticeable impact.

This was a multilayered deal for the Lakers, and that means a mix of things for Lin.

"This trade allows us to acquire a solid player who will make us a better team, as well as draft picks to improve our team in the future, while at the same time allowing us to maintain financial flexibility,” said general manager Mitch Kupchak in a statement, via the Los Angeles Times' Eric Pincus. "In addition to what he’ll bring us on the court, we think Jeremy will be warmly embraced by our fans and our community."

Lin needn't necessarily play like a star to remain one in the public's eyes.

As NBC News' Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, notes, "Lin’s story has resonated with many Asian Americans across lines of ethnicity and gender, sports fan or non-sports-fan, immigrant or American-born, as evidenced by his loyal "Linsanity" fandom."

SACRAMENTO, CA - FEBRUARY 25: Jeremy Lin #7 of the Houston Rockets shoots a layup against the Sacramento Kings on February 25, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading a
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Per Wang, University of Michigan professor Scott Kurashige suggests:

Lin has a chance to make a huge impact in that town—not by trying to relive 'Linsanity' but by being a solid player constantly trying to improve his game. As long as he performs at that level, Asian Americans will undoubtedly rally behind Lin and the Lakers, but he'll gain the respect of many more beyond that.

Wang also cites UC Riverside professor Karthick Ramakrishnan, who pointed out that, "Los Angeles is the largest Asian-American market, 5 times larger than Houston's," on AAPIVoices.com.

Even if Lin never regains the form he displayed in New York, he could rediscover some of the hype.

It won't be about the volume of his production, it will be about the timeliness, the efficiency—the things Lin actually does quite well.

He converted on 44.6 percent of his field-goal attempts last season—the same mark he posted during his breakout 2011-12 campaign with the Knicks. That's a solid rate coming from a perimeter-oriented point guard. His 35.8-percent success rate from beyond the three-point arc isn't bad, either. 

Lin's fit as a fan favorite needn't be premised on the kind of jaw-dropping performances that originally characterized Linsanity. He'd do well to ingratiate himself with consistency and reliability, maybe even a little bit of defense.

In his first—and perhaps only—season with Los Angeles, those should be the metrics and expectations applied to Lin. Reasonable ones.

Should he remain with the franchise beyond next season, there's certainly some room for growth—perhaps even the potential for a rediscovery of those seemingly distant days with the Knicks.

Kobe Bryant's role within the Lakers offense will decline ever so slightly. Steve Nash will likely retire. There's a real chance that everything might fall into place for Lin, that he could once again emerge as a focal point on the offensive end.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20: Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with teammate Kobe Bryant #24 while playing against the Boston Celtics at Staples Center on February 20, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackno
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Accordingly, it may be fair to view this first season as an audition of sorts. Does Lin have what it takes to adopt a larger role? He seems to have the mental makeup, and he's shown more than a few flashes of the talent.

You could argue that the only thing missing is opportunity.

And that could change soon enough in Los Angeles.

Though Kupchak obviously values the financial flexibility afforded by Lin's one-year contract, the organization would be wise to consider a longer-term relationship with the very skilled floor general. He's no longer a diamond in the rough, but that doesn't mean we've seen his best stuff just yet.

The Lakers have always had a knack for acquiring superstars. Now they have a chance to cultivate one from the ground up.

A chance they probably shouldn't pass up.