The Houston Rockets traded Jeremy Lin and a future first-round pick to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, and so begins the third installment in the 25-year-old’s roller-coaster narrative.
In 2012, after playing just 55 minutes all season, the spiraling Knicks brought in Lin to spark a team that had lost 11 of their previous 13 games. It worked. The unknown from Harvard became the first to average 27.2 points in his first five starts, while averaging 20 points and seven assists during the same stretch. Linsanity was let loose in every living room in the country, but in the years following, it’s developed into more of a mirage than a totem of what’s to come.
The Rockets were looking to deal Lin before the Chris Bosh buzz surfaced. Since Patrick Beverly became Houston’s starting point guard, Lin became expendable—the only question was when. Houston had the opportunity to rid themselves of Lin’s $15 million expiring contract and were open to discussions with just about any suitor, though the market was limited given his sales tag. Los Angeles did more than pick up a backup point guard, they accrued much-needed assets in a future first-round pick and draft considerations with the package. For a team with the oldest backcourt in the NBA and only Kobe Bryant and Robert Sacre locked down through 2015-16, this was a critical move. Even if Los Angeles was hesitant to take on Lin’s $8.4 million cap hit this coming season, they did the right thing.
Why would they have concerns regarding his abilities? Because he’s a sieve on the defensive end and his production, which is sporadic at best, has diminished repeatedly. He’s also joining a team that allowed teams to score at will a season ago.
Lin is brought on to back up Steve Nash, although if this season goes even remotely like last year, he’ll be playing a lot. Last year’s per 36-minute averages of 15.6 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.3 rebounds, on 45 percent from the field aren’t dreadful. But his scoring has tapered off, opponents shoot 61.5 percent at the rim against him, and teams are reluctant to run their offense through him, despite his job being to run the offense. Last season, Lin generated just 44.2 front court touches per game, less than backup point guard Devin Harris and power forward Josh McRoberts. He’s had opportunities to enhance his numbers, accruing 56 touches per game—more than all-stars DeMar DeRozan, Chris Bosh, and Joe Johnson—yet his numbers remained trivial.
Houston operated on such a quick LeBron-turnaround that Los Angeles undoubtedly didn’t have a lot of time to consult the market. They would’ve seen that, in terms of production, there were a myriad of options better suited than Lin. For example, Mario Chalmers, who had a rough going in last year’s NBA Finals, is now on the free agent market with few suitors, but he’s comparably a better piece than Lin. He also charges around $4-5 million less to do it.
Looking past the fact that it was near impossible for Lin to maintain the numbers he was posting during the Linsanity epoch, his metrics shouldn’t be ignored. The tragedy of his narrative may eventually dwarf the elation and energy he infused in such an immense market in 2012. His player efficiency rating, total rebounding percentage, assist percentage, steal percentage, usage percentage, offensive win shares, defensive win shares, total win shares, and win shares per 48 minutes have all slipped in the past two seasons. Who knows what will happen when he’s operating on a team that ranked No. 25 in the league in rebounding and desperately needs help on the defensive side.
The Lakers are coming off of the worst season since they moved to California. Coincidentally, there are few places in the world where losing is less acceptable than Los Angeles. Jeremy Lin captivated the entire country not 24 months ago, and even though he won’t be able to fix Los Angeles, this opportunity could be precisely what he needs.
Josh Planos has had his work featured at Rivals, Bleacher Report, Denver Post, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio, and ESPN Radio, and is currently a columnist for the ESPN TrueHoop Network, FanSided and The Pick and Roll. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).