HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – The last time Jeremy Lin wore a Houston Rockets uniform he was unceremonious shown the door on Christmas Day seven months ago.
Lin returned to Houston and the Rockets on Thursday under much different circumstances. The man who was not worthy of a roster spot after the preseason is back as the savior and new face of the franchise after signing a whopping three-year, $25 million free agent deal with the Rockets this week.
It’s funny how a stint in New York and a dramatic three-week run as the point guard of the Knicks has transformed Lin from unknown Harvard graduate to NBA rockstar status literally overnight.
“It’s been an unbelievable ride, just a lot of things I didn’t expect to happen in terms of just the way last season went,” Lin said the last several months when he went from being waved by two teams to becoming the toast of the NBA. “I still have to remind myself that this is all happening sometimes, but it’s a huge blessing from God.
“I can’t believe how it all shaped and for me to be right here right now I’m definitely excited and thankful.”
Lin returns to the Rockets after an impressive stint with the Knicks in which he averaged 18.2 points and 7.7 after making just 25 career starts in the Big Apple.
Certainly the Rockets are taking a risk on a young player who is still largely an unknown. But as a rare Asian-American NBA player, the Rockets are hedging their bets that not only will Lin’s game grow into his enormous contract that he will become global icon similar to what they had in Yao Ming for a decade.
“I think we are probably going to be on national television now because of Jeremy and free agents are probably going to want to come be on teams that are in the national spotlight,” said Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, who is still hopeful his team can land a big name veteran via a trade or free agency. “So I think from a basketball standpoint it will really improve our negotiations with many many free agents.”
Landing Lin during this free agency period has been something of a coup for the Rockets and general manager Daryl Morey have experienced a series of embarrassing swings and misses on NBA superstars such Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol in the past couple years.
And the fact that Lin ended up in Houston this week was even a surprise because all indications were the Knicks were going to match any offer to retain Lin, who was an unrestricted free agent. But a $14.9 million poison pill cleverly put in Morey at the end of the three-year deal made Lin a salary cap casualty.
When the Knicks all but conceded the fight to retain Lin over the weekend, not only did it stun the entire NBA but it also caught Lin by surprise, too.
He told Sports Illustrated Wednesday “Honestly, I preferred New York.” But Lin sought to clarify that statement during Thursday’s press conference that was attended by an overflow media onslaught that included local media, as well as national and international media members.
“Coming into free agency I didn’t expect to be anywhere but New York,” he said. “But after I came and visited and talked, I wouldn’t have signed an offer sheet with Houston if I wasn’t excited about the possibility of playing here as well.
“I’m so thankful to New York and the Knicks for this past year and the way the fans rooted for us. I’m thankful for what they did for me and now I’m excited and focused on what I can do to help this organization move forward.”
Lin returns to Rockets team that will look dramatically different from the veteran squad he spent a month with last December. The Rockets are in rebuild mode which will include six young players drafted in the last two years as the cornerstones of the franchise.
Oddly, Lin comes in as the veteran and leader though he is not much older than many of his young teammates.
But Lin seems eager to come in and lead the rebuilding Rockets as Kevin McHale’s floor general.
“I’m just excited to be here,” he said. “I think the biggest thing that excites me is the fact I know what this organization is about. I was in training camp with Coach McHale and I saw how he operates and what he expects from the team. To me it’s something I believe in, as well. It just made sense.”