HOUSTON—Jeremy Lin is starting over in Houston. He will have to explain why he said he would have rather stayed in New York.
The 23-year-old undrafted point guard out of Harvard is scheduled to meet the Houston media on Thursday, two days after the Knicks opted not to match the Rockets’ bold three-year, $25 million offer sheet.
Shortly after the deal became official on Tuesday night, SI.com reported that Lin had acknowledged in an interview, “Honestly, I preferred New York. But my main goal in free agency was to go to a team that had plans for me and wanted me.”
The Rockets certainly did.
“They made a very compelling pitch in terms of what I could bring to the team and for the city,” Lin said in a statement released through the team on Wednesday. “I am also impressed with (Houston owner Leslie) Alexander and the management’s commitment to improving the team.”
Houston had Lin in training camp in December, but waived him because the Rockets already had Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry. He got to New York when the Knicks claimed him off waivers, was briefly dropped to the developmental league, was recalled, and then got his chance to play when coach Mike D’Antoni put him in after the Knicks’ record dropped to 8-15.
He scored 25 points in a 99-92 win over New Jersey Nets, and “Linsanity” was born. Soon, New York was in playoff contention, and Lin was having drinks named after him.
Lin said Wednesday that he “loved this past year with the Knicks and truly appreciate the opportunity that New York gave me,” even though the team decided to let him go.
“The way the fans fully embraced me and our team was something I’ll always cherish forever,” he said. “It was an extraordinary and unforgettable time that was easily the best year of my life.”
And now it’s on to Houston, which made its biggest move in years and got its man.
The Rockets not only filled a position of need, but also snagged a player who might re-establish the franchise in Asia, where the team enjoyed massive popularity during Yao Ming’s career.
Lin is American-born, but of Chinese and Taiwanese descent. His timing is perfect to capitalize on the NBA’s explosive growth in China. He will wear No. 7 for the Rockets, a change from the No. 17 he donned with the Knicks. The team began taking pre-orders for Lin jerseys online on Wednesday.
Lin was the buzz of sports radio in Houston on Wednesday and the topic exploded on social media. About 18 hours after the move became official, the Rockets’ Twitter page had picked up 3,000 new followers, and the Facebook page added 10,000 “likes.”
Rockets forward Patrick Patterson is eager to work with Lin, and feels he is an ideal fit for coach Kevin McHale’s system.
“With the type of athletes that we have, we like to run up and down the court in transition. We like to do pick and rolls,” Patterson said before the Rockets’ summer league game Wednesday night in Las Vegas. “And that’s what he thrives well in: pick and rolls, getting to the basket, getting layups, creating opportunities for each player on the team on the floor.”
Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson said in Las Vegas that the team hopes Lin brings stability to the point guard position for many seasons in Houston.
“We expect Jeremy to come in and be our point guard,” Sampson said. “We’re not looking for anything other than that. He’s a high-character kid, plays hard, really good off pick and rolls. I think he’s good in transition. We’re going with a really young team next year and Jeremy, with his work ethic and his leadership, I think he’s going to be what we really need.”
Before the season arrives, general manager Daryl Morey still has work to do.
The next major priority for Houston is finding a big man. Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard is still available in a potential trade, but that might be long shot. The Rockets expect to sign Bulls center Omer Asik to a three-year, $25 million offer sheet that is similar to Lin’s deal.
Beyond that, Morey must replenish a roster that has been gutted over the past two weeks. The Rockets traded Chase Budinger and Samuel Dalembert and stockpiled draft picks for a package aimed at enticing Orlando to send them Howard, a six-time All-Star.
Houston made three first-round draft picks, selecting Connecticut guard Jeremy Lamb, Iowa State forward Royce White, and Kentucky forward Terrence Jones, who all remain unsigned.
The Rockets lost unrestricted free agent Dragic to Phoenix, began their pursuit of Lin, and traded Lowry to Toronto. They withdrew their qualifying offer to guard Courtney Lee, completed a sign-and-trade that sent center Marcus Camby to New York, and used the amnesty clause to waive forward Luis Scola.
On Wednesday, the Rockets waived forward Jon Leuer and center Jerome Jordan. Leuer came to Houston in the Dalembert trade with Milwaukee, and Jordan was acquired in the Camby deal.