12:42 pm Oct. 29, 2012
By ditching Jeremy Lin in favor of Raymond Felton this summer, the Knicks laid the groundwork for a real-time experiment on the effects of Lin's play.
Lin, who signed with the Houston Rockets, was to get the chance to run an up-tempo offense suited to his game. Felton, installed at point guard with the Knicks, would attempt to maximize what a Carmelo Anthony-centered offense could achieve.
And the basketball-watching world would be able to judge the team's decision game-by-game, as its consequences became clear.
One thing complicated this basketball experiment: Lin lacked any kind of significant scoring option to feed in Houston. So Lin could have an effective season as the team's point guard, but still see his overall numbers suffer. Remember, what made Lin so remarkable as a Knick wasn't primarily his scoring prowess, but his extremely high assist percentage.
Now, after the blockbuster trade the Rockets made this past weekend, importing shooting guard James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder for a trove of young talent and draft picks, will make Lin task vastly easier.
The Thunder didn't elect to trade Harden, one of the league's best shooting guards, because of any dissatisfaction with his talent. The Thunder simply had a salary cap problem. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Harden, the Thunder had more young talent to lock up than they had salary cap space with which to do it.
So once Harden declined to sign a rich, but sub-max salary deal, the Thunder elected to deal him to Houston and hope the replacements could provide the team with Harden-like production.
The Rockets were in the opposite scenario: boatloads of cap room, but no stars to use it. They'd attempted to use a similar package to the one that they shipped to Oklahoma City to try and land Dwight Howard. For reasons that seem mostly to stem from a poor front office, the Magic elected to take a different, lesser package from the Los Angeles Lakers.
It may be that the Magic did the Rockets a favor, and not just because Howard's back and potential to simply play out his contract and leave as a free agent next summer were both significant risk factors, while Harden has no such injury history and looks like he'll sign a max deal with the Rockets this week.
Harden is a combo guard, the kind who operates well in a pick-and-roll setting, while also enjoying a strong playmaking ability. That means Lin will have a backcourt partner who can maximize Lin's ability to find partners on the pick-and-roll and give Lin the chance to operate more off the ball. It would be hard to imagine a better current complement to Lin in the league, and the Rockets just acquired him.
This does not mean that the Rockets have catapulted themselves into Western Conference contention, however. Much of the team's depth was lost in the Harden trade; and prior to the deal, the Rockets didn't have much depth to begin with. Beyond Lin, Harden, forward Chandler Parsons and center Omer Asik, exactly how the Rockets plan to fill out a rotation is an open question.
In the meantime, however, expect the Rockets to play at an advanced pace (they played the fastest of any N.B.A. team this preseason) and for Jeremy Lin to thrive in his new partnership with James Harden, and to demonstrate what might have been if the Knicks had kept him in New York.