The move of Jeremy Lin from the New York Knicks to the Houston Rockets presents an interesting case study of what NBA loyalty means; of what big-market teams and small-market, if you can call Houston a small one, teams are about; of how super-stardom doesn’t have anything to do with what happens on the floor.
For those who believe in loyalty, another free agency period shows that the NBA is about business. It is for the teams, and it is for the players. Business doesn’t neccesarily mean money. Business might mean legacy and titles, but at the end of the day, connection to your team and you community only goes so far. The most important factor to every career decision is what you, the player will get out of it. Anyone expecting different from workers who get traded away between franchises and cities like they were trading cards are delusional.
The Rockets did make some sort of stand against the big-market teams, although the New York Knicks, not exactly a symbol of professional success for more than a decade, aren’t the best example like the Lakers usually turn out to be. Houston isn’t exactly a small town anyways. But the Rockets using the poison-pill contract offer, with the back-loaded third year of the contract that made it very hard for the Knicks to compete (unless you believe that Dolan just didn’t want Lin for, lets say, less than serious reasons) does make some people very happy.
Everything that’s happened in the NBA over the last 12 months, for good and bad, was a big power struggle. Not just players and owners, but between different factions among the owners. What happened in the summer of 2010, the decision, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining the Miami Heat for the ‘wrong reasons’ according to those who praised the Celtics for their free agency moves in 2007 and what’s going on now – Dwight Howard trying to find a way and play in Brooklyn or in Los Angeles, the weird occurrence of the Chris Paul trade, all a battle. David Stern is both happy and worried, all the time, about a balance being breached. Lin not staying in New York seems to be good for the balance of the league.
And then there’s Lin himself. A player with less than half an impressive season on his track record, but with a marketing potential possibly greater than any other player in the NBA. The Rockets had one of those players until not too long ago. Yao Ming, although Ming’s numbers were far more impressive than Lin’s and the weight of expectations from him were huge even before he dribbled his first NBA basketball.
Lin is in a huge test year. Is he a system-point guard, or was his rise in 2012 more than a pleasant surprise, more than an accident? Because of how he rose to prominence, and because of his race, the college he played for and everything regarding Linsanity, Lin is a much more important player to the NBA than dozens of players better than him.