The Los Angeles Lakers officially announced their acquisition of Taiwanese-American NBA basketball star Jeremy Lin on Sunday.
“This trade allows us to acquire a solid player who will make us a better team, as well as draft picks to improve our team in the future, while at the same time allowing us to maintain financial flexibility,” said Mitch Kupchak, the LA Lakers’ general manager, according to the team’s website. “In addition to what he’ll bring us on the court, we think Jeremy will be warmly embraced by our fans and our community.”
Lin was traded by the Rockets on Saturday in a deal in which the Lakers will also acquire first- and second-round draft picks while giving the Rockets the rights to European center Sergei Lishchuk.
Lin played basketball in college at Harvard University. In 2010, despite going undrafted, Lin became the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA when he was signed by the Golden State Warriors. He was later picked up off waviers by the New York Knicks for the 2011-2012 season.
With the Knicks struggling in the middle of that season, the team decided to give Lin substantial playing time for the first time. He immediately became an international sensation when he seemed to single-handedly reverse the Knicks’ fortunes. The team won the first six games Lin started and its first seven where he was given substantial playing time.
He not only posted exceptional numbers during this time—being named Eastern Conference Player of the Week in February 2012—but his exciting play seemed to breathe new life into the NY Knicks. “Linsanity” soon swept through New York City as well as Taiwan and China. Linsanity continued even as Lin’s numbers dropped due to a then-undisclosed injury that he decided to play through. In July 2012, the New York Times called Lin the Knicks’ “most popular player in a decade.”
However, after his breakout year, Lin became a restricted free agent—which gave the Knicks an option to match any contract Lin was offered by another team. It was initially seen as unthinkable that the Knicks would let him leave for another team. However, some in the organization expressed concern about potentially having to offer a huge payday to a player who had only played around 25 games. They ultimately declined to match the Houston Rockets’ offer of a 3-year, $25.1 million deal, which included a $14.98 million salary during the third year.
As a result, Lin became a Rocket starting in the 2012-2013 season. He has struggled in his two years with the team, with his style of play not fitting into the team’s scheme. Things hit a new low in the most recent season when Lin averaged just 12.5 points and 4.1 assists. Despite a high shooting percentage, Rockets coach Kevin McHale yanked Lin from the starting lining up, preferring Patrick Beverley’s superior defensive skills.
The decision to deal Lin to the Lakers was mostly about money. Lin’s almost $15 million salary for the upcoming year was seen as handcuffing the team’s options on the free agency market. There had earlier been talk of the Rockets sending Lin to the Philadelphia 76ers who are in perpetual rebuild mode and were thus seen as willing to absorb Lin’s huge salary in return for lucrative future draft picks. Because of the trade, Lin’s salary will only count for $8.4 million against the salary cap for the LA Lakers.
In Los Angeles, Lin may have an opportunity to once again generate the excitement of his storied 2011-2012 season. He once again returns to a big market, and LA and California have large Asian-American communities who are likely to get behind Lin. Last year the Lakers posted their worst season since the team moved to California. Thus, like the Knicks during the Linsanity years, the team is need of a spark.
On the other hand, the Lakers struggled mightily on defense last year, which has always been a weak spot of Lin’s play. He’ll also initially likely be coming off the bench. The Lakers also just lost one of their best players, Pau Gasol, who signed with the Chicago Bulls over the weekend. Carmelo Anthony also announced he was resigning with the NY Knicks after the LA Lakers (and many other teams) made a strong effort to lure the all-star player away from the Knicks. On a positive note, however, on Sunday the Lakers signed their first round draft pick, Julius Randle, a power forward out of the University of Kentucky. Randle also looked solid in his professional debut in summer league just minutes after officially signing with the Lakers.