Before James Harden became the face of the Houston Rockets’ franchise just days leading up to the season opener, Jeremy Lin was supposed to be the main act at the Toyota Center.
With good reason, the idea of Jeremy Lin carrying a team was met with great skepticism, whether the expectations were lofty like in New York, or low the way it is in Houston. The contact high of Linsanity only lasted for about six weeks until the fire cashed out with Lin’s knee injury, after that 26-game span of “wtf?!” mixed with a little genius.
Once Lin was signed, there was definitely a sect waiting for him to fail, while his supporters sat on the edge of their seats anticipating Linsanity 2.0. But guess what? Neither side is going to get the satisfaction it was looking for.
The James Harden trade changed everything.
Harden’s 26.7 ppg going into Sunday’s game against the Lakers isn’t just indicative of his ability to be a boss, it’s also the best thing to happen to Lin and his situation as a Rocket.
“I think that was good for Jeremy,” coach Kevin McHale told the Houston Chronicle. “I always told Jeremy it’s so hard to live up to the Linsanity hype and all that. He’s a very good basketball player. He just needs to go out there and be a very good basketball player. James Harden allows him to just be a very good basketball player. He’s going to take a lot of playmaking off of his plate, but they can be very good together.
“Let me tell you something, when we made that trade, the guy (that) was most excited when I called up everybody and said we’re making the trade was Jeremy Lin. He was like, ‘Oh, thank goodness, coach.”
Since it was a euphoric experience for hoop consumers, we didn’t learn enough about Lin to put too much faith into him but it was enough for the Rockets to make him their fallback free agent splash of the summer and the face of the franchise.
With the Rockets’ failed attempts to trade for Dwight Howard and maintain the little talent they already had, Rockets GM Daryl Morey still had some sleeve rolling to do.
Then came the Oklahoma City Thunder dilemma, namely being penalized for its drafting competence and developing quality players. The team luxury tax wouldn’t allow them to keep the band together, and Harden was traded to a team that needs far more.
Logistically, Harden takes ball-handling pressure off Lin and reduces his scoring role. Instead of having to be that dude we saw throughout Linsanity, cutting to the rim and trying to create his own opportunity, his role as a point guard is more organic.
When it comes to his worth as a big-time free agent or how well he can handle being a franchise player, none of that is particularly relevant. Harden is handling that, while Lin is more of the sidebar to the conversation.
Lin is right where he’s supposed to be, proving to be the player that no one who overreacted to his success or underestimated his ability thought he would be. Jeremy Lin is not franchise player. He’s not a bust either.
He’s that guy who plays point guard for the Rockets, quietly averaging 10 points, six assists and coming into his own as nothing more or less than an ordinary to sometimes very good basketball player.
While Linsanity may be lost somewhere on James Harden's beard, the Rockets have themselves a budding backcourt of two players dealing with different expectations. The difference now is that the expectations match the player.