HOUSTON – Say goodbye to Linsanity, New York.
Jeremy Lin is taking his game off Broadway — way off — to Houston after the Knicks announced Tuesday night they would not match the Rockets' three-year, $25 million offer for the restricted free agent.
"Extremely excited and honored to be a Houston Rocket again!!" Lin posted on his Twitter account.
"Much love and thankfulness to the Knicks and New York for your support the past year...easily the best year of my life."
The 23-year-old point guard, undrafted out of Harvard, became an international phenomenon and the biggest story in sports during one dazzling month in the Big Apple. But the Knicks decided keeping the show in town was too costly.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey celebrated the re-acquisition on Twitter:
"Welcome to Houston (at)JLin7. We plan to hang on this time. You will love (hash)RedNation."
The Rockets waived Lin after two weeks in their training camp in December. Team owner Leslie Alexander said in a statement late Tuesday that the team was "thrilled to have Jeremy back."
"In his limited opportunity last season, Jeremy showed that he has all the skills to be a great player in this league for many years to come," Alexander said. "In addition to being a great passer, he is also exceptional at driving to the rim and finishing plays. He also showed a poise well beyond his years by making winning plays at the end of numerous games last season. Jeremy is a winner on and off the court and we view him as an important part of our plan to build a championship contender."
The Knicks said they would match any offer to retain Lin, but the Rockets made it tough for New York to keep him by backloading their offer sheet with a $15 million salary in the third season. If the Knicks agreed to that deal, they would've faced a hefty luxury tax in 2014-15 because of other big contracts on their books — between $30-40 million.
One sports consultant said the adjustment to the offer sheet was a stroke of genius by Morey.
"The Rockets deserve a lot of credit for the way they've gone about this," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based SportsCorp. "It was extremely intelligent — with an assassin's touch."
But Houston made the bad move, initially, waiving Lin because it already had Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry on the roster.
The Knicks picked him up and gave him first real shot. He was briefly demoted to the developmental league, recalled and finally got his chance when coach Mike D'Antoni put him in with the Knicks floundering at 8-15. Lin scored a career-high 25 points in a 99-92 win over New Jersey Nets and "Linsanity" was born.
Lin had slept on teammate Landry Fields' couch the night before, still refusing to get his own place as he headed into that week, knowing the Knicks would have to decide whether to cut him or guarantee his contract for the rest of the season.
But Lin proved more than just a one-hit wonder — he had 28 and 23 points in his first two NBA starts, and then scored a career-high 38 in a 92-85 victory over Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The stock price for Madison Square Garden Inc. surged on the production and popularity of the team's international star. Lin, the NBA's first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent, also made the Sports Illustrated cover in consecutive weeks, only the 12th athlete to hold that distinction since 1990. On Tuesday, Lin had more than 829,000 followers on Twitter.
The more opponents saw Lin, though, the more they seemed to figure him out as the season wore on. He went 1 for 11 with eight turnovers in a humbling, nationally televised loss in Miami and the Knicks dropped their first six games in March.
D'Antoni resigned in mid-March and Lin hurt his left knee less than two weeks later. The Knicks revealed on April 1 that Lin needed surgery to repair a meniscus tear and would miss six weeks.
The Knicks made the playoffs behind surging Carmelo Anthony, but bowed out to Miami in the first round. The Rockets, meanwhile, missed the postseason for the third straight year and have spent the offseason completely rebuilding their roster.
Houston has been trying to put together a package of assets and draft picks to offer Orlando in exchange for disgruntled All-Star center Dwight Howard. In the process, the Rockets lost the unrestricted free agent Dragic to Phoenix, then traded Lowry to Toronto in exchange for a future first-round pick with lottery protection.
With no true point guard left on the roster, the Rockets turned back to Lin. The Knicks showed their hand when they brought back Raymond Felton in a sign-and-trade deal with Portland — after signing Jason Kidd as a free agent.
Houston, meanwhile, jumped at the chance to rekindle their popularity in China, where Yao Ming became a larger-than-life figure. Many Rockets landed lucrative shoe contracts with Chinese companies on Yao's coattails and Rockets' games drew massive television ratings there.
David Schwab, who specializes in matching brands with celebrities as managing director at Octagon First Call, said that while Lin is an American success story, he'll reopen marketing in-roads for Houston during Yao's eight seasons (2002-11).
"Teams base their decisions on wins and losses, because wins and losses ultimately affect ticket sales, sponsorships," Schwab said. "I still think it's a win-loss decision, but I think, in their case, it's weighed more as a marketing decision. They've got more to gain right now, with a decade of Yao and companies they've done business with. They've got kind of the next frontier there."