By Tully Corcoran/@tullycorcoran
Courtesy of FOX Sports Houston
There is no such thing as a $25 million underdog. Cinderella’s slippers are made of glass, not diamonds. And there is nothing magical about Jeremy Lin anymore.
As soon as the New York Knicks decided against matching the Houston Rockets’ three-year, $25 million offer to Lin on Tuesday, his Taiwanese-American heritage, his Harvard education and all the zip codes he collected on his way to making an NBA roster instantly became footnotes.
Lin is a $25 million point guard now. He is supposed to be the leader of the Houston Rockets. The surprise is over. … Now it’s time to be a star.
This is sudden and possibly unfair, but this is life as a professional athlete. A professional athlete can never escape his draft position or his contract. It’s why Chris Webber is considered something of an underachiever, even though he averaged 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds during his 15-year NBA career. Webber is probably one of the best 100 players of all time, yet the topic of his career is often met with a shaking head instead of a nodding one. We expected him to be better.
A similar thing is true of Kwame Brown, who is not a particularly good player. He’s a little better than Eduardo Najera and a bit worse than Charlie Villanueva. This is OK for a lot of players, but not for Brown. Brown is supposed to be awesome. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft.
Everybody considers Brown a disappointment, but is that because he underachieved or is it because everybody else over-expected? Did he fail to realize his potential, or did he never have much potential in the first place?
The best test case might be Carlos Boozer, a former second-round pick who went from inspiring success story to $80 million bust in a matter of about two years, even though his per-36-minutes production has dipped slightly.
There is a sliding scale when it comes to expectations, and Lin’s scale just went from zero to 85.
This is a new experience for him, of course. He has never played under this kind of pressure. He was the leader of his team at Harvard, but that’s a little different than being the star at Kansas or Kentucky. His last home game at Harvard was against Yale in front of 2,195 people.
Yes, he played in New York, in The Garden and he scored 38 points against the Los Angeles Lakers and led a great and inspiring turnaround of a losing team in probably the most intense basketball city in the world. But he did all this as a $100 poker chip the Knicks found on the bathroom floor at the casino.
If they lost, well, it wasn’t really a setback. They were just right back where they started.
That isn’t the case in Houston. Lin will be the Rockets’ second-highest paid player behind Kevin Martin, who could be traded at any moment. That will change if the Rockets actually complete a deal for Dwight Howard, but the point is that it will no longer be “Linsane” if he goes for 20 and eight. Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry did that every other night, and hardly anyone outside of Houston noticed. The Rockets tearlessly let both of them go this summer.
I’m not trying to take anything away from what Lin has done as an NBA player. If Lin is as good as he appeared to be for 25 games last season, he is worth $25 million over three years. If you want a player like that, you have to pay for it.
Nonetheless, this is still a projection. It’s a risk. It’s a risk by a franchise that needs to take a couple. The Rockets are betting Lin is the kind of guy who can handle pressure and they’re betting he is the kind of guy who will still feel like he has something to prove, even after he got paid.
I am not betting against that. I’m just saying Linsanity is dead, and that contract killed it.