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Who Won the NY Knicks-Houston Rockets Battle for Jeremy Lin?

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 23:  Raymond Felton #2 of the New York Knicks drives past Jeremy Lin #7 of the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center on November 23, 2012 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2012

Obviously the Houston Rockets beat the New York Knicks out in the battle for Jeremy Lin. But who actually won?

No, I'm not crazy; it's a fair question.

New York's decision to let Lin walk into the arms of the Rockets was predominantly financial. Whether you buy into the notion that James Dolan's ego played a role is nearly irrelevant. Lin would have cost the Knicks upwards of $30 million in the final year of his current contract, a bill the organization just wasn't willing to foot.

That said, there was another, seldom-acknowledged, element behind New York's train of thought—championship contention.

Lin wasn't going to lead the Knicks toward title contention this season. Head coach Mike Woodson is known to prefer veterans, and not only was Lin an unproven neophyte, but he would have been tasked with leading a convocation that consisted of mostly veterans.

But failure for me to acknowledge that the decision came as surprising and controversial would be ignorant.

Though Lin was and remains anything but established, he had a sound mentor in the newly acquired Jason Kidd and, prior to the second offer sheet he signed, he had the support of his New York teammates as well. The fact that the Knicks stood to boost their revenue stream by $50 million in his his first full season alone only added to the intrigue and subsequent case to re-sign him.

But they didn't. They let him walk and brought in Raymond Felton instead, an endeavor that has proven to be more than fruitful.

Felton is averaging 15.8 points and 6.8 assists per game while shooting a career-best 40.4 percent from behind the arc. His relentless penetration has proven effective, and he's helped the Knicks to a 16-5 start, placing them atop the Eastern Conference standings.

Can the Rockets say they've prospered with Lin at the helm, though?

Not exactly.

Houston currently finds itself at 9-11 and on the outside of the playoff bubble peering in. And aside from his 38-point explosion against the San Antonio Spurs, Lin himself has struggled immensely.

On the season, the Rockets' floor general is averaging 11.4 points and 6.1 assists on 39.5 percent shooting from the floor. He's knocking down just 31.5 percent of his three-point attempts, and Houston is actually posting more points per 100 possessions with him off the floor (109.6) than with him on it (105.5).

And yet, the Rockets knew this endeavor wouldn't yield immediate results. Lin had a heck of a run last season, but he's still developing his game, learning how to break down defenses and attempting to evolve as a player.

He isn't going to be a superstar. Not this season at least.

At the same time—while we must refrain from calling him a bust—there's no doubt that Houston didn't exactly latch onto Lin for all the right reasons.

As we neared the regular season's inception, it was leaked that Rockets owner Leslie Alexander essentially forced the organization into signing Lin. He was the one pushing for the team to acquire Lin, not the franchise's basketball minds.

Upon James Harden's arrival, this notion was only perpetuated further. General manager Daryl Morey deemed Harden the "foundational" player Houston craved, the one around whom the team would genuinely build.

And that implies risk on Lin's behalf. Clearly the Rockets weren't sold on him as a cornerstone, yet they opted to throw $25 million at him anyway. Financially motivated or not, it's hard to take tactical doubts with a grain of salt and accept that Houston absolutely believes Lin will become a star.

Because it doesn't. Houston blew up its roster in hopes of landing a star, but when it couldn't (at first) it went with Plan B—Jeremy Lin.

Where has that left the Rockets? Contending for mediocrity, with Harden by Lin's side, mind you. Just imagine where they would be with Lin on his own...

Frightening, right?

Indeed it is, and it's also a quintessential example why the Knicks had to let Lin go.

New York couldn't wait for Lin to be great. The team needed to win now, so it took a risk as well, allowing Lin to walk in favor of a point guard who had succeeded with the franchise in the past, but was coming off the worst season of his career.

The result?

Title contention. The Knicks restraint ultimately allowed them to assemble the roster and establish the dynamic they needed to win.

Houston cannot say the same. With Lin and Harden in place, the team's future appears a lot brighter. But when Harden came along, he wasn't merely the icing atop a Lin-infused cake. Instead, his presence, his acquisition became a necessity; he was the difference between rebuilding with purpose and operating without direction.

Maybe the Knicks firmly believed Lin could be great. Maybe they saw a future star in Lin.

But Houston didn't. Not to the degree we were led to believe.

And even Harden hasn't been enough to shield that notion.

Nor have he and the point guard been able to disprove what has now become reality—the Knicks actually won the Jeremy Lin-induced battle.

 

All stats in this article are accurate as of December 11, 2012.

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