Sports

‘Linsanity’ Heads to Houston

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Jeremy Lin going to Houston? (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jeremy Lin going to Houston? (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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HOUSTON (AP) — The New York Knicks decided that Linsanity would have only a one-season run on Broadway.

Lin is headed back to Houston after the Knicks decided on Tuesday that they wouldn’t match the Rockets’ three-year, $25 million offer for the restricted free agent.

The 23-year-old point guard, who went 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.

“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.”

Lin will return to Houston, where he spent two weeks in training camp in December, before the Rockets waived him. General manager Daryl Morey later regretted the move and alluded to the mistake as he celebrated the re-acquisition of Lin on Twitter late Tuesday:

“Welcome to Houston (at)JLin7. We plan to hang on this time. You will love (hash)RedNation.”

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 of the deal. If the Knicks agreed to match, they would have faced a hefty luxury tax in the 2014-15 season 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.”

Houston initially released Lin because it already had Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry on the roster. The Knicks picked him up, and coach Mike D’Antoni put him in the lineup out of desperation, with the Knicks floundering at 8-15. Lin scored a career-high 25 points in a 99-92 win over the New Jersey Nets, and “Linsanity” was born in the bright lights of New York.

The stock price for Madison Square Garden Inc. surged as Lin proved to be more than a one-game wonder. He 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 for a first-round pick with lottery protection.

With no true point guard left, 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 reacquire 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 will 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.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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