Jeremy Lin said he’s excited to be back with the Houston Rockets even though he had expected to return to New York, where he emerged as a star on and off the court for the Knicks in less than half a season.
Lin was introduced at a news conference in Houston yesterday, two days after the Knicks decided not to match the Rockets’ three-year, $25.1 million contract offer. Lin had been waived by the Rockets on Dec. 24 last year before joining the Knicks and going from bench-warmer to starter.
“I don’t see myself as a conquering king, but it’s been an unbelievable ride,” Lin said yesterday. “Just a lot of things I didn’t expect to happen in terms of the way last season went. I still have to kind of remind myself this is all actually happening sometimes.”
An undrafted Harvard University graduate, the 23-year-old Lin is the first Chinese- or Taiwanese-American to play in the National Basketball Association.
While in New York, he boosted Knicks’ television ratings as well as merchandise and ticket sales. He now joins a franchise whose experience with Chinese center Yao Ming may have them better prepared than any other NBA team to reap a financial windfall from Asia.
Lin said yesterday that he’s already exchanged messages with the 7-foot-6 Yao, who played in Houston from 2002 to 2011 and made six All-Star appearances before being forced to retire from the NBA last year because of foot and ankle injuries.
Even so, Lin said he’s more focused right now on what the Rockets are able to do on the court and said he’s excited about having familiarity with the organization.
“All I’m trying to do right now is help this team and we want to win,” Lin said. “We’re not focused on how many articles are going to be written about us or how big the spotlight. We want to win, we want to play together and we want to have fun doing it.”
Lin, who had surgery in April to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, will take over as the point guard in Houston after the Rockets traded Kyle Lowry to the Toronto Raptors.
Lin said yesterday that, at the start of the NBA’s free agency period, he expected the Knicks to re-sign him. He also said that he preferred at the time to remain in New York, where his unexpected rise spawned the catch-phrase Linsanity.
When the Rockets made him an offer, he said he was excited about both opportunities.
Lin’s No. 17 jersey was among the NBA’s best sellers last season and he’ll wear No. 7 with the Rockets. The team has links on their website to pre-order replica jerseys for $55 and authentic Lin jerseys for $231.
“We made an error when we let him go,” Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said of Lin. “We rectified it now.”
The Knicks’ decision to pass on Lin, a restricted free agent, may have been based in part on the structure of the Rockets’ offer. The contract gives Lin $14.8 million in the third year and under the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement would have cost New York $25 million to $35 million more in the final season because of the league’s luxury tax.
The Knicks signed 39-year-old point guard Jason Kidd and re-acquired point guard Raymond Felton in a trade to offset the loss of Lin, who averaged 14.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in 35 games for the Knicks last season. Lin has played in a total of 64 regular-season NBA games.
“He fits where we are with a young rebuilding team; a team that is going to grow together,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said in an interview with NBA TV. “He is very realistic about his game and all the things he has to work on. He understands that he is a work in progress.”
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