Well, that was fast. The Rockets did indeed move to rid themselves of Jeremy Lin's unseemly contract in advance of an expected max offer for Chris Bosh, within hours of LeBron James announcing his earth-shattering decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unfortunately, it wasn't to the Sixers.
Shortly after the LeBron news leaked, Marc Stein of ESPN came out of the blue with the news that the Rockets had shifted their focus to pushing a Lin trade to the Los Angeles Lakers. About an hour later, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reported that the deal was being finalized. Woj has since reported that the Lakers will send back cash and an overseas player in return for Lin, a first round pick and additional draft considerations. It's unclear how the framework of the deal differed from what Houston had worked out with the Sixers.
Jake Pavorsky, the excellent young reporter for Liberty Ballers who had initially broken the news of the two teams agreeing to a deal in principle, offered a sort of mea culpa for the deal not ultimately coming to fruition.
Yahoo reporting Lin is going to LA. A deal with Philadelphia was done in principle, but Rockets found a better option apparently.
— Jake Pavorsky (@JakePavorsky) July 11, 2014
I apologize for my report which made it seen Lin to Philly was the only deal. If I lost your trust, hope I get chance to earn it back.
— Jake Pavorsky (@JakePavorsky) July 11, 2014
Regardless, this isn't necessarily on Jake. The framework to a Houston-Philly deal could have very easily been agreed upon, but changed by mitigating factors at the last second. Or perhaps news of the agreed-upon deal was leveraged to get a better offer elsewhere. Or maybe sources were just over-confident in the deal based on the history between the Rockets GM Darryl Morey and our own Sam Hinkie. Only Morey and our Dark Lord will ever really know the circumstances, but if it didn't go down, there's probably a pretty good reason why.
Anyway, this is a bummer for a number of reasons. First (and really least) of all, it would've been fun to get Jeremy Lin in the Sixers' lineup next season. He's probably not a difference-maker, but he's a considerable talent who had been improving his off-guard skills, and I would've enjoyed seeing what he could have done in a backcourt with Michael Carter-Williams for at least next year, at which point we could have cut bait with him for absolutely no consequence if it wasn't working out. Or we could've traded him at the deadline for further assets. I'm confident that between Hinkie and coach Brett Brown, we would've found some way to make damn good use of him over the next 12 months.
Mostly, though, this is about the assets. It would've been really, really nice to score ourselves a first-round pick, or a Terrence Jones, in exchange for otherwise string-free cap-space rental. This is one of the biggest reasons that the Sixers have stayed out of the free agent scrum this summer and last, in order to keep our cap space open for when a deal like this came around. To miss out on such a golden opportunity--with an old friend of Hinkie's on the other end, no less--probably hurts the front office a good deal.
However, free agency is far from over. There are still cap-strapped teams out there who will be looking to unload players in exchange for adding max or near-max salaries to their roster, and the Sixers will still be around to profit off their potential quandries. One of them might be the Cavs themselves, who are reportedly in the hunt for All-Star Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, but who will need to clear salary off the books to add him. Another might be these very same Rockets, who even after ridding themselves of Lin, still need to do some serious salary shaving in order to add both Bosh and restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. And another might actually be the Lakers, who Andrew Ungvari points out have a Lin-esque contract of their own in 40-year-old point guard Steve Nash that they want to unload, possibly attaching a future pick to do so.
What's more, what the Lakers got in terms of assets in exchange for Jeremy Lin isn't particularly great shakes. David Aldridge reports that the future first-round pick the Rockets will be sending to LA for Lin will be their own, and not the one belonging to the New Orleans Pelicans.
If the Rockets' grand plan shakes out, and they go into next year and beyond with a core of James Harden, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Chandler Parsons, the chances are that pick isn't going to be terribly high. It's hard to imagine that team not finishing with one of the five best records in the league next year, which would make the pick #26 or lower. You'd always rather have that pick than not, especially since Hinkie has shown the magic that he can spin with less, but it also might not be worth the eight-million-plus in cap space (or, let's be honest, the $15 mil in actual money, given the weird contract quirk of Lin's final year) that the Sixers would have to shell out for it.
What the deal came down to, I think, is this: The Lakers actually wanted Jeremy Lin as a player, and the Sixers didn't. L.A. is trying to build a competitive roster for the next few years, both to support Kobe Bryant's presumed last stand as a high-level Laker, and to recruit the free agent class of this and next year--most immediately, the still-undecided Carmelo Anthony--to join the cause. Lin may or may not be an elite point guard--recent evidence would probably point to "not"--but he has name recognition, he has remaining upside, and he's a much better option than anyone the Lakers currently have under contract. It makes sense the Lakers would want him on their roster.
Because the Lakers actually had interest in Lin as a player, it was clear that they didn't demand so much in terms of additional assets for the privilege of taking his contract off Houston's hands. And ultimately, the Sixers were never going to be able to compete with that, because at the end of the day, Hinkie probably doesn't give much of a crap about Lin as a player, and just wanted as many future picks and young players as possible. It sucks, but it's understandable.
Oh well. Not even our Dark Lord Sam Hinkie can win 'em all, apparently. Let's lick our wounds, rewind the Nerlens Noel highlights, refresh Joel Embiid's Twitter account, and remind ourselves of just how insanely bright this team's future (and how fun their present) is with or without the help of Linsanity.