Linsanity Revisits New York

Madison Square Garden gave a rousing ovation to former Knicks guard Jeremy Lin as he returned to New York draped in a Rockets jersey. The cheers turned into boos, as Lin put on a show against his former team.

Lin finished the night with 22 points, eight assists, two steals, four rebounds, and a 109-96 Rockets win.

The first two points of the game were scored by Lin, and he never looked back.

The Rockets were coming off a bad loss in Toronto that saw Lin score a woeful seven points, in 32 minutes. It almost felt like his mind was in New York, and the Raptors game was just in his way.

Judging from his performance tonight, “Linsanity” was well prepared. In just his first 10 minutes back at “MSG,” Lin racked up eight points, and three assists, as the ovations quickly turned into boos.

By halftime Lin had 16 points, four assists, and two rebounds. That was his best first half of the season as a Houston Rocket.

For a guy who was averaging a measly 9.6 points per game, and shooting below 40% on the season, Lin proved why he could be a long term starting point guard for this young Rockets team. He proved that under a pressure filled situation, he once again could rise up and accept the challenge, as he did game after game with the Knicks last season.

Another thorn in the backside of the Rockets has been the chemistry between James Harden, and Lin. While Harden has individually found success, the two have not found a comfortable balance yet. Tonight was a huge step forward.

Lin and Harden combined for 50 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists, and two steals. Tonight proved the potential this backcourt has, along with the quest for consistency.

“We complemented each other really well,” Lin told the media. “It is important for us to be aggressive and pick our spots.”

The win ended a seven-game road losing streak for the Rockets. It also was the first home loss of the season for the Knicks, ending what could have been an 11-0 home start, the best since the 1991-92 season.

The Rockets have swept the season series against the Knicks, and continue to hover around the .500 mark, as the playoffs remain the goal for the youngest team in the NBA.

Rockets Dominate Knicks 131-103

Jeremy Lin finally faced his former team the New York Knicks Friday night, and came out on the winning end of a high octane offensive game for the Houston Rockets.

While the “Linsanity” reunion was the headlining act, Rockets forward Chandler Parsons stole the spotlight early.

Parsons ended the night with a career-high 31 points, while adding 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals on a night he won’t soon forget. Parsons surpassed his previous career-high of 25 points, by scoring 26 in the first half, while 18 of those points were scored in the first quarter.

Carmelo Anthony ended the night with 37 points, and also scored 18 in the first quarter.

The spotlight didn’t take long to shift, as Anthony and Parsons put on a show in front of 18,000 fans.

James Harden added 33 points, 9 assists, and went a perfect 16-16 at the free throw line. Harden’s career highs were 15 free throws made, and 17 free throws attempted.

Lin busted out of his slump by shooting 50% on the night, well above his 33% mark on the season. Lin chipped in 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists on a night where all eyes were on him.

The Rockets consistently kept pressure on the Knicks from the start, but broke free in the third quarter and found themselves leading by 21 points.

Omer Asik who has turned into the most consistent, and beneficial addition for the Rockets this year scored 18 points, and grabbed 14 rebounds. Expecting a double-double from Asik is now turning into the norm as fans in Houston are finally treated with a young mobile center that’s progressing well as a starter.

The Rockets put on an offensive onslaught tonight, ending the half with 72 points. This was the first time that happened since 1993.

The Rockets travel to New York Dec. 17 in what promises to be a ruckus crowd awaiting Jeremy Lin’s return.

Rockets Welcome Back Lin

A familiar face filled the practice court at Toyota Center today. Just seven months ago Jeremy Lin was wearing a Houston Rockets practice jersey, just trying his best to make the team. Well we all know how “Linsane” the situation turned out to be, and the rest was history.

The Rockets front office has been busy this offseason trying to transform this team into a contender. We have heard several reports involving Dwight Howard but nothing has formulated yet. The Rockets could not swing a deal on draft night for the big man, so instead they drafted three talented rookies and made offers to Lin and Bulls big man Omer Asik.

“I have so much room for improvement,” Lin said.

Phase one is now complete. Lin is officially a Rocket once again, and this time he’s here to stay.

“We made an error by letting him go, and I think we rectified it now,” Rockets owner Leslie Alexander told the press.

In 35 games Lin averaged 14.6 points per game, along with 6.2 assists. It’s a small sample size for a player raking in the money Lin will be receiving from the Rockets, but it comes with much more than basketball. The Rockets have strong business ties with China through the association of Yao Ming, and you can be sure this decision was not only based on basketball, but most importantly business. Whether Lin can improve is still a mystery, but whether the Rockets will benefit greatly from his popularity is not. The Rockets had one nationally televised game that was specifically picked up for playoff implications last season, with Lin that changes.

Still not buying the hype? After the Knicks declined to match the “poison pill” contract dished out by Daryl Morey, Lin + Houston Rockets mentions went through the roof! Popularity by association was the name of the game. Mentions ranged from “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” to a funny one liner from late night talk show host Jimmy Fallon. When’s the last time the Rockets got any national exposure like that?

The effect is instant, and the Rockets will do everything they can to capitalize on that. Here’s to hoping the Lin effect lures in a superstar, and more national exposure. Obviously this will all depend on Lin’s improvement, and while the media rush is not as intense in Houston as it is in New York, if he continues to improve this could be a huge win for the Rockets.

It’s important to keep in mind the Rockets did not break the bank on Lin. They will still be in a good shape to acquire a superstar; it’s just a matter of finally landing one.

Dwight Howard seems to be warming up to the idea of being a Laker long term. This means it may be time for the Rockets to set sights on Andrew Bynum. Assuming they can keep guard Jeremy Lamb who had a stellar summer league showing, a backcourt of Lin and Lamb mixed with a dynamic duo of Bynum and Asik may just turn out to be a nice long term foundation.

This is step one for the Rockets in a series of moves that are still needed for this team to move into championship contention. They have cleaned out the roster and are doing everything they can to make this basketball team better.

“I’m just excited to be here,” Lin said. “I think the biggest thing that excites me is the fact that I know what this organization is about.”

Kidd Signs With The Knicks

For years, the Knicks have lacked depth at the point guard position. Since the departure of Stephon Marbury in 2009, the Knicks haven’t had a viable and productive option at point guard. That all changed last season  in a 25 game stretch with the emergence of Jeremy Lin, a guard whom the Knicks claimed off-waivers from the Houston Rockets.

Now, in the summer of 2012, Lin is a free agent and has signed an offer sheet with the team whom waived him after training camp. The Knicks are expected to match any offer made toward Lin, and to validate Lin as their point guard of the future, the Knicks have gone after several experienced floor generals to help tutor Lin.

Knicks GM Glen Grunwald made several attempts at signing two-time MVP Steve Nash, but they were spurned by Nash when he signed with the Lakers.

Knicks forward Carmello Anthony was shocked when Nash decided to sign with the Lakers, but those sentiments about Nash were forgotten when Grunwald shocked the basketball world and announced the signing of legendary point guard and future Hall Of Famer  Jason Kidd.

“I was shocked to hear Nash was going to the Lakers,’’ Anthony said Friday after the U.S. Olympic Team opened training camp in Las Vegas. “I honestly really thought he’d be in New York. But it was definitely a shock. To hear the J-Kidd news kind of took that burden off a bit.”

The Kidd and Lin tandem is going to help the Knicks on several fronts. The chemistry issue between Anthony and Amare  Stoudemire will greatly benefit from the presence of Kidd. The addition of Jason Kidd provides the Knicks with a player who can defend on the perimeter, rebound the ball, and shoot the open three.

Even with being the second oldest player in the NBA, at age 39, Kidd is still a respected floor general who demands the most from his teammates.

“It really doesn’t matter; Steve Nash, Jason Kidd. A point guard is a point guard,’’ Anthony said. “Someone to run the team, get guys in their position, get everyone going. It takes a lot of pressure off me to try to do everything out there. I can pick my spots. With Jason, it’s a point guard to bring the ball up the court and get everyone involved. I don’t have to do much ball-handling. My mindset is working off the ball a lot; this helps me out to prepare for that”.

Kidd is now reunited with former Dallas Maverick teammate Tyson Chandler. Chandler flourished under Kidd on the offensive end of the court due to Kidd’s use of the pick and roll.  With Kidd as his PG in Dallas, Chandler had one of the best scoring averages of his career – 10.11 points 9.35 rebounds, and 1.44 blocks per game.

“I talked to him all summer,’’ Chandler said. “I honestly didn’t think we had a good shot at him. I thought New York would be a great place for him. I expressed that to him. I was just as surprised as everyone else when he made the decision. I feel like he definitely has a lot left,’’ Chandler said. “I’d throw his age out the window. He’s definitely valued on the court, but he’s more valued off the court. Whether in the locker room, film, in the huddle, he’s unbelievable”

Kidd will be a valuable asset in helping the development of Lin. Yes, Lin did take the NBA by storm last season, but he only did it in 25 games playing against less than stellar teams. There are still too many questions about Lin’s game. Can he defend on a consistent basis? Can he score on a consistent basis? Does he still have trouble going left? How can he get on the same page with the rest of his teammates?

When Anthony returned from injury during the height of “Linsanity,” he struggled playing alongside Lin. It wasn’t until after Lin went down with an injury and was ruled out for the remainder of the season, that Anthony found his stride and had the best stretch of his Knick career during Lin’s absence during the month of April.

Kidd, in an interview on WFAN yesterday, said, “With the intention of signing Lin back, I saw that I can help. Hopefully, help them win and help Lin. He’s a talented point guard, so at this stage I just felt I could help those guys. I think he’s going to be a consistent player, then it’s up to the media to label him great or good. But if you’re consistent in the league, you’ll win a lot of ballgames. So that’s what I’m here to try to help him with.’’

Kidd was rumored to sign with Brooklyn as a package deal alongside Deron Williams. That rumor seemed to gain steam when a picture of Williams and Kidd surfaced of the two of them playing golf together.

“I thought it was a good spot for him, a good situation for him,’’ Williams said. “Number one, he can help that team out a lot; as far as distributing the ball, getting the ball in the right spots, taking the pressure off Carmelo to lead the team. He’s definitely a veteran guy who knows how to play the game and will be a Hall of Famer. He doesn’t have to do as much as he had to do with Dallas. At his age, it will help him out a lot. I thought he was going to Dallas. We didn’t even talk about the Knicks. It kind of came out of nowhere.’’

Kidd will make everyone on the Knicks better, and will help the long term development of Jeremy Lin. He will help mature this roster from immature players who fold even when some expectations are accepted from them, and finally he will bring this franchise something they haven’t had since the days of Patrick Ewing – respectability.

Rockets Finally Forced To Rebuild?

What do Chase Budinger, Samuel Dalembert, Goran Dragic, Courtney Lee, and Kyle Lowry all have in common? None of them will be wearing a Rockets jersey next season.

The Rockets have finally blown up a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in three years. The team tried to trade picks and assets multiple times for a superstar prospect, and it just never panned out. Many would say it was an unrealistic way of getting better, and that’s the truth. The Rockets unlike most teams in the league, belated the inevitable in a classy manner. The team would fight hard against better teams, and would often prevail with a feel good victory.

While those teams would head into the tunnel with a bad regular season loss, they knew they would likely be in the playoffs. For the Rockets it was a proud regular season win, with a very predictable conclusion looming.

Why did the Rockets wait this long? The track record on owner Leslie Alexander does not normally involve the word “rebuild.” Alexander has always been an ambitious owner, and at times has looked stubbornly unrealistic. While general manager Daryl Morey may have advised Alexander that this process we are using is unrealistic, Alexander is the boss, and what he says goes. Three years later the Rockets find themselves as the team that can’t get anyone interested.

The next thing to question for this team is the commitment to accept rebuilding. Is the Dwight Howard chase really finished? The Rockets may have shipped out key role players in various ways, but you can never quite accept that the journey of acquisition is over for this team.

What fans need to keep in mind is the Rockets had a core roster of role players. Not one player on the roster was untouchable, and while Morey made verbal promises on bringing them back, the climate quickly changed.

Now the Rockets are stacked with young talent, but how those players translate into the NBA level is still a mystery. One thing is certain; the Rockets are still looking for a franchise player. That is the one universal goal that will not change.

A quick rundown on how each player was moved. Chase Budinger was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for the No. 18 pick in the draft. The Rockets drafted Terrence Jones from Kentucky with that pick. Samuel Dalembert and the Rockets No. 14 pick was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for the No. 12 pick, Jon Brockman, Jon Leuer, and Shaun Livingston. The Rockets drafted Jeremy Lamb, and many are hoping he is a star in the making. The Rockets also added versatile forward Royce White with the No. 16 pick.

After the draft frenzy wrapped up, free agency hit, and man did it hit! The Rockets once again attempted to scour the market for a superstar. They made a significant offer to big man Omer Asik, met with restricted guard Eric Gordon, and even brought back “Linsanity,” for a visit.

Jeremy Lin is still mulling his contract offer from the Rockets, but all credible sources report that the Knicks will match any deal given to Lin. It is also rumored Jason Kidd has decided on joining the Knicks. Kidd would certainly not be a long term solution for the team, but a great tutor for Lin to improve as a point guard.  So essentially the Rockets are trying, but will likely not acquire Lin but instead make the financial lives of the Knicks a pain. (That’s something I guess.)

While the hunt for a superstar continued, the Rockets backcourt took a massive hit. It was like a blob of Wite-Out spilled, and the backcourt that once consisted of Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic was gone. Dragic signed a 34 million/4 year deal with the Suns, taking his talents back to where his predecessor once played. Only difference now is, Nash is with the Lakers, and Dragic will run the show. Lowry was also traded to the Toronto Raptors for forward Gary Forbes, and a protected future first round pick. The Rockets and Raptors had been chatting about a Lowry deal for weeks, but could not swing the deal in time for the Rockets to move up in the draft, and grad the Raptors No. 8 pick. Not only have the Rockets lost Dragic and Lowry, but you can add swingman Courtney Lee into the mix. The Rockets decided to pull the qualifying offer they gave to the restricted guard, and released him to the free agency stratosphere.

Whew, did you digest all of that?

Multiple questions now loom around this franchise. Are the Rockets finally rebuilding? Will veterans Kevin Martin and Luis Scola be next on the chopping block? Who will be the starting point guard? Who will be the starting center?

It’s not the offseason we all hoped for, but it may be a large dose of reality finally sinking in. While “Red Nation” has a mini panic attack, the Rockets will likely be focusing on cultivating the youth on this roster, instead of trying to cultivate something that never really existed.

Toronto’s Offseason Starting To Take Shape

It has been an intriguing offseason thus far for the Toronto Raptors, that is to be sure. They haven’t even done anything yet and there has already been plenty of chatter surrounding the team and potential free agent signings since the day the season ended. Whether these rumours are based in truth or conjecture remains to be seen. Regardless of the eventual results, people are talking about the Raptors and fans are getting excited.

I’m not one to get caught up in rumours, but these rumours seem to have some weight to them and all of them could change the course of the Raptors hopes for next season as well as the long-term status of GM Bryan Colangelo, who has one year remaining on his contract.

First came the Steve Nash rumours. Now Steve Nash rumours are nothing new around these parts. He’s Canada’s greatest basketball talent ever and would look fantastic playing for Canada’s only basketball team. Over the years Toronto has heard lots about Nash coming to town, but there wasn’t really any way to get a deal like that done. But now the “Nash to Toronto” rumours have a certain weight to them.

He’s long been rumoured to be leaving the Phoenix Suns after this year and his recent appointment as President and General Manager of Canada’s Mens National Team would seem to indicate he wouldn’t mind spending more time closer to his homeland.

A Steve Nash arrival in Toronto would mean improved play on the offensive end and a whole lot of jerseys being sold at the ACC.

Nash would fit in swimmingly here in Toronto, despite the fact Jose Calderon already occupies the starting point guard spot. Calderon has been quite willing and ready to share time whenever necessary and the depth at point guard could give the Raptors a leg up on competition in the Atlantic division. Calderon seems better suited to the backup role anyway and could become valuable trade bait down the road with a large expiring contract.

The Nash rumours also have weight as his former Canadian National team coach, Jay Triano, is employed by the Raptors and Bryan Colangelo, the GM that drafted and then re-acquired Nash in Phoenix is currently the Raptors President and GM.

Nash has a knack for bringing the very best out of his teammates. Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudamire, Channing Frye, Jason Richardson all owe much of their success (and large pay cheques) to the point guard that gave them the ball.

Nash has always put himself second and his team first. His teammates were the beneficiaries on and off the court. How much could a point guard like Nash improve Andrea Bargnani’s game? or DeMar DeRozan’s? Makes you wonder.

Nash makes good players great. He brings the best out of his teammates and could certainly benefit some of the underachieving Raptor players.

Nash would therefore seem to be a perfect fit in Toronto. Unless, of course Jeremy Lin is. Lin is a restricted free agent and there are now reports from a host of sources claiming the Raptors will be very much in the mix for his services, should the Knicks decide to let him go.

Lin is much younger than Nash, could be cheaper and may fit better into the core that is developing in Toronto.

Jeremy Lin is a rumoured Raptor target this offseason. His acquisition could be the spark this young Raptor team needs.

He is a restricted free agent, so how much stalk can we put into these Lin to Toronto rumours? It is very possible that the Knicks get out-priced for his services. Lin is not a player that has been around long and therefore may not have earned the lucrative deal he seeks in the eyes of NBA GM’s. His stats are good, but the sample size is small, and he was never really able to mesh with franchise player Carmelo Anthony suggesting he may need to be a number one option.

Lin, who missed the Knicks’ run to the playoffs, could be the odd man out in New York, making him very much available to Toronto. A move for Lin would be very reminiscent of Colangelo’s other signing of a young point guard that changed his Phoenix Suns back in 2004. That, of course being, Steve Nash.

Lin has shown he can be a game changer, a superstar, a go-to guy. At the point guard position that is simply something the Raptors have never had.

It is clear that Lin’s stats are a small sample size and his median numbers are not nearly as good as his 2011/12 stats, but he could be worth the risk.

He is explosive and can certainly shoot the ball with confidence. He can drive the net and get his teammates involved in the offense. His defensive ability is weak but his deficiencies could be fit into Dwane Casey’s system. If Calderon worked out, Lin likely could too.

He would also become a big fan favourite here in Toronto, a city with a large Asian fan base. It could be a big marketing opportunity that the new owners at Rogers and Bell, simply cannot pass up.

Still, the odds of landing Lin rest in the hands of Glen Grunwald and the New York Knicks and what they are attempting to do this offseason. The Knicks maintain the right to match any offers the young point guard gets, meaning the Raptors will likely have to overpay to get him.

Lin presents an interesting option for the Raptors, but one that they ultimately don’t have complete control over.

Then there are the murmurs about Nicolas Batum. Now, none of these rumours are anything but pure and utter speculation, but he would fit very nicely into the Raptors lineup. A small forward with that kind of ability has alluded the Raptors since the days of Tracy McGrady. Batum would instantly become one of the best small forwards the franchise has ever seen. A great fit for the short and long-term. Plus his European background would be a plus in the locker room. He certainly won’t be cheap and the Blazers are very unlikely to let him go for nothing. Expect the Blazers to match everything and anything for Batum and then work out a trade with a team if they have to.

If the Raptors are serious about acquiring Batum, which they should be in my opinion, then they are going to have to put together a trade package that will make it happen. That is much more difficult than just signing a player, but if anyone knows how to work out a complicated off-season trade it’s Colangelo.

So despite the fact the Playoffs are going on without the Raptors, there is plenty for a fan to sit and ponder. This summer will be another chapter in the remaking of this Raptors team and it is exciting to imagine the possibilities. So far three of the most solid offseason rumours would offer the Raptors definite upgrades in talent at two key positions. All three rumoured acquisitions are big name players that would raise the talent level and profile of basketball in Toronto.

Like most Raptor fans, I can’t wait to see what happens on July first. Judging from the early offseason rumours, it is likely to be one of the more exciting ones yet.

Injuries Continue To Take Their Toll

This NBA playoffs have been littered with injuries, and they’re not just minor ones. These injuries are, or could be, career ending injuries that top players have endured.

Last year’s playoffs did not see the amount of injuries, severe or not, that we are seeing this year. Some analysts are questioning the shortened season that combated the late start to the season, in December, due to the lock out. The back-to-back games with little time to rest could be the reason why we are seeing players suffering from major injuries, not only in the playoffs, but throughout the rest of the season as well.

During the playoffs alone we’ve seen Derrick Rose go out with a torn ACL, which means last years MVP will be out for up to 10 months. During the same day we saw Iman Shumpert go out for an ACL injury as well, so the struggling Knicks lost a second guard for the remainder of the season.

The Knicks are hoping that Jeremy Lin will be ready to play in Game 5, but they risk him injuring himself even further with the increased intensity that these games are bringing.

Later in the first round, we have now seen Joakim Noah sprain his ankle, and insists he’s day-to-day, but when you watch the replays, Noah is likely to be out for at least a few more games. If he does attempt to play, his minutes should be very limited to prevent further aggravation to the ankle.

Then in Game 4 as the Miami Heat were expecting to sweep away the New York Knicks, the Knicks lose their third point guard, Baron Davis, as he’s stretchered off the court with a dislocated right patella, and will be out for at least a couple of months.

The 2011-2012 season was already shortened to 66 games from its normal 82 to help with the limited time in the rest of the season. However, without having a proper off season for teams to practice, the back to back-to-back games, and increased travel, in some cases, has proven to be a strain on the players bodies. Without the proper rest that explosive players need, many of the top flight players within the league have been out, at some point or another, this year.

Rose, a player who missed only about five games in his career prior to this season, has been out 27 games in the regular season due to injury, and is now out for almost a whole season with a torn ACL. Doug Collins, coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, commented on Rose’s injury in an interview, stating “that thing [a torn ACL], took my career.”

Collins was injured during the 1978-79 season with the 76ers, and then missed a year recovering from his knee injury. He only played 12 games the next season before deciding to end his career. It was Collins who was the first on the court after Rose planted his feet from a jump and fell to the ground with no contact. Collins knew immediately what had happened and said in an interview that he “felt sick.”

It seems like our stars of the game need an extended off season to be able to recuperate from the strenuous season they just played. Hopefully with all the advancements in medicine, players like Rose, will be able to make a full recovery and have many years ahead of them in their NBA careers.