Kevin Martin doesn’t even remember Jeremy Lin being in training camp with the Houston Rockets last December. Seven months later, Lin is returning to Houston – and he's a lot richer for it.
Lin officially rejoined the Rockets Tuesday night after the New York Knicks declined to match the three-year, $25 million offer sheet he signed with Houston. The Rockets waived Lin just before the start of last season, and he went on to become one of sports' biggest stories during a stunning three-week run as the Knicks' starting point guard.
"Everyone knew his story and how it came alive, but it started in Houston with no one really even knowing he was there,” Martin told Yahoo! Sports. "I don’t remember him at all from training camp. It’s going to be kind of funny. Even though he’s been there for us before, it feels like we are getting a new player."
The Knicks declined to comment on their decision not to match the offer sheet. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey used his Twitter account to welcome Lin: "Welcome to Houston @JLin7! We plan to hang on this time."
"Extremely excited and honored to be a Houston Rocket again!!" Lin tweeted.
Lin became the Knicks' starting point guard after injuries to teammates forced him into the lineup. He led New York to seven straight victories and earned a pair of Sports Illustrated covers and praise from President Obama. His stunning three-week stretch included a 38-point performance against the Los Angeles Lakers and a game-winning 3-pointer at Toronto. The sports world was quickly swept up with "Linsanity," until Lin's season ended with a knee injury.
"Much love and thankfulness to the Knicks and New York for your support this past year … easily the best year of my life," Lin tweeted late Tuesday.
Lin was a restricted free agent, but was strongly expected to return to the Knicks no matter what offer he received. The Rockets creatively put together an offer sheet that includes a $15 million salary in the third year of the contract. New York would have incurred substantial luxury-tax penalties matching the deal because the team owes Carmelo Anthony $24 million, Amar'e Stoudemire $23 million and Tyson Chandler $14.5 million that same season.
[Y! Sports Radio: Marc J. Spears discusses Jeremy Lin's deal with Houston and more]
Because of a loophole in the league's rules, Lin would count a little more than $8 million each season on the Rockets' salary cap, but the Knicks have to take the full $15 million hit in the third year. Lin made $762,195 last season.
Lin was also cut by the Golden State Warriors in December. Now, he returns to Houston as a star who will be expected to become the face of Yao Ming's former franchise. Houston ranked 22nd in the NBA in attendance last season, and Lin could help put fans in the seats.
"The fans embraced Yao," Martin said. "They come from the same background. He can be just as exciting as he was in New York. Houston is going to embrace him and expect a lot from him."
Basketball-wise, Houston appears to be a better fit than New York for Lin. He averaged 14.6 points and 6.2 assists in 35 games with the Knicks. Most of that success came under coach Mike D’Antoni, who was fired on March 14. Knicks coach Mike Woodson never showed the same confidence in Lin. The Knicks also acquired veteran point guards Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton this offseason.
The Rockets run a lot of pick-and-roll plays that were key to Lin’s success in New York under D’Antoni. Martin believes that Lin will flourish in coach Kevin McHale’s offense.
"I think he can bring what he did in New York to the Rockets," Martin said. "He was great in pick-and-rolls and getting his [big men] involved, kind of like what [Steve] Nash did in Phoenix. When you play alongside a shooting guard who doesn't need to be dribbling to be effective, point guards love playing with big time scorers like that."
The Rockets and Lakers are the current frontrunners to acquire Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard in a trade. Lin can't be traded until Jan. 15 after signing the offer sheet. But Martin, who is in the last year of his contract, could be moved. The Rockets have rid themselves of Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, Samuel Dalembert and Chase Budinger this summer to acquire the salary-cap space and assets for a potential Howard trade.
"I got here 2½ years ago, and now I’m the longest-tenured Rocket there," Martin said. "We lost some great players over the last month in Kyle and Luis. They were great teammates. Nobody likes to go the rebuilding route, but sometimes it’s needed. And that’s how Daryl Morey feels right now, so you don’t know what the future holds for the Rockets."
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