Carmelo Anthony wants out of New York for a more competitive situation, and the two teams on the top of his list are the Houston Rockets and the Chicago Bulls. Both teams have plenty of pluses and plenty of minuses, but word has it that both are working diligently to make sure they can clear the cap room necessary to land Anthony if and when that time comes.
For Chicago it is as easy as using the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer and finding someone to take back Taj Gibson, which would not be difficult as Gibson is an extremely good player. For Houston it requires a team to take back the bloated salaries of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin and not send anything back in return.
Both players were signed two years ago and due to a quirk in the collective bargaining agreement both players will count against the salary cap for $8.3 million apiece while being paid $15 million each in the final year of their deals. While neither player is worth the $15 million salary, Asik should be moveable simply because he has proven to be an elite defensive center that can dominate the paint for any team he joins. Lin, however, is a less attractive asset. He never broke out in Houston like he did for that brief moment in New York, especially as he had to play more off the ball with the arrival of James Harden.
But all this means the opportunity might be seriously attractive to a team like the Detroit Pistons, who are looking to remake themselves as the Stan Van Gundy era gets under way. The Pistons could help facilitate the Rockets getting Anthony and should seriously consider taking back Lin ... for a price.
Let's explore the reasons why and the reasons why this doesn't make perfect sense for the rebuilding Pistons.
First, there are only a limited number of teams that both have cap room and should be willing to tie a significant portion of it up in a placeholder contract like Lin's without sending anything back in return. The only other teams that fit that criteria are the Utah Jazz, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic.
Second, one of the offseason priorities for the Pistons should be to sign a point guard to create competition for the starting job between said player and the incumbent Brandon Jennings. Ideally, this player would provide some of the defense that Jennings seems unable or unwilling to provide, but Lin is probably not that player. That being said, Lin today is probably the better defensive player right now.
Third, I would be more confident that Lin would improve than Jennings would do the same. Lin needs the ball in his hands to be successful, and he couldn't do that in Houston once James Harden arrived. This means that if Lin were on a team that allowed him to control more of the offense, an improvement wouldn't be out of the question.
Fourth, while he is not the greatest distributor he does have a knack for utilizing minimal space and driving into the hole to score in the paint. This also happens to be Jennings biggest among his myriad flaws.
Even if we consider Lin's Houston years as disappointments he greatly eclipses Jennings in this metric. In his first year in Houston, of players who attempted at least 200 shots in the restricted area, Lin converted 58.1 percent of his shots, placing 21st among 42 qualified guards. Jennings placed dead last, converting just 47.3 percent of his shots. Last season, Lin improved to 62.4 percent (12th) while Jennings finished 48th among 52 qualified guards at 49.6 percent.
There is a lot to consider in what kind of point guard makes sense for a Pistons team armed with Andre Drummond and, hopefully, Greg Monroe, but the ability of the guard to convert at the rim makes the pick-and-roll game that much more dangerous. Big advantage to Lin there.
Fifth and finally, while some consider Lin's price tag to be a minus, I view it as a plus because it creates a buyer's market for his services. If Houston smell blood in the water and is convinced it's going to land Anthony then they should be more than willing to part with a first-round pick and maybe even an additional asset to unload Lin.
Currently, Houston has the 25th pick in the draft and will probably be looking to unload the salary cap hold on the pick to free up every bit of cap space to land Anthony. If that isn't enough to sway Detroit, they could inquire about whatever future pick Houston is able to land in the accompanying Asik deal.
This would be an opportunity for the Pistons to improve at point guard, not have to sacrifice any long-term financial flexibility and collect future assets all in one move and all it takes is the willingness of ownership to swallow paying Lin $15 million for the trouble. It's a no brainer, right? Not exactly.
There is one big downside and it involves money. More specifically how much money would be available to improve the team. The Pistons are slotted to have roughly $12 million in cap space this offseason after you account for Greg Monroe's cap hold. If the team ties up money in Lin that means the team has only $3.7 million to work with in free agency to sign a shooter on the wing. And if the team received a first-round pick in the upcoming draft that would lop off an additional $1-$1.7 million. That would effectively mean the team would be locked in for next season, barring trades.
Would Jeremy Lin and the 25th pick in a stacked draft plus $2.7 million to bring in a low-level free agent be good enough to get the team moving in the right direction? Or would it be more feasible to try and improve on Jennings through free agency by trying to sign a player such as Darren Collison or a Shaun Livingston? That would cost more money and years overall, but would give the team the kind of financial flexibility for 2014-15 to sign another player who could contribute on the wing.