If you think professional sports are all about winning, you're as out of date as Tom Cruise or Tecmo Bowl.
You don't need to win to be successful. You just need to create buzz, to make your franchise relevant, to thrust it into the national and international discussion. Then, the money will follow — and you'll have one happy owner.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's shown he's a master of this concept in an offseason that is now almost sure to result in global phenomenon Jeremy Lin wearing a Rockets uniform. Again. The hardly-long-ago Rockets reject — a guy whose Christmas Eve cutting from the team barely elicited a yawn in this city — will be back for $25.1 million unless the New York Knicks reverse course once again (always a possibility for the worst-managed team in the league) and surprise match.
Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum would have won the Rockets more games, but Jeremy Lin will make them more money.
Lin in Rockets red will not make the team a big winner in the Western Conference standings. But it will sure make Morey one.
If Lin walks in, Morey likely will have guaranteed himself at least three more years of nice paychecks from Leslie Alexander. Landing Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum — the better basketball move — for a one-year rental with the possibility of more would have provided no such assurance.
Howard or Bynum would have won the Rockets more games, but Lin will make them more money. This idea of Jeremy Lin being a billion dollar player because of his global marketing potential — one that started with some fawning stats in Sports Illustrated of all places during those first few weeks of Linsanity — was always more than a little overblown. But he can certainly be a Yao-sized money maker for Alexander and the Rockets, one who makes going to NBA games in Houston an event again.
And that's what Morey needed more than winning. The sixth-year GM's greatest sin wasn't constructing a .500-level team after Yao limped off into the sunset. No, Morey's real problem was putting together the most bland team in the NBA.
The Rockets haven't just been middling the last three seasons. They've been the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NBA, a team so devoid of compelling storylines that it's a wonder that the Red Rowdies even showed up for free.
Lin instantly changes that. It doesn't matter if you hate the guard's game like the smug, fake Carmelo Anthony, who has taken to branding the Rockets contract offer "ridiculous" because he's hoping to not have to share the ball. You still have to admit that Lin is a difference maker.
He may not be an All-Star. But he's a star. And isn't that what Morey said the Rockets were interested in all along?
The Real Game
Any notion that Morey "outsmarted" himself with this contract, that he really wants the Knicks to match it and free him up to continue his Don Quixote-like illusionary quest to land Howard, is absurd. Morey knew exactly what he was doing when he restructured the third year of Lin's offer sheet to a cap-crippling $15 million. He may have outsmarted Lin, who told his high school coach that he always expected the Knicks to match.
But Morey did right by the Rockets — and his owner.
They've been the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NBA, a team so devoid of compelling storylines that it's a wonder that the Red Rowdies even showed up for free.
If the Knicks really are done with Lin, you can be sure that Morey will break into a song and dance about having been driven by correcting the "mistake" of letting the phenom go in the first place. You know, before anyone realized how much money Lin could make them — and that he could actually play. Morey will paint it like he's righting some cosmic basketball wrong and delivering Lin back to where he always belonged.
Believe it, if you want. But you might as well keep putting teeth under the pillow while you're at it and look for a little green man on March 17.
Morey is using Lin to bring some buzz back to the Toyota Center. It's hard to reasonably believe that Morey suddenly thinks that someone he cut just seven months ago is an All-Star caliber point guard based on two weeks in New York.
Lin looked great against the Lakers that one night, but what point guard hasn't looked good against Los Angeles in recent years? Aaron Brooks looked great against the Lakers for an entire seven-game playoff series and how has his career turned out?
The Rockets aren't paying Lin $25 million for points. They're paying him for buzz.
Nothing wrong with that. It's what Morey needed to do. And Lin is being well compensated for all those extra viewers, all that additional attention he assures. Love him or doubt him, everyone wants to see what Jeremy Lin will do — what he'll become or regress into.
The Rockets instantly transform into a regular topic for Charles Barkley and the crew on TNT, a PTI staple talking point, a team that will find its way onto ABC. You may not have noticed, but that wasn't happening with Chase Budinger or Luis Scola on the roster.
Anthony isn't just showing his jealous, selfish side (his only side) when he calls Morey's brilliant contract for Lin "ridiculous." He's missing a fundamental truth. Lin — turnovers and all — is more entertaining to watch than Anthony, whose specialty is pounding the basketball into submission in isolation plays. When's the last time anyone ever tuned into a basketball game specifically to watch Carmelo Anthony?
He's not LeBron James. His act grew stale not long after Syracuse.
With Lin, the Rockets suddenly become must-watch TV at a time when they'll be debuting a new TV network in tandem with the Houston Astros. That's called smart business.
What about winning you ask?
Ah, that's cute. Such a quaint notion. So 1950s.
Winning?! Like that's the game.