Posted Jul 19 2012 10:13PM
HOUSTON -- It was Valentine's night when team owner Leslie Alexander was whispering not-so-sweet-nothings through the phone into the ear of his general manager.
There were no bouquets of flowers or fancy boxes of chocolates on the table, just images of Jeremy Lin breaking the heart of the Rockets' boss over and over again on his TV screen.
"He was killing me," G.M. Daryl Morey said with a chuckle, thinking back to the conversation.
"Unbelievable," Alexander recalled. "I watched him play against Toronto and I was so mad because he was playing so well. I said, 'Lin just scored the tying basket. Oh my God, he just hit the winning basket!' And I hung up on him because I was so angry."
They both could afford to laugh on Thursday when the point guard for whom they could find no room at the inn on Christmas Eve returned to Houston seven months later as part-basketball player/part-phenom/part-savior and, more than anything else, they hope, Rockets' ticket back to relevancy.
That the unheralded Lin could spin 35 games of success in New York into a three-year, $25.1-million contract is reason enough to make the townsfolk hungry to get a glimpse of this new boy wizard in their midst. And Houston has gone for the pitch -- hook, line and magic wand.
So now "Linsanity" talks with a drawl and has a pinch between its cheek and gum, but upon first blush nothing else has changed since the economics major from Harvard took over Manhattan and the marketing world last winter.
Lin was officially introduced to Houston on a makeshift stage that was set up on the Rockets' practice court and greeted by a media throng that numbered in the hundreds, including many talking heads who probably needed a map and flashlight to locate the Toyota Center.
After three straight seasons of being the last team to miss the playoffs and carrying the best record -- and longest odds -- into the draft lottery, they were in need of an attraction that would make the masses remember that the Rockets were still operating an NBA franchise.
Never mind that they showed him the door back in December.
"It's always difficult when you've obviously made an error," Alexander said. "We made an error in letting him go. I think we rectified it now.
"I think the spotlight's important. We're gonna be on national TV now because of Jeremy and I think free agents want to be on teams that are in the national spotlight. So I think from a basketball standpoint we really improve our negotiations with many, many free agents."
In their broader plan, Lin is just a step toward the bigger goal of landing a certified All-Star to be the foundation player in their lineup. But for now Lin will be the face of the franchise.
"I'm really excited, really humbled," he said. "To understand the last time I was here there was a lot of uncertainty and I didn't understand what was going on. To be here now to be able to be a bigger part of the team and be able to be here for three years is definitely something I'm forward to.
"I think I'm a way aways from having a dynasty called after me. But as a team we're gonna build and become better every single year and don't settle as anything less than what we define as success.'
Lin shrugged off any controversy about his comments in a Sports Illustrated interview where he said his first choice was to stay with the Knicks.
"The question was: 'Going into free agency which team did you prefer?,' " Lin said. "Before July 1, I didn't even know what teams were interested in me. All I was hearing was 'you're going back to NY.' Yeah, before that time, before free agency started, I preferred NY. Then everything happened with...the offer sheet. I was just happy with both opportunities. I wouldn't have signed an offer sheet I wasn't excited about. Houston or NY -- having the opportunity to go to both, I was definitely excited. They (Rockets) understood my goal coming into free agency was wanting a team want to use me."
He also dismissed critical comments that came Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith in New York.
"I love Carmelo and J.R.," Lin said. "I've never had any issues with them. I just know my relationship with them and they have been very supportive and were great teammates last year."
Lin turned to look around the gym where he had gone through drills and scrimmages with the Rockets for 12 days, shook his head and grinned.
"Just practicing, a lot of two-a-days," he said. "My last thing was the pre-season game in San Antonio (Dec. 21) and then we flew back and they told me to wait. On Christmas eve I still didn't know what was going on. I waited until noon and then found out and took a flight home.
"Sometimes I don't really do a good job of stepping back. I'm kinda focused on today and what I can do. Trying to take in the whole big picture, it's definitely remarkable. It's not something I would ever have dreamed of. I didn't expect it to happen this way. I surprised myself.
"It was kind of baptism by fire. You get thrown into it and got to make adjustments and learn. You learn on the fly and that's a lot of what I had to do. It's definitely a work in progress in terms of expectations and how to handle it. I'm learning every step of the way.
"I would say I'm more comfortable than a year ago, because I'm used to it. I wouldn't say I'm a big spotlight guy, but I've learned to embrace it and appreciate it.
"As for the story, we don't know how the ending's gonna be."
Happier, they can hope, than the Valentine's phone call.
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