What the Lakers' D'Antoni Pick Means for Jeremy Lin

A Jeremy Lin move to Los Angeles is the first thing that flashed on the minds of Asian American hoops fans when the Lakers announced Monday that they had signed Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson to replace fired coach Mike Brown.

D’Antoni was the coach who masterminded Linsanity by picking up the twice-cut benchwarmer to run the pick-and-roll offense for a Knicks team that was running on its last legs by early February. No one knows like D’Antoni what Lin can do when he’s entrusted with the ball in close games. And no one knows like D’Antoni the folly of putting a team’s fortunes in the hands of superstars who glory in isolation.

Despite what he may be saying to the press, Jeremy Lin is not happy playing on a Rockets team that has shifted allegiance to James Harden. For Lin it’s not the loss of the spotlight, it’s the shame of shortchanging the talent that he knows god gave him to take charge and ignite a team to score, preferably in 7 seconds or less.

I suspect Lin is already wondering when he’s going to get that call from D’Antoni.

Some may object that D’Antoni already has Steve Nash, the accomplished point guard to whom Lin has most often been compared. To put it bluntly, Nash is now 38. He has maybe one and a half good seasons left as a starter if he’s sparingly used. And though few fans are willing to say it in deference to Nash’s achievements and sheer likability, Lin has already shown himself to be better than the South African-born Canadian at comparable points in their careers. Lin is better at scoring, stealing and rebounding. Lin can penetrate, take punishment and score. He’s more disruptive of the other team’s offense too.

The Lakers’ current relief point guard? Steve Blake isn’t the kind of player to whom D’Antoni can entrust to lead his offensive system. He doesn’t have the vision, the firepower, the leadership skills, the explosiveness with which to ignite or disrupt.

Others might object that shooting guard Kobe Bryant is analogous to Carmelo Anthony — a superstar who’s too used to having the ball in his hands to work well with Lin. The short answer is the Busses’ decision to hire D’Antoni: the team has voted to go with a pick-and-roll offense. And there’s every reason to think Bryant himself, at 34, is receptive to becoming a potent scoring option rather than trying to stay the team’s workhorse, especially as he matures and mellows into a team player.

What’s more, the Lakers management may have already had Lin in mind when it chose D’Antoni over the favorite Jackson. Los Angeles is far and away the nation’s biggest Asian American market. Adding Jeremy Lin to the roster would be worth tens of millions a year in tickets, TV viewership and sponsorships — not to mention the value of hundreds of millions of fans in China and elsewhere in Asia.

What would the Lakers trade to get Lin? Given the apparent loss of faith in Lin evidenced by the last-minute deal to snag Harden, the Rockets may be willing to trade Lin away for nothing more than relief from the burden of his $25.1-million 3-year contract. But if they insist, the Lakers could part with Pau Gasol — the Brazilian forward who pulled back his eyes during the Lakers’ February surprise loss to the rampaging Knicks during Linsanity’s first and best wave to date.

And if the Rockets still balk? The ace-in-the-hole: Dwight Howard, the center Houston had hoped to land as soon as Howard began chafing under Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. A Howard-for-Lin trade may even have been considered in the decision to sign D’Antoni.

Lin detractors will scoff at the suggestion that Lin could be important enough to the Lakers to warrant hiring a dark-horse coach and trading away a superstar like Dwight Howard. Such people have no clue as to the financial bonanza for a team that can reignite Linsanity in a world in which Chna is about to eclipse the US as a consumer market. They also have no clue as to the value of a player that can forge five men in a uniform into the ultimate scoring machine.