(CBS News) NEW YORK -- It looks like the run of "Linsanity" may be over in New York.
Last season, Harvard grad Jeremy Lin took the Knicks and the entire sports world by storm.
But now, he may be headed to Houston to play for the Rockets, though there's still a glimmer of hope he'll stay with the Knicks.
It's hard to believe an athlete who came on so quickly five months ago, who energized the sports world so completely, and helped change the basketball conversation away from the extended National Basketball Association lockout might be gone from his team so suddenly.
"I don't think anybody saw (Lin's possible departure) coming," says Columbia University sports marketing professor Joe Favorito, who used to head up the Knicks' public relations staff. "He became a product of everything you can take advantage of today. There was social media, television, blogs - everybody kind of caught onto it, because he was an everyman."
Lin's meteoric rise put his jerseys among the NBA's best-sellers last season. He made David Letterman's Top Ten list. Lin's popularity resulted in the settlement of a brutal cable TV dispute. And he turned around a season for a long-suffering team, launching the Knicks into the playoffs.
For all that, he'll likely be allowed to walk.
A three-year deal dangled by Houston includes a balloon payment year that would cost the Knicks, if they choose to match it, more than $50 million in 2014 -- about $15 million in salary to Lin, and the rest in luxury tax payments under the league's strict new system.
"If the Knicks had their preference, they would keep Jeremy Lin," says New York Times NBA reporter Howard Beck. "There's no question they love him as a player, as a person, as a talent. I think they believe in him and, I think that, at the right price, they would keep him. For them, this is just becoming a hard business decision and not so much a basketball decision."
There's an online petition to keep Lin in New York, but his merchandise has already been removed from the team's website, and the Knicks have acquired three other point guards this offseason.
Which means, with the hands nearly played out, Houston appears to hold all the right cards.
"It'll be interesting to see how well that can play out in Houston, versus playing out in New York, where the lights are always brighter," says Favorito.
He says he thinks Lin could have the same marketing potential in Houston as he did in New York. "Houston is one of the largest Asian-American communities in North America," Favorito notes, "and (retired Rockets superstar) Yao Ming proved you don't have to be a global brand, especially to market to Asia."
Favorito's advice for Lin? "Keep your feet on the ground, and just keep doing what you're doing."