The Houston Rockets are quickly becoming an afterthought in town as Spring Training opens and their tedious soap-opera mediocrity gets pushed to the sidelines. (All of which will change in a blink, of course, if they put together a streak.)
But they're getting noticed elsewhere.
The New York Times' Sunday magazine's cover boy this weekend was Shane Battier, the "No-Stats All-Star."
Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball -- the book showing how a revolution in stat-keeping changed how baseball GMs stack their rosters -- showed how the Rockets are doing the same thing. (He's not the first to say so, of course; among others, we profiled Rockets GM Daryl Morey and his stats obsession last year.)
But the Times' article made clear, without saying it too directly, that the Rockets basically hate each other.
Well, in Battier's case, he made it pretty clear himself as he talks of the pre-game introductions:
To him the only pleasure in these sounds -- the name of his beloved alma mater, the roar of the crowd -- was that they marked the end of the worst part of his game day: the 11 minutes between the end of warm-ups and the introductions. Eleven minutes of horsing around and making small talk with players on the other team. All those players making exaggerated gestures of affection toward one another before the game, who don't actually know one another, or even want to.
"I hate being out on the floor wasting that time," he said. "I used to try to talk to people, but then I figured out no one actually liked me very much." Instead of engaging in the pretense that these other professional basketball players actually know and like him, he slips away into the locker room.
Others are noticing, too.
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The San Francisco Chronicle's handicapping of the playoff race has this capsule review of the Rockets:
7. Houston. No chance to do anything of consequence. Tracy McGrady is now feuding with everyone -- fans, executives, media -- over the state of his knee. Nobody can believe he's that injured, since he takes the floor most of the time, but he says he's in genuine pain, all the while turning people off with that hangdog look on his face. Yao Ming is a nice player and everything, but has a streak of reticence that makes him vulnerable to every serious center-power forward in the league. Ron Artest routinely shackles the offensive flow when he gets the ball and looks for his own shot. Plus, these guys are sniping at each other. Over. Done.
It's a regular love-fest at Toyota Center!!
-- Richard Connelly