JCF: What on earth went through your mind when you first heard the news?
DM: I think I went through the five stages of grief in record time. Actually, I was stuck on denial for quite awhile until the doctors explained the severity of the problem.
But I think it’s what goes through fans’ minds: It’s shock and disbelief because there was no event that led to it. We go into the season planning to be ready for injuries to both those guys, but the plan really is to have them available in the playoffs. So at the start, the hope was there was going to be some chance for him to return and the doctors quickly dismissed that idea after explaining the injury.
JCF: And when you say “both those guys” I assume you mean Tracy and Yao?
DM: Yeah, we try to be ready. Obviously we can’t play at the same level and it makes the challenge greater, but we do want to plan for a stretch when they’re out in terms of our roster management. But for the playoff push, the plan is obviously to have them healthy. So we’ve made the challenge greater this year since we obviously have to make our run without Yao. JCF: How frustrating is it for you personally to put all that work into a season, to see the team finally coming together, and then have something like this happen? I mean, obviously the season hasn’t been flushed down the toilet, but I know your goal at the beginning of the year was to hang a banner at the Toyota Center and that has just been made significantly more difficult.
DM: Well we’re not conceding anything. We feel like we can still make a run. We’ve played at a high level without Yao in the past. Tracy is ready for the challenge. And then after we make a playoff run this year, the future is bright as well with this team mostly coming back intact next year, and with a healthy Yao Ming.
JCF: What do you say to the skeptics who say you’re basically building your foundation on a bed of sand, since you rely so heavily on a pair of superstars who—fair or unfair—have acquired a reputation for being injury prone?
DM: Well, what’s the next best option? I mean those guys are elite players, you need elite players in the playoffs, and it’s much better to have them for the games that we can get them, and have them available for the stretch run in the playoffs, than it is to trade for a lesser player who might play more games. The history of the league in the playoffs says you’ve got to have these elite players. There are many positive examples of players like Yao and Tracy who have had a stretch of injuries and gone on to have very long stretches of healthy seasons.
So we feel like we’re built on rock. We’ve got two superstars, and that’s what’s won titles for the past 25 years in this league. You’ve got to surround them with the right players and we feel like we’re getting closer to that right mix. We like what we have this year and we really like our plan going to the future. JCF: What went through your mind when you were addressing the team? Was that the toughest thing you’ve had to do since becoming GM?
DM: Yeah, it was tough for everybody. There was a lot of disbelief from the players. I had gone through the emotions [the night before] so it was different for me at that time. But it showed what a professional group we have. It wasn’t but a few pats on the back for Yao and then they were back to business and focusing on beating the Wizards. JCF: Did Yao’s involvement in the upcoming Olympics have anything to do with the decision to shut him down right now?
DM: No. We’re managing it like you’d do no matter what point you’re in any season. JCF: Going forward, does it make you a little uncomfortable knowing there’s so much pressure on Yao to play for his country? Everyone knows how much he wants to be a part of the Olympics in Beijing this summer, but his participation could mean he rushes back to the court too soon without taking enough time to completely heal.
DM: We don’t think that at all. Yao Ming’s dedication to his country is part of Yao Ming. It would be like taking a large part of who he is away to hope or want him to not represent his country. I wasn’t here, but the Rockets knew that his dedication was part of what they were getting when he was drafted by the Rockets. And we support him 100 percent in his dedication to his home country.
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JCF: I know there aren’t any Yao Mings out there on the waiver wire, but do you think there’s a possibility we could see an addition at the center position, or are you guys going forward with what you’ve got right now?
DM: Well, we’re going best player available. We’ve got a commitment to Brent Barry on an offer that he’s considering and we’re hoping that he chooses our situation. We’re going to stick to that commitment. We think going best player is the way to go. If Brent decides not to choose the Rockets, we’re going to take some time to evaluate our greatest need. In our opinion, there’s no player available—after Brent—who can have a material impact on our team’s chances this season.
JCF: Do you feel like losing Yao hurts your chance to bring Barry in?
DM: Only Brent can answer that. I think it frees up more minutes, but it depends on his decision criteria. So I think that’s a question for Brent. – Jason Friedman