Coming off a 2-3 road trip, plus wins over OKC and the Hornets, the Rockets make me feel the same way I did a few weeks back. Good, not great. They convincingly won the games they should have, home or away (Clippers, Thunder, Suns), and lost the games they should have (Lakers and a pretty decent Trail Blazers team). So the Spurs loss was disappointing, but it was the last game of a five-game road trip and they did come on strong the next night against one of the best of the West.
What this team needs is an identity. After a year and change under Rick Adelman, it’s disappointing to see that the Rockets still have none. Adelman took the job thinking he could reinvent the motion offense with a great outside shooting big man, a premier scorer and hard working, high basketball IQ role players. Hasn’t happened yet, and at this point I don’t think it ever will.
Now is the time to turn the team over to Yao, to make it over in his identity. In order to move to the next level, a team’s best offensive player also has to be its best defensive player. Unlike baseball or football, each basketball player on the floor has a greater impact on the game because they play both ways. Even last year’s Celtics had Paul Pierce doing yeoman’s work on the defensive side while carrying the offensive load.
Yao is the only hope for this to happen on this team, unless you’re crazy enough to turn the team over to Ron Artest. Because, after watching T-Mac closely, it’s clear he is not the answer. The Portland game is the perfect example of why. Watching Brandon Roy hit the game winner, I immediately recalled Game 6 of the 1994 NBA Finals, when Hakeem Olajuwon extended to the 3 point line in the waning seconds to alter John Starks’ last second shot (and ultimately, the trajectory of Game 7 as well). Contrast that with a flat-footed T-Mac, scrambling to recover and get close enough to contest Roy’s game winner.
Yao may not be the fleetest of centers, but his size alone makes him a defensive game changer. Offensively, he is the team’s most efficient, proficient scorer by a wide margin. The entire game plan needs to revolve around Yao, with T-Mac and Artest as secondary options. Role players who complement Yao, NOT T-Mac, need to be found. Role players who do not complement Yao need to be traded or released. Heck, maybe even Rudy T. needs to be brought in to teach these guys how to make an entry pass.
In 1999, the Spurs wasted no time in transitioning from David Robinson’s team to Tim Duncan’s team, and the results are obvious. This team has waited far too long to make the same transition. When it decides to live and die on Yao, it has a chance to do something special. – Sesha Kalapatapu
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