Posted on: June 25, 2009 11:04 am

McGrady on the move?

The Rockets have been fielding plenty of inquiries about oft-injured former All-Star Tracy McGrady, whose $23.2 million expiring contract is attractive to teams looking to clear cap space for 2010.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey told the Houston Chronicle that teams have been "very aggressive" in their pursuit of McGrady, and unlike last summer, Morey is listening intently. One such scenario floated by the New York Post, has McGrady, Aaron Brooks, and Carl Landry going to Phoenix for Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa. That's a dubious one, considering the Suns' long-held reluctance to trade Barbosa. But with Phoenix in fire-sale mode, everything appears to be on the table.

One team known to have discussed McGrady is the Knicks, whose stated plan since Donnie Walsh took over as team president has been to get the financial books in order for 2010. "They have interest," a person with knowledge of the McGrady discussions said.

Stoudemire's situation is muddled by the fact that he has a termination option in his contract after next season. Any team acquiring him would want assurances that Stoudemire would sign an extension this summer in exchange for waiving the termination clause. To this point, according to a source, Stoudemire's representation has not been brought into any trade discussions involving the four-time All-Star.

Posted on: May 11, 2009 11:47 am

What to do with Bynum?

As the Lakers head home to L.A. for Game 5, one question has to be weighing on ther collective minds: What do we do with Andrew Bynum?

Clearly, he's not in any way healthy or confident in his knee, whether Yao Ming is on the floor in this series or not. On Sunday, there was no Yao, only 6-foot-6 Chuck Hayes guarding the paint. And Bynum fumbled away entry passes, got his feet crossed up, didn't get deep enough position, and was a complete non-factor in a game that the Lakers mailed in.

To me, the Bynum situation is more troublesome than the Lakers not showing up Sunday. They'll show up for the rest of the series, but Bynum simply may not be healthy enough to do so.

And remember, he was supposed to be the missing link, the element that was missing in the Finals against the Celtics last year. His post scoring, rebounding, and shot-blocking were supposed to ensure that the Lakers wouldn't cower again in the face of physical challenges from the Celtics or Cavs.

This is a big problem for the Lakers. Not necessarily against the Yao-less Rockets, but against teams that play physical around the basket. Cleveland and Boston certainly qualify. Orlando does, when Dwight Howard feels like it. I'd even put Denver in that category with Kenyon Martin and Birdman Andersen.

After Phil Jackson got finished cursing Sunday, I asked him for his assessment of Bynum's play.

"It looks like it takes him some time to get himself involved in the ballgame," Jackson said. "His hands weren’t good when he came in. He had the fumble and things like that. I started him a little earlier in the second half just to use size to stop their drives and get some rebounds. So we went to him early in the second half."

When I asked him if there might come a time to consider giving Bynum's minutes to someone who might be more effective -- DJ Mbenga, for example -- Jackson said, "Obviously without Yao in the lineup, we would consider that. We have to consider that, but it’s not our major concern."

It should be. Bynum looks like he doesn't belong on the court. Against Houston without Yao, that's OK. But not after that.

Category: NBA
Posted on: May 9, 2009 9:46 pm

Adelman: Rockets "in trouble" without Yao

HOUSTON -- In simpler times -- oh, about six hours ago, before Rick Adelman knew about Yao Ming's season-ending fracture in his left foot -- the Rockets' coach spoke frankly about what it would mean to prepare for Game 4 against the Lakers if Yao didn't play.

"We’re set either way," Adelman said. "We’ve already played one game where he’s in foul trouble the whole time. We had to play without him there. So it’s not going to be anything different. The difference is, if he doesn't play, we’re in trouble."

Yes, the Rockets are in trouble. Tests on the foot Yao injured in Game 3 Friday night came back Saturday afternoon with the worst possible results: Yao has a hairline fracture on the top of his left foot and will miss the rest of the postseason. With the Rockets already down 2-1 in the series, and with Yao being the focal point of everything they do when they're playing well, this is a devastating blow.

"He’s such a main cog for us," Adelman said. "I thought that (Friday) night he did a much better job of getting the ball and moving and putting some pressure on them. Without him now, we’ve got to play a totally different game. We’re just a different team, but we can be an effective team if we play together."

Now the Rockets are without Tracy McGrady (no big deal there, they're better without him anyway), Yao, and Yao's backup, Dikembe Mutombo, whose career-ending ruptured knee tendon becomes monumental now.

Do they have a chance to beat the Lakers without Yao? How do you say "no" in Chinese? 

Adelman is right that they'll be a different team -- more high screen-rolls, even more reliance on Ron Artest to provide offense, nobody to adequately defend Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum. Cavs and Lakers in the NBA Finals just got one giant, Yao-sized step closer to reality.

It's impossible to overstate how deflating this is for the Rockets, but it's even more so because of how the diagnosis came down. When the coaches and players gathered on the Toyota Center practice court Friday afternoon, Yao had already undergone a CT scan that left doctors confident that the injury was merely a sprained ankle. Upon further review, doctors found the hairline fracture, which doesn't require surgery. But the foot needs to be immobilized in a walking boot for 8-12 weeks.

While the Rockets are crushed by the news -- they believed they had a legitimate chance to knock off the Lakers, as they showed by stealing Game 1 in L.A. -- there is more to worry about than a playoff series. This is the same foot, though not exactly in the same spot, where Yao suffered a season-ending stress fracture two seasons ago. It is hard to build a championship team about a 7-6 franchise player who can't stay on the court.

"I have a lot of faith in our doctors and our medical staff," Adelman said. "We’re going to look at that and make the decision not based on one game. It’s going to be based on his career."
Category: NBA
Tags: Rockets, Yao Ming
Posted on: May 8, 2009 2:15 pm
Edited on: May 8, 2009 5:57 pm

Artest: There's Kobe, then there's me (UPDATE)

HOUSTON -- Ron Artest is enjoying the spotlight. He is speaking freely, with brutal honesty and a huge smile. And for once, the topic is something that is happening on the basketball court, not off it.

Artest was on a roll Friday at the Rockets' shootaround before Game 3, saying Kobe Bryant got away with an elbow to the throat that precipitated their verbal skirmish in Game 2 and that the referees treat him differently because of his reputation.

"I think (Bryant) knows he got away with one," Artest said. "That's the referees' job. They see the second reaction. They never see the first with me. Joey [Crawford] was doing a great job. He was involved in every play except the Kobe plays."

As for how Artest feels about being ejected for jawing with Bryant after the elbowing incident, he said, "That's not racial profiling. It's past history profiling."

That's just a preview of what Artest had on his mind in the hours before Game 3 Friday night at the Toyota Center.

UPDATE: For example: Artest called Crawford's decision to eject him "a bad ejection;" said that he told Bryant during their confrontation, "If you're gonna get out of line, I'm gonna get out of line;" and warned that he'll give the referees three chances to protect him in Game 3. And if they don't? Two things will happen, according to Artest.

Thing No. 1: "I'm gonna report it to the police," he said.

And Thing No. 2: "Then I gotta protect myself."

The league office ruled that Bryant's elbow landed in Artest's chest and not his neck, thus ruling out the possibility of suspending Bryant for Game 3. Artest had some fun with that one, too, saying, "Oh, OK. If they say so." But after Kobe's elbow, Artest's response, and Derek Fisher's hip-check to Luis Scola -- which did earn him a suspension for Game 3 -- tensions are high and threats are flowing freely in what has suddenly become the most physical and intriguing series in the conference semifinals.

The one place threats and yap aren't coming from would be Bryant's mouth. Kobe deflected all Artest-related queries at the Lakers' shootaround an hour later, but he finally caved in and offered this: "You guys know me, man. You know I don't back down from anybody. Simple as that."

It's not going to be so simple for the officiating crew: Steve Javie, Sean Corbin, and Ron Garretson. If it's any consolation, Javie was the crew chief for Game 7 of the chippy series between the Celtics and Bulls. In a series that saw Rajon Rondo slapping Brad Miller's face and throwing Kirk Hinrich into the scorer's table, cooler heads prevailed in Game 7.

"It’s just basketball, but it depends on how they want to ref the game," Artest said. "You can hit back, but are they gonna see the first one or are they gonna see the second one? ... So my team, we were just trying to play basketball, but they kept seeing the second one. So I got guys walking my players down, walking behind their back. If somebody walks behind my back, automatically I'm gonna turn around and I might smack them if somebody’s walking right behind me because that’s my natural reaction. So I mean, the referees, they should know that. I think they’re going to do a better job."

One thing about Artest: He knows how to jab you where it hurts. So he proceeded to join the chorus of arm-chair analysts who have suggested that perhaps the Lakers are overcompensating because of how the Celtics outmuscled them in the Finals last year. Except Artest said it better than that.

"Last year, what the Celtics did to them was more about manhood than basketball," Artest said. "They took their manhood. They took it right from under them."


Predictably, Lakers coach Phil Jackson had some fun with all of this while addressing the media on the Toyota Center court. 

"Oh, I don't know, there’s been a lot of that talk," Jackson said. "You have all those guys and they’re sitting at their desk speculating on what we have to do to win or not to win. But it’s about being aggressive. We’re not a heavy team. Guys like Artest, we only give up 20 or 30 pounds to him at all our spots. So he can walk guys to wherever he wants to down underneath the basket. If the referees aren’t going to call it, we have to provide support for ourselves. And that’s the way it is."

Asked if Bryant crossed the line with his elbow to Artest, Jackson said, "You know, what Kobe did happens every single game, maybe 20 times in a game. A big guy’s trying to shove a smaller guy out underneath the basket, and they’re going to have to fight for their life underneath there. It happens all the time. It’s just got a focus because of what happened. We can focus on it as a league and in the press in the playoffs, but those things happen all the time in our game. This is not a game for boys. This is a game for men."

I agree. But that doesn't mean I will deny Artest's right to use the incident as motivation.

"I think they did a good job getting us out of our game, because we were comfortable playing basketball," Artest said. "And it turned into like a fight. We've got to remember just to play basketball when it turns into a fight."

And that it will be, one way or another, in a few short hours.

Posted on: May 7, 2009 6:18 pm
Edited on: May 7, 2009 6:21 pm

Comic relief aside, Alston, Fisher judged alike

You whack somebody in the head, you get whacked for a game. Pretty simple, right?

At first I thought Rafer Alston's Three Stooges routine on Eddie House might elicit more laughter than punishment from the NBA. After all, it was sort of funny. But Stu Jackson doesn't have much of a sense of humor this time of year. The letter of the law is the letter of the law.

Alston swung and made contact with House's head, and that was enough for the league to park him at home with a one-game suspension to be served Friday night in Game 3 of the Magic-Celtics series.

This is awful news for Orlando, which blew a 28-point lead in Game 1 and got blown out in Game 2. Backup point guard Anthony Johnson was brutal in Game 1, which I witnessed in person. Alston has been no Celtic-killer, either. Advantage Celtics in this one.

Derek Fisher's full-body check on the Rockets' Luis Scola was a much easier call. Fisher looked back to locate Scola, sized him up like a hockey goon at the blue line, and leveled him. Fisher also will serve his one-game suspension Friday night in Game 3, which I will be attending and reporting from my ringside seat. I never miss a cage match.

Category: NBA
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