It seems rather premature, some three weeks into the preseason, to be talking about any sort of Rick Adelman Effect in Houston.
Or does it?
The Rockets would debate you hard on that one, given their vivid recollections of how last season started. That was when Tracy McGrady made the very early -- and very unsettling -- disclosure that he was thinking about retiring when his current contract expires to try a sport that doesn’t tax the body like basketball does. Baseball, namely.
Rockets coach Rick Adelman might be just the speed the Rockets need.
This was McGrady after just a week of Adelman practices: "Playing this way could put a couple more years on my career."
It doesn’t exactly equate to an in-stone commitment from their cornerstone, but it does rank as an undeniable booster shot for the Rockets’ battered psyche. When we last saw him, T-Mac was absorbing the blame and shame of Houston’s inability to beat Utah at home in Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs, which extended his draining and humbling run as the league’s Best Player To Never Win A Playoff Series to a painful 10 seasons.
It has to hearten his Rockets bosses -- who preside over a franchise that also has failed to win a single playoff series in that same decade-long span -- to hear McGrady speak optimistically about the future so soon after such a grave disappointment. Especially since he still has that creaky, cranky back to deal with.
McGrady, though, is otherwise trying to temper the latest outbreak of runaway hype in town after the Rockets followed up the dismissal of coach Jeff Van Gundy by ushering in the Adelman era and making more offseason moves than any other team in the West. Encouraged as he was to see the acquisition of the highly rated Luis Scola and the return of Steve Francis as a bargain-priced role player, T-Mac clearly hasn’t forgotten that the Rockets were similarly celebrated for their aggressive moves during the previous two summers, first for signing Stromile Swift in 2005 and then for acquiring Shane Battier and Bonzi Wells in 2006.
Which is why McGrady, more than once since training camp opened, has offered the following disclaimer: "We look great on paper, as they say, but the game is played on the court."
Similar caution comes from Yao Ming, who lets out a hearty laugh whenever someone hits him with the idea that this is the best team he has ever played on.
"We say that every year," Yao says. "Let’s just do our job [and] make this the best year we ever had. That’s it. I don’t want to say anything more."
Yet it does seem safe, even at this juncture, to predict that Space City’s team will indeed inch closer to the San Antonio-Dallas stratosphere and make the Texas Triangle as unfriendly as it has ever been. The Rockets also are convinced -- long before we find out whether they can finally do some playoff damage for the first time since the days of Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler -- that they will quickly hush the skeptics who question Yao’s ability to keep up in Adelman’s faster-paced offense.
Even McGrady was among those skeptics initially. When asked recently if outsiders were justified in questioning whether Yao has the speed and stamina to play center in a pass-and-move system, McGrady admitted, "I’m the same way."
But now McGrady sees that Adelman doesn’t intend to turn Yao into a running center. Adelman simply wants to turn him into a Vlade Divac-like passing center for stretches, hoping the time spent operating out of the high post will (a) capitalize on Yao’s underrated dishing and shooting abilities and (b) spare him some wear and tear over the course of a season.
As Adelman happily notes, his Portland teams went to the NBA Finals twice with the plodding Kevin Duckworth at center. So you can understand the coach’s confidence in Yao’s ability to survive in this system, given that his skills are literally from another world compared to Duckworth’s, and with Yao now being tutored daily on the nuances of high-post, face-up play by new Rockets assistant Jack Sikma.
同时，阿帅也欣喜地发现，开拓者两次进入总决赛时所拥有的中锋凯文-达克沃斯也是一个跑不起来的家伙。这样你就可以理解，即使姚明和迪瓦茨打球的方式完全不一样，阿帅对姚明适应普林斯顿体系依然充满着信心。此外，姚明每天接受新助理教练杰克-西科马的指导，领悟高位挡人抢位的精妙之处。（译者请教：nuances of high-post, face-up play）
T-Mac, shades of MJ? This is him taking a cut at his benefit softball tournament, not a career change.
"We’re not Phoenix," Adelman says. "We’re not going to be that. I think what we try to do is have a flow. It’s not about how much they run. It’s about getting into a flow.
"[Yao is] going to get there. People would be surprised at how he gets down the court, [but] I don’t see it as a problem at all. We’re not going to be helter-skelter. What we want to do is get into a flow, get into things without [play] calls, so that we’re just reading the defense.
“姚明会打得很好的，人们会奇怪他怎么能打起来，不过我认为完全没有问题，一切都会走上正轨，打得流畅就是目标，打没有犯规的比赛，我们正在学会阅读防守。”（译者请教：without [play] calls）
"For [Yao], more than anything, it’s the speed of the cuts and the motion [that he has to learn]. That’s why Vlade was so good in our offense. But Yao will get there. He just hasn’t done it to this point. I’ve said it before that I think Jeff did a great job with him. He made him into a very good low-post player. Now we just want to let him expand, do other things on the floor. He’s just going to get better and better."
Said Wells, who thrived in Adelman’s read-and-react scheme for a season in Sacramento: "If you think about Brad Miller in this offense, he was an All-Star. Brad had a triple-double just by us giving him the ball up top and everyone cutting off him. So people are going to be surprised.
"Initially, we’re going to try to make cuts off [Yao] and get easy baskets. Yao is going to be that guy looking over everybody and making that key pass. But when you think about the last eight to 10 seconds of the shot clock, we’re [still] going to get the ball down low to Yao and go to our strengths."
“首先，我们将围绕姚明打传切，这样打篮球会很轻松。姚明要纵览全局，机会出现后立刻传出致命的一球，如果只剩下8－10秒，就让姚明低位进攻得分。”（译者请教：make cuts off [Yao]）
Of course, even if Yao’s stamina proves no obstacle and the adjustment to this new offensive philosophy goes smoothly for him, Houston still is looking at plenty of potential problem areas … No. 1 being the Rockets’ home state.
Just locking up a top-four playoff seed, before it even gets to the matter of actually winning a series, requires finishing ahead of San Antonio and Dallas in the regular season. You’ll recall that the fifth-best win total in the league last season -- 52-30 in spite of protracted injury absences for McGrady and Yao -- placed Houston only third in the Texas standings.
There are projections on this very Web site that Adelman’s Rockets will not have to worry about such seeding pitfalls, projections suggesting that they will be a 60-win team and a championship contender. Yet, that will require Houston to defy history, based on the distinct lack of playoff success on their two stars’ résumés and Adelman’s own string of postseason failings.
Fact is, Houston is looking at a list of uncertainties that’s virtually Yao-sized. So many that McGrady makes a good point when he argues that switching to the new offense is far down the list of challenges.
Do the Rockets have enough proven on-floor leadership?
Can their two best players stay healthy?
How much will they lose defensively without Van Gundy prodding them?
The list of individuals with something to prove is no shorter: Is Wells’ return to prominence as simple as reuniting him with Adelman? Even though Scola certainly looks like the sort of skilled and energetic power forward that should flourish alongside Yao, will the Argentinean really have the impact he has had in Europe and with his national team, since he now will be playing against consistently bigger players than he has ever faced? Then there’s the big Francis question mark: specifically, whether he has anything left physically.
Steve Francis indicates things are going well in his return to Houston.
Bonus question: How is Adelman going to make use of Francis, Mike James, Rafer Alston and rookie Aaron Brooks at lead guard, when he’s known for keeping rotations tight?
"I don’t necessarily care about all the talent we have," McGrady says. "We have to become a great team. Guys who can score the ball might have to do something else.
"We’ve got a lot of talent, but who knows? We might have some guys bitching about playing time. We might have some guys bitching about shots. If we can get guys to sacrifice, then maybe we can become a great team."
McGrady has his own maybes to address, too, as he draws closer to the time when he will be forced to make a firm decision about the future.
With just two seasons left on his contract after this one and after making the unexpected admission last November that he might be losing a step, McGrady remains prone to voicing his frustration in response to the physical pounding he takes. But he also is visibly excited by the prospect of what playing off the ball more -- as opposed to having to start and finish so many possessions for Van Gundy -- can do for his longevity.
"We’ll have to see," McGrady said. "I’m not ruling anything out.
"At 28, going on my 11th year, my body, man … I don’t feel 28 out there playing sometimes. It’s the way my body is structured. My back is really ginger. Who knows how it will hold up?
"[But] Rick, his offense fits me more, my style of play, what I do best. Which is getting up and down the court, getting in transition, making plays, freelancing. It’s going to be fun."