Facing Uncertain Future, Rockets Refuse to Grant Any Extensions
There are the intangibles, of course, as he is the resident team leader and as respected a locker room presence as there is in the league. It's his role as the Rockets' defensive linchpin that matters most, though, a reality that was proven at the end of last season.
After Battier went down with a knee injury on March 21, the Rockets lost eight of their final 14 games en route to a 42-40 finish. They missed the playoffs for the first time since Battier arrived in 2006, giving up an average of 108.8 points per game in his absence while former small forward Trevor Ariza manned his spot and the Rockets played some of their worst defense in the last decade.
Yet as Battier enters not only his 10th season but also the final year of his contract, his pitch for a new paycheck will fall on deaf ears of team's management.
With the league's collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the season and the legitimate threat of a lockout, the Rockets, according to general manager Daryl Morey, "just aren't doing extensions."
Battier, who has never been a free agent and would prefer not to be one next summer, was given that discouraging message from Morey some time ago.
"We've been trying to get something done (with an extension) the last couple of years, and I've been held at bay -- to put it nicely," Battier told FanHouse during training camp. "I understand where they're coming from. I understand the business side, more so than most players. I've been around long enough that I understand the business aspect of it, so it is what it is."
There's an all-or-nothing element to this Rockets' season, due mostly to the always-uncertain future of center Yao Ming. The big man is returning after his July 2009 left foot surgery to repair a hairline fracture caused him to miss all of last season, and he is among the many players who won't be granted an extension.
Fourth-year point guard Aaron Brooks wasn't so sympathetic to the organization's stance, expressing his frustrations to the Houston Chronicle this week that he'll play the final season of his contract without any agreement beyond next summer. But he's far from alone, as free-agents-to-be Yao, Chuck Hayes, and Jared Jeffries are all eligible for extensions they will not receive.
Shooting guard Kevin Martin is also eligible for an extension, as he signed his current five-year extension that runs through 2013 in the summer of 2007. A minimum of three years from the point of signing an extension must pass before a player can sign a subsequent extension on four- or five-year deals. Yet he, like the rest of his teammates, will have to wait.
As noted in the Chronicle, the Rockets haven't granted an extension since doing so in the trade for Tracy McGrady in 2004. Morey is as pragmatic as they come, and taking the conservative approach is even more vital than normal as he sees it because of the unique circumstances at hand.
For all the excitement over Yao's return, he is being brought back slowly. Former team doctor Tom Clanton, who performed Yao's surgery, has advised the Rockets to limit him to no more than 24 minutes of playing time per game upon his return. According to Rockets coach Rick Adelman, it's likely Yao will play even fewer than 24 minutes in the early stages of his comeback, and he doesn't expect substantial progress until at least December. Houston's preseason begins Tuesday with a home game against Orlando.
The outcome of both Yao's and the Rockets' 2010-11 campaign will determine the future direction on the contractual front.
"With the uncertainty of the CBA and our team and in terms of where we go, just what we get from Yao Ming this year is a huge factor in terms of how we're planning our team," Morey told FanHouse. "We just aren't doing extensions."
Even if there are hurt feelings involved.
"I can't control if (the decision) has a negative impact," said Morey, who reportedly met with Brooks' agent, Leon Rose, on Thursday to further explain his position. "We do spend a lot of time explaining our thought process to the player and the agent. It doesn't mean they have to agree with it or not be upset about it, but we do try to communicate and hope that helps minimize any issues."
Battier is taking the more conventional route, planning to play well enough this season to earn his return to Houston next summer.
"I feel great, and I'm going to play for three or four or five more years" Battier said. "I think that if I play the way I'm capable of playing this year and shoot the ball well, then I'm going to make the Rockets' decision tough for them. That's my job.
"I love it in Houston. I feel that with Yao, Chuck Hayes, guys who have been here a couple years, guys who solidified the culture here, we have a really good thing going. We haven't won championships, but we have won a lot of games the last couple of years and I'd like to see it out. But I can't control that ultimately. And with a new CBA, you can't control the financials and you don't know what will happen ultimately. My job is to make their job tough. That's my goal."
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