Rockets' Future Remains Wide Open
"It's not just with Yao, but a lot of people -- from coaches on down," veteran small forward Shane Battier so accurately surmised on Sunday. "It'll be an interesting summer for the Houston Rockets."
To say the least.
The ripple effects of Yao's situation will be felt throughout the summer, with his potential decision to retire making matters more clear cut and a possible return meaning gray area galore for the Rockets.
And since Battier brought it up, we'll start with the uncertain future of Rockets coach Rick Adelman.
The coach who is in the final season of his contract is plenty accomplished, having entered this season as one of 11 coaches to reach 900 wins with a mark of 902-577 that led to 16 playoff appearances in 19 seasons. There were already rumblings entering this season that Adelman was considering his coaching end, and one would think that scenario only grows more enticing if Yao retires.
Besides, it's not as if he has any clear vision of who he'd be coaching.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey wisely declined to discuss contract extensions with Yao and the other eligible players last summer not only because of the looming lockout but because of the health concerns that always surround the man in the middle. Yet in light of his season-ending (and possibly career-ending) left ankle injury, the Rockets now find themselves with a laundry list of players wondering what happens next and a roster that sits at approximately $40 million next season.
Yao, Battier, center Chuck Hayes, and forward Jared Jeffries are all set to be unrestricted free agents this summer, and fourth-year point guard Aaron Brooks will be a restricted free agent. Yet even those with long-term contracts aren't necessarily safe, among them recently signed forward Luis Scola.
While the 30-year-old Argentine is playing the best basketball of his life after signing a five-year, $47 million deal last summer, he is expected to be part of any prospective blockbuster trade should the Rockets go that route before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. League sources indicate that Houston has been a quiet, yet consistent, entrant in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes for months, yet Scola has only recently become a logical possibility to be included in the pursuit of the Denver small forward as Houston couldn't trade him until Dec. 15.
Scola has been through this before, having heard his name surface in trade rumors last season when he was in the final year of his contract. And while he has no interest in leaving Houston, he said he must find a way to focus on his play even if the possibility of his departure is being discussed privately or publicly.
"The less I worry about it, the better it's going to be for me and my game and the team," Scola said. "I got caught in all the trade stress before, and it didn't help me. I need to learn from that, to learn that you can't control it, you can't know it, you don't know what's going to happen, and you've got to be ready to play every day.
"I always said I just want to be here. This is my place in the NBA. I want to be here. I feel very related with the team. I believe in the team. I believe that we could be doing something sometime soon. But you're in the NBA. You don't control these things, but I really want to be here."
Shooting guard Kevin Martin was brought to Houston last season in large part because of how Morey envisioned him fitting with Yao, leading some to speculate that he is no longer considered part of the long-term future. But sources close to the team continue to say that Martin has not been made available, and he said he wants to remain so long as the Rockets aren't starting from scratch.
"Rebuilding is definitely not something I want to go through again," said Martin, whose contract runs through 2013 and has a combined $24 million remaining after this season. "Daryl thinks I'm an important member of this team, especially on the offensive end, for many years to come. But this being the business, you just never know."
Consider it the Rockets' new motto: you just never know.
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