Sunday, March 09, 2008

The 7’ 6’’ Elephant Not in the Room: Is It Possible the Rockets are Better Off Without Yao? (Just Askin’)

Leave it to Clyde Drexler, of all people---Clyde Drexler!---to be among the first to publicly vocalize a potentially uncomfortable truth about the Rockets’ current success. If he said it once he said it at least three times (that we heard) during Saturday night’s FSN broadcast of the hometeam’s highly entertaining victory over Chris Paul (“the black Steve Nash”) and the Hornets, offered as punctuation to some remarkably fluid ball movement resulting in a Rockets’ basket:
You can do that sort of thing when you don’t have anybody setting up down in the lane.*
Now Clyde appeared to be just making another passing observation in his role as color commentator---maybe he was remarking on the necessity of the Rockets having to resort to that sort of thing---but the Glide said it so often, and with several different variations (“When you don’t have anybody, etc. ….”), and with such a gleeful charge in his mellow-fellow voice, that we assumed he was suggesting what he’s too damn nice to come out and say:
“The Rockets move the ball a hell of a lot better without the lead-footed Yao bumping in and out of the paint, all the time waving his big greedy hand and clogging up the middle … and that opening up of the court allows the full genius of T. McGrady to flower … ”
Something like that.

You’d never hear a remotely similar suggestion from the local sportswriting clergy, who, in their effort to offer neat little sermons of uplift through sport, attribute the post-Yao continuation of the team’s win streak---6 since the ever-fragile Chinaman went down for the count (again), 18 altogether, as of this writing---to the grit, tenacity, determination, “heart,” what have you, that the remaining Rockets have shown during the big stiff’s absence. But let’s face it: They looked to be playing better with Carl Landry on the court---Carl Landry!---before Yao managed to rack up another lost season.

We understand the sporting press digs Yao because he’s accessible, he’s humble, he’s hard-working, and, as former Houston Chronicle sports hack Mickey Herskowitz approvingly noted 4-5 years ago in what was even then a weirdly dated and race-conscious observation, he doesn’t wear those big gold chains around his neck, etc.** And yes, he was having a banner All-Star year, stats-wise, but is it possible the team’s on-court chemistry is enhanced by his absence? Yes, it is possible. And we're pretty sure that Clyde would concur, in so many words.

*It helped that the Rockets were knocking down 3s the way that Roger Clemens used to knock back Vioxx-as-Skittles.

**We like Yao, too, and we write as a someone who once made the near-fatal mistake of dining at his parents’ eatery (is it still open?).

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