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JONATHAN FEIGEN: Rockets again left wanting more

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by vtkp99, Apr 30, 2004.

  1. vtkp99

    vtkp99 Contributing Member

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    http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/printstory.mpl/sports/bk/bkn/rox/2540785
    April 30, 2004, 12:08AM
    Rockets again left wanting more
    Playoff exit shows pieces missing
    By JONATHAN FEIGEN
    Jeff Van Gundy, ever the optimist, looked at the bright side. The guy can't help himself. He's just so cheerful.

    "You hope as guys get a sense for what the playoffs are like, they get hungrier and hungrier as a group," the Rockets coach said Wednesday about the team finally making the playoffs.

    The Rockets' first playoff berth in five seasons ended with a first-round loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. But try as he might, Van Gundy doesn't kid himself, and neither do the Rockets.

    The Rockets might have gained something by getting to the playoffs, not that the experience left them much different. But more than ever, there is a sense the Rockets will no longer wait for the gradual, subtle development of veteran savvy to bring them to another level.

    To get perhaps a better understanding of where the Rockets are after the season, it might be worth looking at how they were going into the season. The foundation of their rebuilding was in place, and a new coach was starting with a blank slate.

    "I think it's an unusual show of confidence in a core group," Van Gundy said a few days before the start of training camp last fall. "It's an unusual show of confidence, trust, belief in a team that has been to the lottery four straight years, to keep it intact."

    The notion over the years was that circumstances kept the Rockets from realizing their potential. A season later, the core is still intact, and the lottery has been left behind. But the Rockets' season ended Wednesday with little more satisfaction than the previous four.

    The "resolve" that Yao Ming had said was missing against the Lakers seems to have been found. It is pointed at addressing the shortcomings the team could not solve during the season.

    "I'm determined to have a team that can compete for a championship, and that's what I have been trying to develop," Van Gundy said before the playoffs. "There is absolutely no frustration. But there is a lot of determination. Sometimes guys have made good progress. Sometimes our team has made good progress. Sometimes we sabotage our progress.

    "I have a good feel for what we need to do to get where we want to go to. I watched every game from last year. ... After two full years of watching, I have a good idea where we're at and what we need to get better. I'm going to keep that to myself. But I do know. I have a good feel."

    Van Gundy said later he was not talking specifically about roster changes, saying changing personnel is just one way to get what the Rockets need.

    But it hasn't been a secret he wanted the Rockets to become more a serious, determined, driven team. Van Gundy said the players already could have shown those qualities more consistently, but he left little doubt he would not spend another season searching.

    If disappointment this season could serve as motivation for next season, the Rockets could gain from pain, though that was the thinking after last season.

    "It's real tough," guard Steve Francis said. "The reality of it is we had games we so-called had late in the game, which we unfortunately lost and it didn't seem we could bounce back as quickly as we should have been able to.

    "It was a pivotal season as far as us getting a new system with a new coach, people saying myself and Yao wouldn't be able to play together, people saying Steve Francis and Jeff Van Gundy don't get along.

    "But I think it was a positive for us. We made a couple steps forward by just making it to this point by being one of the teams to play in the playoffs."

    There was progress made. But overall, the Rockets won two more regular-season games and one more postseason game than last year.

    "Your season is always summed up by your results," Van Gundy said. "It's very simple."

    In many ways, the Rockets were in the end what they had been all along. The Lakers' series did not expose their flaws but confirm them.

    In the game that ended their season, the Rockets were as frenetic as ever, committing 13 of 22 turnovers in the first half. They had 25 turnovers in Game 1. Kobe Bryant, playing with his usual high-speed, high-wire style, had six turnovers the entire series.

    The Rockets averaged 16.7 turnovers in the regular season, 16.8 in the playoffs.

    "You can only be who you are, and we've been that way all year," forward Jim Jackson said. "We haven't found a way to correct that. That's something that in order for us to move on, we have to get much, much better at that."

    Though the Lakers' intensity, especially defensively, did fluctuate, their poise never did. The Rockets, however, lost both games that came down to the final minute and were blown out in two of the three games in Los Angeles.

    "It starts with playing hard enough to win and, in the second half, we didn't fight hard enough to give ourselves a chance," Van Gundy said.


    When it was suggested the Rockets actually had matched the Lakers' talent but fell short in fortitude, Van Gundy let a smile slip and half-agreed.

    "I hope in the future we develop four Hall of Famers," he said. "That would be a great start. The Lakers have a cushion of talent that obviously is remarkable, probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Everybody else in the NBA is talented enough. I do believe tough, smart, intelligent, competitive teams figure out how to play a certain game that will carry them. Part of that is discipline. We need to make a number of improvements obviously."

    The Rockets have begun to retool around the inside abilities and potential of Yao but might still face a decision on the five-year backcourt mix of Cuttino Mobley and Francis. The combination was once a matchup nightmare for opponents.

    A team might have had one defender quick enough to match up when isolated against Mobley or Francis, but few had two. However, they now no longer complement each other as effectively despite Mobley's effort to be a more of a catch-and-shoot guard and Francis' effort to be more of a playmaker.

    But the failed promise and eventual loss of Eddie Griffin has been even more harmful. In Kelvin Cato and Maurice Taylor, the Rockets had a starting power forward with energy on the boards but no shooting touch, and a backup forward who was a consistent scorer but a rebounding liability. Griffin was projected to offer both.

    If the Rockets are to pursue a power forward to replace Griffin's lost potential or mix the strengths of Cato and Taylor, there are free-agent possibilities. The top targets, Rasheed Wallace and Kenyon Martin (a restricted free agent), are expected to remain with Detroit and New Jersey, respectively, and would only be interested in offers far more than the Rockets could offer.

    Mehmet Okur and Marcus Camby are considered in the next echelon, though Detroit and Denver have indicated strong interest in keeping them. Houston resident Antonio McDyess could be a possibility if his right knee is deemed sound. Memphis backup Stromile Swift is coming off his best season but has said he wants to remain with the Grizzlies. Washington Wizards free-agent forward Etan Thomas, who the Rockets looked at when he came out of college in 2000, also could be considered.

    The Rockets are as certain to look for help on the perimeter. Eric Piatkowski began the season on the injured list and never captured the form he had shown earlier in his career. Jackson played more this season than he had in one year during his career. Veteran Mark Jackson filled in as a backup point guard, but the 39-year-old is not considered a long-term solution.

    "This league is very cut and dry," Van Gundy said at the start of the season. "You either win or you lose, you're either a playoff team or a lottery team, or you're a championship team or an also-ran. That's it. You are what your record says you are, whether you are a coach, a player or a general manager. It doesn't matter what your stats are. It's not if you've got talent. You are going to be judged by how much you win."
     
  2. montevideo

    montevideo Contributing Member

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    #2 montevideo, Apr 30, 2004
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2004
  3. Pizza_Da_Hut

    Pizza_Da_Hut I put on pants for this?

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    A lot of peopel are missing the fact that the difference between Houston and LA was 7 points, if we scored just seven more points we would be playing Game 6 in Houston with a 3-2 lead. Houston just needs that extra push, not necessarily a whole engine change. What drives the team is still working and might I say is very in tact but we don't have the role players that LA has. I mean how many times did Robert Horry push both La and Houston out of slumps, how many times did Kareem Rush make LA's presence that much more emphasized. i am royally pissed the way we lost, but I am still proud to be a rocket's fan, I almost feel I don't deserve to be a rockets fan. We stood up to potentially the best team in the league and flinched, but if some shots went our ways instead of theirs (Game one!!) then who knows. We just need, as that annoying anouncer stated a sort of relief pitcher for our team, I'm sorry but Mark Jackson does not cut it! If we are serious about trades, I'd love maybe a Nick Van Exel or something. But I feel as a whole the Rockets will back bigger and of course back again next year. I STILL BELIEVE
     
  4. gucci888

    gucci888 Contributing Member

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    FEIGEN writes articles so much better than Justice/Lopez. Those guys just use the CHRON to state their opinions on the team, and its the same old stuff.
     
  5. BrianKagy

    BrianKagy Contributing Member

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    Feigen is definitely the best journalist in Houston.
     
  6. bobrek

    bobrek Politics belong in the D & D

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    You are making the assumption (certainly not a fact) that if Jackson had hit the shot at the end of Game 1 then everthing would have happened exactly the same in the following games. If the series was 1-1 heading into Houston, don't you think the Lakers would have played with a higher sense of urgency? Or perhaps the Rockets would have been so up,that Houston would have swept the next 3 games.

    Also, in your dream scenario, the Rockets needed to score only 3 more points for a 3-2 lead. 2 in game 1 and 1 in regulation in game 4.

    The only actual facts are that the Lakers won the series 4-1. The Rockets lost two winnable games (1 and 4) and the Lakers lost 1 winnable game (game 3 in which they had a 14 point lead with about 14 minutes left).
     
  7. PhiSlammaJamma

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    Rockets in 9. You've got to believe.
     
  8. RocketsPimp

    RocketsPimp Contributing Member

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    Yeah and we could have been a 1 seed if we had won all of the close games throughout the season.

    :rolleyes:

    Sorry, but that "fact" offers very little comfort. While the Rockets had chances to win a make the series more competitive, they really showed us how far they have to go to make any noise in the playoffs. These Lakers are very beatable, but they also are very experienced. They showed that they can keep it together when things aren't going their way. The Rockets are far from being at that level. They are extremely inconsistent and when the pressure is on, they clearly showed that they are not capable of handling it(Game 5, second half the glaring example).

    Everyone on this team has alot of work to do if they are going to make any improvement next season.
     
  9. edc

    edc Contributing Member

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    It is generally acknowledged that "the process" has not changed. The options are brought to the head coach, and he has the last word on player acquisition. If Van Grumpy has an edict (ie: "Bring me more former Knicks!"), it is CD's job to make it happen.
     

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