Monday, December 31, 2007

Fouls on Yao, Trade Rumors and New Year's Eve Tradition

To those of you asking for the YouTube user who is posting and I guess categorizing this season's poor officiating of Yao, I couldn't find him/her. But watching this clip over and over again should be enough to trigger your disgust for officials league-wide. Nies is considered one of the best.

To commenter "tor" who dropped the dime on the clips, get back at us with a URL or username or something. We all want to admire NBA's most inept.
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Commentor "Rob" posts this little tidbit from the Chicago Tribune:

"Houston, with Luis Scola coming on, won its first back-to-back set and had at least five players in double figures for the second straight game, both without Tracy McGrady. It's giving the team more reason to move McGrady, who is said to have quietly let it be known he's no longer happy in Houston. With the Rockets still in need of a point guard, you could see them working out a package that includes Hinrich and Andres Nocioni."
Is that the move? Fellow blogger Duke Hogwild will settle for no less than Hinrich and Luol Deng... I'll send him to negotiate so he can directly explain the rationale for Chicago taking that deal. It's like one of those fantasy basketball trade offers you just dare the other team to take. It's more like an insult. Still, it seems a little too soon to move Mac, this could all be unfounded rumor, but would you be any more motivated if it was Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas?
• • •

In what's becoming a family tradition, my brothers and I will be at the New Year's Eve game tonight vs. Golden State. This should be a real test of that balanced offense we've been seeing. We'll probably be in the Yao Ming fan club section. Hope to see you all there.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Yao Line 12.20.07: Just Short of Picture Perfect

51:36 min | 26 pts | 9-22 FGs | 8-9 FTs | 19 rebs | 6 asts | 2 blks | 2 TOs | 3 PFs | recap

The stage was set. When Denver's Eduardo Najera hit two big 3FGs that seemed to bury the Rockets for good, they clawed back in it, tied the game at 94 and after a big stop on the defensive end, found themselves with :17 seconds left and a shot to win. Yao Ming's turnaround jumper was just short. Short at the rim and short of being the picture perfect ending to what was thought at least by everyone at TNT to be a highly unlikely effort by our struggling Rockets.

After facing Dwight Howard and the Magic for 42 minutes the night before, Yao put on his season's best performance against the reigning Defensive MVP, Marcus Camby (who was limited to only two, albeit very big, points). Yao gutted it out for a career high 51:36 minutes and led this Rockets team to a gutsy performance that fell just short in double OT. He didn't make every shot down the stretch and didn't make every defensive play, but he led. That's what was different about this team in this game. He directed the Rockets and they followed. They hit big shots and finally started covering Yao's back. And in a fix, they looked like an actual team for once.

Which brings up the TNT halftime show and Magic Johnson, who made what some might call a rare concise and less than obvious observation. The Rockets must trade either Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady. The combination has failed, there must be a change. And when asked which one he would trade, Magic said T-Mac. I have to admit, I've never really thought of trading one of them. But watching Yao lead his team in the second half and the Rockets move the ball better than they have all season, it started to make some sense.

With T-Mac out, Houston wouldn't be expected to be much more than a .500 team and a low playoff seed--which would still be better than where they are now. The Rockets with T-Mac are supposed to be an elite team. A trade wouldn't work any miracles, but it might give the Rockets a fresh start and a definitive identity; and maybe they can get a young athletic power forward with the deal. The point is, it wasn't a perfect game, Rockets guards (namely Rafer Alston) made some costly turnovers and struggled to control the tempo at times, but there were moments of tremendous team cohesion and Bonzi Wells looked just as good a sidekick to Yao as anyone else. Luther Head came up big as we started to expect from him last season and Aaron Brooks gave a little taste of just what he's capable of. In other words, the prospect of life without T-Mac suddenly didn't look so terrible. A win would have solidified that idea. I've been a fan of Mac over the span of his career and still am, but is it time to let him go?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Creating a Tougher, Better Yao

I was forwarded by commenter, CYE, two different takes from the basketball blog HoopsVibe on Yao's recent assessment of the Rockets' lack of intestinal fortitude. They can basically be summed up as such: Oly Sandor proposes on his blog that Yao's stepping up vocally in a meaningful way is his coming-out party into legitimate superstardom, from second fiddle to franchise. The second is Jason Kelly's response to Sandor's blog, in which he believes that speaking out is not necessarily a mark of superstardom, but rather of maturing leadership. He believes that Yao should is the franchise and by default should be the leader, but Kelly feels like it's a role Yao's reluctant to take.

That's all very sensible, but I didn't think there was any debate on whether or not Yao was a superstar. Like it or not, Yao has been a superstar and so has T-Mac, that term has nothing to do with leadership, but of talent and great appreciation from fans. Yao and T-Mac are bonafide superstars but are they winners? I think that might be the more appropriate term. Because they are leaders already, whether unwittingly or consciously they lead this team, the Rockets can only go as far as they lead them. They might not fully realize the enormity of their impact yet, but Yao looks like he's starting to get the idea. So, they are superstars, they are leaders, no question, but are they winners yet? No.

But even Hakeem took a little while. He wasn't always unbeatable. Winners can often take time. Dream was once just an All-World athlete with anger management problems and no jumpshot. He worked on his game, and became a winner over the course of years of honing his craft, but he wouldn't have been able to do it alone. There were other winners on those Championship teams. Clyde, OT, Mario, Sam I Am, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, even Mad Max. Does this current team have those kinds of winners?

It might not even matter, this isn't that team. Neither Yao or T-Mac have quite reached the "maturity" level mentioned in the HoopsVibe story to make a really significant Championship run. Talent is talent. Winning is a whole different monster. They need more time. Think about it like this, it's taken Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen this long to get on a legitimate contender, let's not start jumping the gun on Yao and T-Mac. Don't get it twisted, the Rockets need to right this ship right now, and a win in Detroit, is a righting those rudders, but this is still a long-term deal.

How many of us fans looked at this roster at the beginning of the season and started thinking Chip? Let's get the Rockets out of the first round first. Yao looks like he's up to the challenge. It looks as if he's finally embracing his role as a leader on this team. Let's face it, T-Mac, as talented as he is but with all his idiosyncrasies, he may never be the kind of leader (read: winner) we expect or are used to. I don't necessarily buy concrete formulas for winning when it comes to the very human arena of professional sports, but if it's a winner you're looking for, it's Yao we'll have to keep an eye on.

UPDATE (12/14, 10:42a): Jack McCallum over at has an interesting and tough take on Tracy McGrady.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Yao Line 12.12.07: A Gutcheck Win

43:49 min | 21 pts | 9-21 FGs | 3-6 FTs | 13 rebs | 3 asts | 1 stl | 4 blks | 1 TO | 2 PFs | recap

It wasn't pretty but any win against the Detroit Pistons is a win against the Detroit Pistons. The Rockets' FT shooting could have been a record low, but they kept getting to the line and salvaged it somewhat. What was more encouraging than that was the performance Yao and T-Mac down the stretch. They did what we've wanted them to do all season, take over in the final minutes with authority. And Rafer Alston even hit a key 3-pointer just when the Rockets needed it, putting them up 66-63 with 6:49 left in the game. It was all Yao and Mac after that.

Yao had 9 pts and T-Mac 5 pts to finish the game. T-Mac was feeling it from the perimeter all night and hit a couple of more key jumpers, though you'd prefer him to take it to the hoop late in the game. But Yao might not have had 9 more gutsier points this season. With Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups doing their best to steal this one, Yao demanded the ball and forcefully dropped huge buckets right over the top of Wallace, who's no slouch on D and pretty crafty at that. He had no answer for Yao. And you could see it in their eyes, Wallace and Yao. They both knew it. 'Sheed loves to taunt opposing post players who try to post him up, bringing a healthy disrespect for the league's big men. He said nothing to Yao in the 4th.

Feigen writes a beautiful little piece on what real toughness is--it's Yao Ming. Yao Ming Mania has your pics.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Yao Lines 12.09.07 & 12.10.07: When it Rains it Pours

Dec. 09: 38:27 min | 15 pts | 5-10 FGs | 5-6 FTs | 6 rebs | 1 ast | 3 blks | 3 TOs | 1 PF | recap

Dec. 10: 33:19 min | 12 pts | 3-11 FGs | 6-6 FTs | 9 rebs | 2 TOs | 1 PF | recap

Pardon the inactivity for the past few days, though honestly, I don't have much to say about these last two. Threw my back out in a rec. league championship game and I've been bed-ridden for a few days, but I'm actually kind of happy I missed the last two games. Catching up, I read through Fran Blinebury's blog entry, "Take me to your leader" and well, he makes a great point... one I hadn't really thought of. Jeff Van Gundy was the fire. And now with him gone, nobody else has stepped up. Yao looked as if he was ready two games after releasing his inner 'Sheed but now it seems he's relapsed. For everyone, who's wanted Stevie Franchise back in the mix, he's started the last two games... two of the worst games the Rockets have played this season.

Is it a forgone conclusion? Is there no leader on this team? Are Yao and T-Mac simply incapable of stepping up? That would pretty much mean giving up on this squad, not just this season, but for good.

As it is, this is pretty much rock-bottom, letting it get any worse than this is giving this season away, yes, even just 22 games in. They need to have this be one of those sports cliches they'll remember this at season's end as the spark that lit the Rockets fire. It's the turning point. Turn it around or turn and go home. Nobody needs a leader to go home. It's the other way that needs guts.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Yao Line 12.08.07: Bokie Got It

39:18 min | 25 pts | 9-18 FGs | 7-7 FTs | 11 rebs | 5 asts | 3 blks | 3 TOs | 4 PFs | recap

Yao knew it was you, Bokie... and It breaks his heart. Maybe not.

Yao racks up his 12th double-double of the season and for the second straight game plays with a little spicy in his crawl. How did Rick Kamilah phrase it over at Yao dunked over the whole state of New Jersey. Yea, and Bokie Nachbar, too. I know that because running back on defense, he turns to Steve Francis, laughing, "I dunked on Bokie."

He dunked on him nasty like. It's the nastiest dunk I've ever seen Yao put down, it just had to be on Bokie. It was like Michael Corleone sending Fredo out fishing for the last time. Unfortunate but necessary. Bokie got posterized. And I'm loving this new side of Yao. Dunk it. Just dunk it.

5 assists were good to see, too, which means Rockets supporting cast members were hitting shots. It was an all-around solid game, as Jon points out in his recap. When the Rockets play like this, they look hardly beatable. Finding consistency in this will be the key. As it is, San Antonio wins their 12th straight at home, even if Utah was robbed, to stay undefeated there--that late offensive foul on Boozer suggests that Yao isn't the only big man that officials have a hard time officiating. Hornets win, too, but Mavs have lost two in a row. Rockets are 5 games back in the Division, but only 1 game back from Dallas who's 1 game back of New Orleans. Yea, it's a tough division.

Yao Ming Mania has game photos.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

If China boycotted the NBA

There have been grumblings of a nation-wide Chinese boycott of the NBA on the message boards.

It won't happen, probably... not the entire country's viewing audience, anyway, but if somehow enough viewers were to organize and boycott watching the NBA and buying NBA-related products--or even if they just threatened the NBA office of such a boycott--until Yao Ming gets better officiating, what would happen?

Stern would probably have to listen and probably have to do something, but I'd expect mostly lip service. Lots of promises of this and that, but no real definitive measures would be taken. Yao might get more benefit of the doubt, but he might be unwittingly fostering resentment in some fraternity of NBA referees. How much further the Chinese public and Chinese American citizens here are willing to go one can only imagine. What you can be sure of is backlash in the American media.

Yao would be deemed a crybaby. Who gets an entire country to boycott for a guy when he doesn't get his away... I mean, other than a president. And even though Yao would have nothing to do with it, he would catch all the flak. It's enough that people still sneer (and misguidedly so) that Yao has 1 billion people to vote him into the All-Star game. How about 1 billion people boycotting the NBA? He would get inundated by a prying media and hostile fans, all who just don't know any better, as if he summoned his people to boycott on his behalf. And he would have to explain himself and politely ask the Chinese people not to boycott. And that would have minor backlash of its own, as if Yao didn't appreciate his fans. So, what good exactly what a very specific player-based boycott, do? Seems like the harm outweighs the benefits.

But beyond that hypothetical, it just seems odd to boycott a professional sports league on the basis of one player. The truth is, the officiating is at best very inconsistent in the NBA. If anyone wants to boycott, boycott the whole league. Is anyone else still unsatisfied with Stern's handling of gambling referees and the Donaghy controversy? Does anyone else look at a string of bad calls and swear its point-shaving? In the summer, when the Donaghy incident first went public, there was a lot of talk about public mistrust and how the NBA might suffer, then time passed, pre-season came and went, blockbuster moves were made, hype, hype, hype and suddenly nobody could wait for the NBA to start. And once it did, everyone seemed to be okay with it. But they're not. It's taken some time, it's had to seep back up through their subconscious, but now fans are getting disgruntled and they have something very specific to pin that bad officiating on. And it isn't pretty. So if Stern doesn't do something about his referees--and I'm not saying I have any idea how he can even begin to approach this--it seems like good or bad, for Yao or anyone else, there may be boycotts on the rise.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Yao Line 12.01.07: Yao's Inner 'Sheed

37:11 min | 29 pts | 8-15 FGs | 13-13 FTs 11 rebs 1 ast | 2 blks | 3 TOs | 6 PFs | recap

Houston didn't look very good in this one. Yao and T-Mac were solid enough on offense but defensively, the Rockets as a team couldn't stop Sacramento from doing basically anything they wanted on offense. It was a tough one to watch, but it was interesting to see Yao get fired up at the officiating, even if it was after they had already preposterously fouled him out.

I didn't get to fact check this, but I believe this is the first time Yao's ever been ejected from a NBA game. I guess this kind of fire is what we've been asking for in Yao, but seeing him react so out of character raised some interesting questions. Isn't what fans, critics and perhaps even coaches want to see from Yao pretty much condemned in this league when acted out by other players, mostly of African American descent. It seems to be a double standard, but in what ways is it relevant? What are the implications of wanting some players to be... let's say spirited, while telling others to be less so?

I even find myself to have some part in this double-standard. Though I don't often think less of players for acting out in games, I'll admit that from Asian American perspective, Yao's act was affirming in a way, maybe even encouraging to see Yao express himself in anger. After all this time of being poorly officiated (as big men often are), he had had enough and felt compelled to show everyone watching that he couldn't take it anymore. No one outside of Sacramento wouldn't fault Yao for throwing in the towel so to speak, but Yao's reaction was actually kind of refreshing. It carried the idea that a man's nature does change; but also, the notion that maybe that was never Yao's nature to begin with and not a completely valid stereotype. We've seen increasing increments of Yao's change (or perhaps release) from what was once thought to be a cultural and bound passivity over the past few years. And though it was just one ejection for a fairly innocuous act, could it finally be the tipping point for a more spirited Yao?

Maybe I'm over-thinking it. I mean, how constructive has acting out about the officiating ever been? It's always seemed to work better for players when you take it out on your opponents and let the officials sort it out. But we'll see soon enough whether this is a sign of Yao letting out his inner 'Sheed. And what that means for the NBA, it's image and it's millions of Chinese fans.

For now, it's still the fire on the hardwood and toward the opposing team that we need to see. Yao's already an immense presence off the court. He says all the right things, puts the onus on himself night in and night out and takes the blame when the team doesn't perform up to par. Yao's continuing growth still needs to translate that in his presence on the court. Last night's outburst might have been a step in the right direction. And then, it might not.

Yao Ming Mania has your pics.