JVG says the Rockets being "Poor" now is a bunch of bull
Houston Coach Jeff Van Gundy looked tired and worn as he finally made his way into the interview room in the bowels of Toyota Center some 30 minutes after the Rockets sustained two major losses. The least significant loss on this night was the game - a 93-98 setback at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers. The loss everyone wanted to talk about, though, was the loss of star center Yao Ming, who broke a bone in his knee in the first quarter of the game.
"I feel badly for Yao," said Van Gundy. "If there's ever been an athlete who doesn't deserve the bad breaks he's gotten the last two years it's him. He works hard, he's in great shape - so I feel badly for him. That's bad for him, but for us injuries are part of every game, every season, and what we did out there tonight in the second half playing absolutely no defense is inexcusable. It's inexcusable. We have enough to win with and we didn't play that way. And that to me - I feel badly for Yao, but I was very, very disappointed in the group effort in the second half tonight."
It was suggested that the Rockets, who held the Clippers to 17 second-quarter points and led at half time despite the absence of Yao Ming, forgot to play defense in the second half. Van Gundy wasn't willing to let his team off so easily.
"We didn't forget - we didn't play any. There's no reason, no excuse. The Clippers are talented offensively and we didn't have the requisite fight needed to win in the NBA. I couldn't be more disappointed in the group - in the way they dealt with what happened to us. A lot of things happen to you - it's how you deal with what happens to you that shows who you are and what you're made of and what you stand for. I don't think it reflected well on us tonight with the effort we put forward in the second half. 59 points we gave up."
The Rockets would trail by 14 in the fourth quarter before making a furious rally to get within four in the closing minute. Van Gundy rejected the idea that he would take anything positive away from the last-ditch effort, saying that had more to do with the Clippers loss of focus than his own team's competitive spirit.
"No, that's the NBA. The other team stops playing. Winning gives you something to build on. We didn't do what it took to win tonight. Like I said before, that's inexcusable. For what happened to Yao, I could not feel more sorry for an athlete than I feel for him. But I do not feel sorry for us. Injuries are part of this league. Every team goes through them. We had an opportunity tonight to show the great character going forward that I believe we have, but for whatever reason we didn't show it tonight."
If the Rockets are going to go with a conventional starting lineup the only person left to start at center is Dikembe Mutombo. The question is, can Mutombo be counted on to play 35-40 minutes a night? If you do start Mutombo, who starts at the four? Chuck Hayes is a phenomenal rebounder, but doesn't contribute much offensively unless he's out on the break with the guards. Starting him with Mutombo means there are two players on the court who are no threat to score in a half court set.
"I'm going to have to really think about the rotation and how we're going to play," said Van Gundy. "I don't think we have to reinvent ourselves, but we're going to have to rotate differently so that we have enough offense on the floor. We started out the second half with Chuck (Hayes) and Deke (Mutombo) on the floor together and it's just not enough offense."
Shane Battier answered the call offensively when Yao went down, contributing a season-high 28 points. Van Gundy said of all the guys he has to worry about motivating, Battier is the one who comes ready to give his all every night.
"Shane's a hell of a competitor. He is. With Shane, whether it's back-to-back or four in five nights you get the same thing. You may not have the same stat line, but you get the same thing: smart, disciplined player. Coaches and players alike could learn from his example. That's what leadership is: playing the game every day, every play. That's what he does."
In 1999 the New York Knicks, under Jeff Van Gundy, lost Patrick Ewing and had to make up for his absence with strong play from other players. Coach talks about the difference between that situation and the one he finds himself in now with the Rockets.
"Yeah, we played smaller and quicker, but we also had highly experienced, highly proven, winning type players. (Latrell) Sprewell, (Alan) Houston, Larry Johnson, two point guards and an emerging Marcus Camby. We had the depth at that time in New York that teams like San Antonio and Dallas and Phoenix have right now. So we were able to withstand injury with not as good a players, but very proven, reliable veteran players. So it's up to us to be able to figure out something here that gives us a chance to be in games and to win."
What about signing a free agent center and putting someone on the inactive list to make room for that person?
"We could do that, certainly, but what I'm more concerned with is the people on our active list actually being active. How about that? I'm serious. Everybody right now wants to feel 'poor Rockets,' but that's a bunch of bull. Every team goes through bad injuries. We took ours last year and we responded OK. I don't think we responded great. We have a chance to learn from our experiences from last year and respond with great, great character. We flat out failed the test tonight, but I don't expect it to continue. I expect our team to respond and gather ourselves and do a heck of a lot better job."
Six weeks would put Yao out until the end of January, meaning he will miss a stretch of games that includes San Antonio, Dallas, Phoenix, and Utah - all of the top teams from the Western Conference. What are the chances that the Rockets will be anywhere close to contending for a playoff berth when he finally does return? I'm sure the odds are long. If Jeff Van Gundy can coach this team to a playoff berth after missing Yao Ming for a long stretch of important games he should be instantly named Coach of the Year. It will take a small miracle.
I am very glad JVG will do everything he can so the Rockets can keep playing great basketball even without Yao!
What's interesting is that in the off season he went on local radio and the guys were basically saying "you guys didn't do so well this past season, and you always claimed that you had enough to win when Yao and Tracy were out, but c'mon...you're just not gonna win on a regular basis with those kinds of injuries, right?" and Van Gundy said "well, I think to win in this league you have to play great and you have to have great players. We did what we could with what we had".
So he basically admitted that they couldn't win without Yao and Tracy, but now he's reverting back to the claim that "we can win no matter who's on the floor". I guess we do have Wells and Battier now, and Head and Hayes are playing above and beyond how they did last year. Plus they have experience playing shorthanded. I don't know. I just think he should be a little more realistic about the situation. I think it's acceptable to admit that your team is short on talent when you lose an all-star swingman and an MVP caliber center at the same time, especially when the guy you're going to look to in picking up the scoring load is a guy that's just now working his way back into game shape.