The madness of Mahmoud

Looking through old NBA game tapes a few days ago, I came across a classic Rockets-Grizzlies late-season affair from the 2000-2001 season. I say classic because of two things: One, it was the last game played in Vancouver before the Grizzlies departed to Memphis. Two, it was the final game of an illustrious career for one of the greatest shooters/scorers to ever put on a pair of sneakers, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

Abdul-Rauf, the former Chris Jackson before he changed to Islam, played nine years in The Association, averaging 14.6 points on 44 percent shooting. He owns a career 90 percent free-throw percentage, and once scored 51 points in a game, against Utah in 1995. Scoring in bunches was nothing new for the guard, who averaged 29 points on 47 percent shooting in two years at LSU, and was named first team All-American as a freshman.

But he is most known for the following event. It was a situation that essentially got him frowned upon by the league.

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Abdul-Rauf is perhaps best known for the controversy created when he refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games, stating that the flag was a symbol of oppression and that the United States had a long history of tyranny. He said that standing to the national anthem would therefore conflict with his Islamic beliefs. On March 12, 1996, the NBA suspended Abdul-Rauf for his refusal to stand, but the suspension lasted only one game. Two days later, the league was able to work out a compromise with him, whereby he would stand during the playing of the national anthem but could close his eyes and look downward. He usually silently recited a Muslim prayer during this time.

In an apparent publicity stunt gone wrong linked to this controversy, four employees of Denver’s KBPI radio station were charged with misdemeanor offenses related to entering a Colorado mosque and playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a bugle and trumpet, in a provocative response to Abdul-Rauf’s refusal to stand for the national anthem.

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The 6-foot Abdul-Rauf, a mercurial figure to say the least, also overcame Tourette syndrome during his career and was a godsend for basketball purists. He lived on a deadly midrange jump shot. Not much of a 3-point shooter or driver to the rim, he boasted one of the most beautiful releases ever, as quick as a blink, and was a master at using screens to get himself open. This was never more apparent, fittingly enough, in his career finale against the Rockets in the Grizzlies’ 100-95 loss, when he scored 25 points (on 12 of 19 shooting) in 23 minutes, exclusively in the second and fourth quarters.

His performance in the game is a thing of beauty. In a contest that featured a myriad of quick, athletic talents, such as Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Mike Bibby and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, it was Abdul-Rauf, who averaged 19.7 points per 36 minutes played, who stole the show, keeping the Grizzlies afloat early and late. It would be the last game of a terrific career; a career that too often goes unnoticed for reasons that may be obvious.

Still, when it comes to the great shooters and scorers to ever step on a NBA floor, Mahmoud’s name should be up there with some of the greats.

 

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A new road for Rhodes

"The Franchise"

Diehard Rockets fans are familiar with the name Rodrick Rhodes. Rodrick was the 24th pick of the 1997 draft of the Rockets; a prospect so tantalizing broadcaster Calvin Murphy nickamed him “The Franchise.”

As a Rocket, I remember him as an athletic guard who could play either backcourt position; a solid defensive player and passer who was not the best of outside shooters. Rhodes played in 61 games as a Rocket and averaged 5.7 points and less than two assists and two rebounds per game. He shot 36 percent from the field and attempted just eight 3-pointers (making two) during his time in H-Town.

Rhodes enjoyed a five-year NBA career with the Rockets, Vancouver Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks from 1997-2002, and also played professionally overseas in Greece, Cyprus, the Philippines, France and Puerto Rico, before embarking on a coaching career, which has now taken him not far from my location, to Edinburg as an assistant coach with the University of Texas Pan-American.

Here is Rhodes’ bio: http://www.utpabroncs.com/coaches.aspx?rc=150&path=mbball

I have requested an interview with Rodrick, just to get his thoughts on his pro career and his new career in coaching.  Of course, I shall update you should Mr. Rhodes get back to me.

 

State of the Rockets

 

Luis Scola and the Rockets have had a tough go of things this season.

It has been a tough year for the Rockets so far this season. Mind you, I was never delusional enough to see the Rockets as a sincere threat in the West even with a healthy Yao (this team’s defense has regressed so considerably the last two years that it deprived of them of serious contender status), but I certainly never saw this either.

The Rockets are sitting dead last in the Southwest Division at 7-13. The defense, as mentioned, has been horrific, allowing 106.9 points on 46.8 percent shooting, and forcing just 13 giveaways a game. This is a team that won’t truly challenge the league’s elite until the defense improves, and it doesn’t help that its two most significant players – Luis Scola and Kevin Martin – also rate as two of the league’s worst defenders.

Slowly  but surely, the Rockets have sacrificed defense to improve and diversify offensively, and that has come to bite them big time.

Offensively, there is no go-to guy; the team is essentially a slew of role players and second-tier talents without a true playmaker. Aaron Brooks best fits that role, but he’s miscast as a point guard when he’s really a shooting guard in a point’s body.

But they have overachieved more often than not this season, boasting wins over the Lakers and Thunder. There have been glimpses of promise, and that is because this is a team that relishes team basketball.

While there is, indeed, no true interior or perimeter presence to make defenses shake in their shoes, the fact is this is a team where anybody, at any given moment, is a threat to score. The Rockets do a sound job of moving the ball, ranking fourth in the league in assists, and getting quality shots; it’s a testament to Rick Adelman’s offensive system that the team scores 105.7 points per game.

The Rockets, through the motion offense, often catch defenses out of position, leading to a slew of free-throw attempts and open 3s. Houston averages 28.3 free throw attempts a game, connecting on a healthy 79 percent. The Rockets also get a bushel of open, 3s, connecting on 38 percent of their 20.2 bombs per game.

It’s a testament to the Rockets’ willingness to play team ball and to never give up that they are competing hard every game, often falling short when the lack of talent starts to hurt them deep into games.

This team’s fortunes won’t turn around until drastic changes are made. They need a true interior presence, and that may have to come at the cost of Brooks. Yao is who he is at this point, probably a center who can offer no more than 25 minutes per game and get maybe 12/7 a night.

Yao is no longer the team’s centerpiece, and the sooner the Rockets come to terms with that, the better.  Perhaps if the Rockets tried to target the likes of a Marc Gasol, they could see a big boost in production. Not sure Memphis would be willing to be suckered into trading a Gasol a second time around, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try; say like a deal of Jordan Hill, Jermaine Taylor and a pick for Gasol.

Ideally, you’d like, for example, a starting lineup of Gasol, Scola, Battier, Martin and Brooks. Yao would be the backup C, and then you’d have a nice bench of Chase Budinger, Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, and bring up Patrick Patterson. Essentially, the days of leaning upon Brad Miller and Chuck Hayes would be gone; as much as I admire their effort, these are players you can’t be relying upon for big minutes if you intend to be a true threat in the West.

Either way, it starts inside with the Rockets. This is a team that has a history of success playing inside and out, and that style of play wins in the NBA. You don’t need a motion offense to create shots if you have big men who can do that, and having Gasol (or someone along his skill set) and Yao split the 48 minutes gives you room to do that and opens opportunities for Martin and Brooks and the spot-up shooting of Battier.

The Rockets have been said to have been interested in Carmelo Anthony and Andre Iguodala, names that will improve the team but won’t make it better in the long run, or a championship contender for that matter.

GM Daryl Morey promises fans that he is doing his hardest to put a championship team on the floor. For him to do just that, it starts with rebuilding the middle.

It starts with rebuilding the foundation.

 

In her words

Julie and I at a Spurs-Rockets game in early November.

Every now and then, for our new sports magazine, I’ll have my fiance, Julie Daffern, pen a column. It’s to attract women to read the magazine, too. The idea is they’ll pick it up, read it and see that it’s not some barbaric, man-heavy publication that demands none of the interest.

Essentially, we’re looking for the non-sports reader. That’s where Julie’s columns come into play, because she’s by no means a sports fanatic and offers a comical spin to her writing, one where the reader can enjoy and laugh because, more often than not, they could tell a similar tale.

Here is Julie’s column submitted to me on Nov. 15, not long after we took in a Spurs-Rockets game in San Antonio in which the Rockets eventually met their demise in OT.

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I never had any interest in basketball until I moved in with a new roommate my freshman year in college. Her name was Krista and she was from San Antonio. She was also a huge Spurs fan.

Not long after we moved in together, she had me sitting through entire Spurs games. That’s pretty good, considering I have the attention span of a gnat.

It was through Krista that I learned what “flopping” was (shame on you Steve Nash), and it was through Krista that I developed a deep appreciation for the Spurs. It also didn’t hurt that they won the championship that year.

Krista and I had another friend, Lilia, who now coaches a girls’ basketball in Texas City. Lilia taught me to shoot and when to aim for the backboard rather than the rim. I once went around the entire basket shooting while Lilia told me where to aim and I didn’t miss a shot. Her first year coaching in Texas City, she was named “Rookie Teacher of the Year,” and I know she deserved it.

That first year I became friends with Krista and Lilia, Lilia was a Blazers fan. I for the life of me can’t remember why, but she vowed that if the Spurs won the championship in 2007 that she would become a fan, and she was true to her word.

It was nice to have us all rooting for the same team.

I will always love Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but my all-time favorite Spur has always been David Robinson. I love that he isn’t afraid to tout his Christianity, and I once attended a speech he gave to church youth groups after a Spurs loss. That was my first-ever Spurs game. That same year I went to another game, which they also lost. I began to think I brought some bad karma. I stopped going to games.

That is until earlier this month. I had been trying to convince the fiancé (aka “The World’s Biggest Rockets Fan”) to take me to a Spurs-Rockets game ever since we began dating almost three years ago. Well, he finally gave in when we found out the Spurs were hosting the Rockets the same weekend we were planning a mini-vacation in San Antonio.

The fiancé and I have a complicated relationship when it comes to basketball. I like it and enjoy an occasional Spurs game, but the fiancé is obsessed. He watches as many games as he can and even records them on VHS to watch back years later. He’s always quizzing me about basketball trivia, and I don’t know my record exactly, but I’m sure it isn’t good.

He once wrote that I was the Pippen to his Jordan, and he laughed a few weeks later when I said I was the Pippen to his Larry Bird. He told me the two never played together except on the U.S. Olympic Dream Team. I indignantly responded that of course I knew that, and I covered by saying that he and I were the Dream Team.

He gave me a skeptical look. This is a man who has been memorizing statistics since birth.

“I know basketball!” I exclaimed. It’s one of my go-to phrases whenever I say something stupid.

I don’t think he believed me.

So he and I went to see the Spurs play the Rockets. It was pretty great to see the fiancé in his bright red Rockets shirt surrounded by Spurs fans. It was so much fun experiencing basketball with him. I love to see him so passionate, and it was a blast being a part of it.

And the cherry on top was the Spurs winning it in overtime. It was a close one right down to the wire. I had been pretty cocky going in to it all. The Rockets were 0-4 and, well, the Spurs are awesome. In the first two minutes the Spurs were up 11-2, and had scored three three-pointers. It was all going as expected, and I may have rubbed it in the fiancé’s face a bit before karma took over.

The entire rest of the game the Spurs seemed to be chasing the Rockets. I know I should know how many points the Spurs trailed at their low-point, but I have no idea. And, I’m not going to lie, I gave up hope at one point. The Spurs barely squeaked into overtime. It was sloppy, but my team ended up with the “W.”

I’ll take it.

Not only was I finally able to see my team win one, but I was also able to hold that win over the fiancé’s head.

It was a great night.
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Anytime you can get a woman who at least holds a minimal interest in basketball, she’s a keeper. Fortunately for me, Julie was a great catch. She loves the game, adores the Spurs and can tolerate when I watch countless games, cover them deep into the night and then spend my wee hours of the mornings on HoopScribe.

I would be interested in hearing of stories from readers where they’ve tried (successfully or not) to get their significant other to strengthen their bond through basketball. I think then we could only get a true feel for how basketball really is.

If you wish, submit to me your stories or thoughts at my email: densilva2@gmail.com. If you don’t mind me sharing them, I’d love to. It’s my belief that basketball is a game that binds.

Bringin’ it old school

One of the highlights of today was an email I received from my brother that brought back awesome memories of my youth.

It’s the song from the intro from ol’ Rockets days. I used to get CHILLS each time I heard it, whether it was a preseason game or Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.

Pretty memorable. Check it out.

Good ol’ days indeed.

Yes … I’m still alive

I told myself I would get back to blogging here consistently again this weekend. No matter how tired or in pain I may be (thanks to a bulging disc, though the pain is a lot less than it was a month ago), I needed to kick this thing back up.

The 2010-11 NBA season is here, thankfully, as many teams started up media days this past weekend, including the Lakers, Rockets, Nets, Wolves and Knicks, among others.

Other teams, including the much-talked-about Miami Heat, start up Monday.

I first want to offer a congratulations to my friend Pat Zipfel, an advanced scout with the Rockets who added assistant coach to his title prior to the season when another team desired his services.

Pat’s one thing he’s wanted is to be on the bench, i.e. a coach. He is a tremendous scout and evaluator of Xs and Os, but, as he told me, that gift had started to become his curse. Teams saw him as such a talented scout that they never entertained him as an assistant coach.

Fortunately, he got just that when the Rockets added that position to his title to urge him to stay. Good for him. Pat is a hard worker, a genuinely sincere and nice man who has a great respect for others and the game.

I met Pat a year ago through Kaleb Canales, an assistant coach for the Blazers who had worked with Pat a few years ago when the two were with the Blazers. Canales I met because he’s a Laredoan. I did a story on him, got to know him and we stayed in contact ever since. He introduced me to Pat a year ago because he knew of my fondness (to put it lightly) for the Rockets, and Pat, too, stayed in touch. Needless to say, I cheer both on wholeheartedly.

Well, that’s just a short intro. In future posts, I’m going to discuss new rules the NBA has introduced recently, the biggest one being the technicals that will now be handed out for any slight overreaction by players and coaches to fouls that they deem unworthy. Oh, what a topic that will be.

Looking forward for the Rockets

Luis Scola may or may not be with the Houston Rockets next year.

With the NBA draft just days away (Thursday, to be exact), no one knows what to expect from the Houston Rockets.

Their biggest need is frontcourt depth. They’re heavy at wing spots. They don’t need a star player, just a formidable, complementary piece for a team whose core is Yao Ming, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Aaron Brooks and Trevor Ariza.

It’s been said that they want Chris Bosh and will target him pretty heavily. I am against Bosh, who seems to me to be one of those “great players on bad teams, so-so players on great teams” types because of his ineffectiveness when he does not have the ball in his hands, but whatever. He’s not what this team needs.

GM Daryl Morey has also implied often that the Rockets will be very active, as they should be. Morey has done a terrific job of gathering assets to make appealing for potential suitors.

Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry are the restricted free agents, and Morey has publicly stated that they’ll be back.

But, this is a summer of transition for the Rockets, who are looking to jump up in the draft, up ahead from their No. 14 slot. Assuming they get the big, athletic, long body they desire, that would mean Scola’s days could be numbered.

Lowry appears safe. After all, he’s the only true point guard the Rockets have (don’t even dare try and sell me on the fact that Brooks is a legit PG. He’s an explosive scorer in a point’s body).

And while they’ll never ask me, I have my own ideas of how the Rockets should get back on track. I do certainly agree with the search for a shot-blocking big who can clog the paint, finish around the rim and give Yao some much-needed rest.

The Rockets have gone farther and farther away from their defensive identity the last few years. Yes, a large part of that is because Yao was hurt all of last season. But the team has made moves to bring in players who can score and are more efficient offensively than defensively – Martin, Chase Budinger, Ariza has taken a large portion of Shane Battier’s minutes, who has been the defensive ace of the Rockets for years now.

So, yes, priority No. 1 is a big man. Preferably a competent one, not just a lug to throw in the middle and get a rebound or blocked shot here and there.

I also do think the Rockets need a true, legit point guard; the “pass first, shoot second” type that lives to get everybody else shots, not just his own.

I like Brooks a lot, but he’s a scorer and shooter. He is not the most adept at running an offense and getting teammates the ball effectively where they can score. He’s a subpar defender. He lacks size. He is just not a starting point guard on a championship contending team.

A sixth man? Yes. A difference maker, change of pace, playmaker off the bench? Definitely. But Brooks, who had a heck of a year in Yao’s absence last year, only takes shots away from the likes of Yao, Martin, Scola and whichever impact free agent the Rockets choose to pursue.

Do I think the Rockets need to get rid of Brooks? No. Not at all. But he cannot be their starting point guard. Period.

I also think the Rockets made a huge mistake by essentially swapping Ariza for Ron Artest last summer. Artest, if anything, embraced Houston’s defensive identity and gave opponents fits when he and Battier were defending perimeters. They were a nightmare to deal with.

Ariza, meanwhile, is a fine defender, but does not seem to care about basketball as much as Artest. Ariza is a horrendous open shooter – not good on a team with scoring threats like Yao and Martin – and has no ability whatsoever to create offense for himself in a halfcourt set. And this is your starting small forward?

What the Rockets need to do is offer Ariza to Minnesota in some sort of package for Al Jefferson, who Minny has chilled on since they are apparently so against the idea of continuing to play Al with Kevin Love any longer. Perhaps include Jermaine Taylor in the package and maybe a 2nd rounder, I don’t know. Minny needs wing talent, and I’d think we could convince David Kahn that Ariza and Taylor are nice pieces to build around.

Anyway, for the Rockets, let Scola walk, get Jefferson in here and then use free agent money on a wing like Mike Miller, or someone along those lines who can shoot for a high percentage and handle the ball some, especially if you’re so set with Brooks as your starting PG.

EDIT: Just did a trade checker, and a deal of Jefferson/Ryan Gomes for Ariza/Battier/Taylor would work. Perhaps that’s giving up too much, but I’m not sold on Taylor, Gomes, 6-7, 248,  is a really nice complementary piece (10.9 points, 4.6 rebounds in 29 minutes per game, 37.2 3pt% last year, 36.1% for career) and I really think Jefferson would thrive beside Yao and work well as a center when the Rockets went small. Plus this opens the door for more time for Budinger, whose all-around skill set fits better with the Rockets than Ariza’s. Hate losing Battier though. Make Minny throw in a pick.

I think those moves are logical and achievable for the Rockets. A starting lineup of Yao, Jefferson, Gomes,  Miller and Brooks would be dynamic, with a perfect blend of interior scoring, outside shooting and defensive ability. That would leave your prized lottery pick forward, Chase Budinger, Kyle Lowry and Jordan Hill as pieces off your bench. Not a bad team at all.

Of course, I have no clue what the Rockets will end up doing. All I ask is that they somehow regain their ground as one of the premier defensive teams in the league and add some height, bulk and shot-blocking to the frontcourt. That would be a nice start.