Posted Mar 23 2011 10:17AM
Rick Adelman came to Houston to help an underachieving Rockets team, with two All-Stars, get over the hump.
Then he ran into nothing but more humps.
Tracy McGrady missed 100 of 217 games due to injury before he groused and was traded in February last season to the Knicks.
Yao Ming, who played just five games this season before going onto the shelf with another broken bone in his foot, has missed 180 of 317 games since Adelman became coach.
Yet the surging Rockets currently sit in ninth place in the West standings, at 37-34, close enough to put their hot breath on the necks of the Rudy Gay-less Grizzlies for the conference's final playoff spot.
How the Rockets have done it would certainly rank with the pyramids and Stonehenge among life's great mysteries if it weren't for another unfathomable question sitting on the front burner: Why is Adelman being shoved toward the door?
In a word: boredom.
The Rockets, like virtually every other sports franchise in the 21st century, have a palate that changes more quickly than a fat man pushing his tray down a buffet line.
By the end of Hall of Fame finalist Rudy Tomjanovich's tenure in 2003, team owner Leslie Alexander wanted discipline and defense. So he brought in hard-nosed grinder Jeff Van Gundy -- and four years of 81-80 games in which offense was as ponderous as an elephant giving birth.
The four seasons of Adelman that followed have made the Rockets more high-scoring, more fun to watch and, most importantly, always competitive, no matter how many injuries or obstacles have been thrown in their path.
But Alexander now seems ready to overlook tangible results for an elixir that can somehow transform his starless roster into a championship contender.
With a contract that's expiring, the Rockets have not offered Adelman an extension like the ones given to Nate McMillan in Portland and George Karl in Denver. He's been told they'll get back to him at the end of the season, hardly an endorsement.
"Surprised? Yeah, I think I am," Adelman said. "I think we've done a really good job. I don't know what else they want us to do when you lose your two best players and you make the changes we've made."
In the past two seasons, the Rockets have had 30 different players on their roster. When forward Luis Scola was sidelined recently for five games due to injury, they used a starting lineup that had 15 total years of NBA experience. Yet, Houston continued to gain ground in the West standings.
"I think we've kept them going and we've kept them believing and if you looked at the situation realistically, I think you've got to say we've done a good job," Adelman said.
There are coaches like Phil Jackson who cultivate larger-than-life images, what with his 11 championship rings and wry Zen-master views on life. There are the peripatetic characters like Larry Brown who flit from town to town like pollinating bumblebees, leaving wisdom and stings behind. There are one-city icons like Jerry Sloan who practically fill up the locker room and the arena with the sheer force of their personality.
Adelman fits into none of those molds. But in an NBA coaching career that began in 1988, he has compiled 939 wins -- ninth on the league's all-time list. His teams play smart, play hard and they win.
In four seasons with the Rockets, his .590 winning percentage is the best in franchise history, which is all the more impressive considering that at least half of those games were without Yao or McGrady -- or both.
"The situation is totally different from the one that was here when I came," Adelman said. "We were coming into a situation with a team that won 50 games, had two All-Stars, was starting from a certain base and expecting to go from there. Then everything changed.
"This is totally different. It's been a whole different challenge. It's a different team to coach, but I think we've accepted what's been given to us."
The Rockets are still in the fight because they have a 6-foot-6 starting center in Chuck Hayes who never backs down. They have a puncher's chance because their point guard, Kyle Lowry, refused to accept his backup label. They take the floor with a plan and with hope because Adelman has not turned his back on them.
Time and again over his four seasons, the Rockets have traded away veterans to get young players, Draft choices or better contracts. This season at the trade deadline, they dealt last year's leading scorer (Aaron Brooks) and their best defender (Shane Battier). Yet they are 9-3 since those deals.
"I don't know if agreeable is the right word when sometimes they do things for reasons other than basketball," Adelman said. "But I've learned you can get really ticked off about it. You can brood. You can be a malcontent and everything else. Or you can turn and say, 'OK, this is what I have. Let's see what I can do with it.'
"Because that's the only way the players are going to stay with it. If they still feel you believe in them, they'll continue to play and that opens it up for them to be that way. So I've learned that if I can't control things, at least I can take that challenge head on and see what I can do with it.
"There have been times in the past -- and I won't say what they were -- that I really didn't agree with something that was going to happen. Sometimes it's worked out where we've been able to manage with it. I'm hoping that maybe that's what we can do here. Maybe we can create a little magic here at the end of the season. It will be hard, but these guys have given me everything. They've been a pleasure to watch, guys like Chuck and Kyle who just continue to grind it out and don't get a lot of respect for it."
The Rockets have floated out the word that maybe Adelman, at 64, has had enough, that he's looking for a time and a place to put his feet up.
"That's wrong," Adelman said. "It's up to Leslie to decide what he's gonna do for the future. If he decides he's going to make a change, the ball's not in my court then. I would think I would have other opportunities if I wanted to do something."
And he undoubtedly would. But only if the Rockets flub their opportunity to keep him around first.
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