News And Notes
Budinger reflects on dunk contest invite, K-Mart back on track
HOUSTON - As soon as news filtered though Thursday morning that Chase Budinger was going to compete in this year’s Sprite Slam Dunk competition, the inevitable questions arose: What will the Rockets’ high-flying forward come up with? Will he use props? Enlist the help of a teammate? Or perhaps pay homage to his beach volleyball background by incorporating a little sand and a bikini-clad assistant?
Well, whatever he has in mind, Budinger isn’t sharing. Truth be told, he’s still in the process of figuring out what he will unleash during the All-Star festivities in Orlando.
This much, however, is known: The third-year player out of the University of Arizona understands that the evolution of the dunk contest has brought us to a point in which flair and the accompanying theatrics are now perhaps even bigger factors than the actual slams themselves.
“What this dunk contest has evolved into is a lot of using props and trying to be unique because you really can’t do new dunks,” Budinger said. “Everybody has pretty much done all the dunks in everybody’s repertoires. All it is now is trying to be creative and to get the crowd involved and make it exciting.
“It’s a huge honor. Ever since I was a little kid, you watch the dunk contest and you watch all the players who have been in it. The opportunity arose where they asked me and I’m not going to turn that down ever.”
This year’s competition will include a couple new twists, including a new single-round format in which the winner will be chosen solely by fan vote. For the first time ever, viewers will be able to cast votes via Twitter (voting via text and nba.com will still be enabled as well), incorporating a social media element into the proceedings. Budinger, however, wants to take the fan participation angle one step further, saying he’s open to any and all dunk suggestions that come his way leading up to the event.
“Feel free to tweet me, Facebook me and things like that I’m open to suggestions,” he said. “I thought (the added social media element) was pretty cool. You watch all the television series like Dancing with the Stars and a lot of that has to do with social media and voting for people so I thought that was a cool little twist the NBA has added to the dunk contest.”
Budinger and the rest of his Rockets teammates returned to the practice court Thursday, still riding high off the club’s thrilling 96-95 win over Oklahoma City the night before. Not surprisingly, Kevin Martin’s return to form was the story that dominated the headlines as K-Mart bounced back from a rough road trip by scoring a team-high 32 points to help lead Houston to victory.
Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale was obviously pleased to see Martin break out the way he did, but for reasons that go far beyond the success of any individual player. McHale forever preaching the benefits of proper spacing, ball movement and body movement views Martin as a team barometer of sorts, saying that his starting two-guard’s involvement and production are typically strong indicators of the level of offensive execution Houston happens to be displaying on any particular night.
“If our offense is moving and we’ve got thrust, the ball is going up and down the floor and we’re playing with some pace, (Martin) plays well,” said McHale. “If we don’t he struggles sometimes. But it’s not just him; our whole team struggles with that. He’s just a very good indicator of how we’re playing. If we have movement and everything, Kevin is such a smart player that he finds openings. But if there’s no movement, it’s just hard for him to break free sometimes.”