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Monday September 20, 2010 3:54 PM

Ready For Lift-Off


Q&A with Houston Rockets' swingman Courtney Lee

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - With the start of Rockets training camp rapidly approaching, the Toyota Center practice court is the place to be as players start ramping up the intensity level in an effort to make sure their games are good to go. You see a sharper focus during the various training drills players perform and the competition taking place during the daily scrimmages is certainly heating up as well.

So with the guys getting ready for the 2010-11 season, it's time for us to do our part as well. And what better way to do so than to catch up with the various members of the team to find out what they've been up to this summer? Today Rockets.com sat down with one of the newest members of the team, Courtney Lee.

JCF: How was your summer?

CL: It was good. I took about a month off to do a little traveling and then got right back to work, getting in the gym and working on my game. I got traded over the summer, so that was a plus, too – I’m back with a good organization and a good team with one thing in mind: to win a championship and play together, and I’m just happy to be a part of it.

JCF: What part of your game did you focus on the most this summer?

CL: I worked a lot on ball-handling. I wanted to get comfortable with the ball in my hand, especially doing a lot of pick-and-roll sets from the top and on the side. Then we always do a lot of shooting – coming off screens, etc. – just to sharpen up the craft. Then I also did a lot of agility work that will translate into how I play defense.

JCF: Speaking of your shooting, you shot the ball exceptionally well from 3-point land your rookie year but then tailed off last season. Do you feel like it was a mechanics issue, or did it simply have more to do with the fact you received a lot more open looks in Orlando than you did in New Jersey?

CL: I’d say it was a mixture of both. I mean, when I miss shots, I’m missing them because I’m doing something wrong. But there’s no question I forced the issue sometimes – I was rushed into it because the shot clock was running down and what not – and my first year I benefitted from Dwight Howard getting a lot of attention, and (Hedo) Turkoglu making plays, and Jameer (Nelson) and Rashard (Lewis) on the court also, since they’re both 3-point threats. The defense had to pick and choose who they were going to leave open – one of us was going to knock it down.

So it was a little bit different (in New Jersey), but now I’m back on a team that stresses playing the right way. You have an inside presence, you have good guards and you have a ton of people capable of knocking down 3s, so the defense is going to have to make those decisions again; they’re going to rotate, they’re going to leave somebody open, and that open guy has to be able to knock down open shots.

JCF: Now that you’ve had more time to digest the trade that brought you here, what other thoughts have you had about this team and your role with it?

CL: I feel good about coming to this team. I really don’t know my role yet, as far as what they expect me to do, but I’m sure once training camp starts and Coach gets a feel for how everybody plays and what some players are capable of doing, then the roles will be drawn up and defined.

But as for me, I’m happy to be a part of this team and I’m looking forward to getting started. I’m in the Western Conference now, so there are going to be a lot more difficult games, but I’m just looking forward to competing for a championship again and having fun.

I feel like I can fit in well. There are so many different roles you can throw at me. I can be a defensive stopper with Shane Battier who’s also an excellent defender: Shane and I could be the two lock-down guards. You can make me a complementary scorer who helps the guys who do the majority of the scoring like Yao, Kevin (Martin) and (Luis) Scola. Anything you need me to do, I’m willing to do it just to help this team win.

JCF: You’ve had a chance to scrimmage with a lot of these guys the last week or so – what have your initial impressions been?

CL: Everybody is playing to their strengths and that’s really stood out. I mean, Aaron Brooks comes down and executes the pick-and-roll, gets it to the open man, and also knocks down open shots. Jermaine Taylor is playing well, scoring in transition, coming off pick-and-rolls and being athletic. Jordan Hill is clogging the paint and being a force down low. Patrick Patterson is making effort plays and playing defense and rebounding. So everybody has really stood out in their own way.

JCF: Has anyone surprised you?

CL: Ishmael (Smith) has surprised me. For being his size, I didn’t think he could jump that high, but he can get up there with the best of them.

JCF: He’s so quick it’s incredible. Who’s faster: Ish or AB?

CL: I’m going to put myself first, then AB, then Ish.

JCF: Really?!? You’re kidding me, right?

CL: That’s the truth right there.

JCF: Wow. You’re putting yourself above both of those guys? Are we talking in terms of quickness or just straight-line speed?

CL: Straight-line speed. Then quickness, in terms of just getting from A to B zigzagging, I’m going to put me and AB at the top, though Ishmael’s not too far behind us.

JCF: Well, I think some sort of race definitely needs to happen to measure this. Anyway, changing subjects for a bit: the first time we spoke, I recall you saying that you enjoy drawing in your spare time. Is that something you’ve done a lot of this summer, or is it more a case of just doing it when the mood strikes?

CL: That’s exactly it. I do it when I feel inspired and the mood hits me. I did a little bit throughout the year, especially on the road since we’re in the hotel a lot in between games. I pull out the drawing pad then. It just happens, especially when I’m bored (laughs).

I’ll draw anything that’s in front of me. I might just sit there and draw the kitchen and shade, or I might be watching a cartoon and draw that.

JCF: Did you ever have any passion to pursue that?

CL: I actually did in 5th grade when I had an art class where we had to draw a rose and mine was selected to go to a museum, and while it was there it won awards, so after that I was like, “I can draw a little bit.” My teacher tried to push me, but I was more interested in going to recess and getting out there and running around.

But I still draw quite a bit. One of my teammates and close friends passed away and I used to draw him non-stop for awhile. And I draw my grandmother and grandfather a lot.

JCF: That’s really cool. Alright, a couple more basketball questions before I let you go. I know it’s so early, but what are your expectations for this team right now?

CL: We should be shooting for nothing less than a championship. We’ve got a good group of guys who are capable of doing everything. We’ve got rebounders, we’ve got scorers, we’ve got defenders and shot blockers. We’ve got good depth where on any given night we can throw a wave of anybody at you, so I think we can definitely contend for the championship.

JCF: Tell me how you’re a better player today than you were at the end of last season.

CL: I’m so much better. Me and Coach David Thorpe looked over a lot of film this summer, both from New Jersey and my first year. We compared the way I was playing and what I was doing better and what I was doing worse. Once we broke all that down, we just dissected my offensive and defensive game and put a lot of stuff in, and worked on a lot of stuff that I hadn’t been doing well. It’s important to locate your strengths and tendencies, so you can work on ways of doing things differently.

JCF: What were the weaknesses you felt you had to work on?

CL: In pick-and-roll, I would always like to go right, then if the bigs stepped up I would attack left. So we worked a lot on me going left initially, to set me up to go right. Then when I get in the paint, I usually do a little float shot, so instead he helped me develop other moves that set each other up, all while pretending as if a big is there waiting at the rim. And we also worked on a lot of different floaters from the left and right side, while shooting with both the right and left hand.

JCF: Do you feel like people are going to be surprised when they see Courtney Lee on the floor this year?

CL: They’re not just going to be surprised by me, they’re going to be surprised by how the Rockets are going to play. I feel good. This is a really good group of guys. I got a chance to talk to Coach Adelman today and just by speaking with him it feels like I’m on the right page as far as the team’s expectations and goals. I think everybody is going to be surprised by this team. But as far as myself is concerned, you’re going to see a transformation from what you saw a year ago.

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