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Wednesday September 29, 2010 6:31 PM

Q&A With Shane Battier


Rockets' defensive ace tackles hoops, pigskin, parenthood and more

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

AUSTIN - There are few players better at the interview game than the Rockets' Shane Battier. No matter the subject matter, chances are the Duke product will come through with a thoughful and memorable response. Since it had been so long since we'd last heard from Battier, Rockets.com decided to sit down with the team's defensive ace and play catch-up. What follows is a transcript of our conversation which covered, well... pretty much everything.

JCF: Last year you came into camp knowing that Yao was going to be out the whole season. How is the mentality coming into camp different this time around, after getting a chance to see him on the floor working his way back into playing shape?

SB: I use the analogy that last year was a pretty nice sailboat, about a 25-foot sailboat, that had a lot of holes. And we were in the regatta where our job was to start bailing from the start. We were still a serviceable boat – we still finished pretty well in the regatta – but it was just so tough since we were bailing right from the beginning and we could never really fully patch up our boat. But we finished the race and finished pretty well – better than most people expected us to finish, anyway. This year we’ve got a nice sized yacht and we’re ready to win this regatta.

The expectation right now is playoffs. Again, so much is contingent on health and how you handle adversity. As we’re reminded every day by the papers, we’ve got a bevy of young players and trade chips and expiring contracts that may or may not be used (laughs)...

JCF: You’re not including yourself in there are you?

SB: (laughs) There are a lot of guys I’m including. So you just never know how the year is going to go down. But we think if we keep this group together and we stay relatively healthy, we’ve got a shot to be a playoff team. We think home court (advantage in the first round of the playoffs) is in reach – we’re gonna have to play really well – but regardless we feel we have a team that can win every single night no matter who we’re playing.

JCF: I know this is a question that you’ve already been asked a hundred times and you’re going to get asked a thousand more, but obviously defense has been priority one for this team from the moment camp began. With the personnel that you have, can this team get back to the defensive dominance that it had enjoyed in the years prior to last?

SB: Well, the personnel is a little bit different but our goal is to be a top-10 defense and I think that’s attainable. We have height at the rim and that’s what we so sorely missed last year. Chuck (Hayes) did a fantastic job shoring up the middle and Luis (Scola), too, but again, they were trying to patch up a huge hole left by Yao last year.

I think with the addition of Brad, Jordan Hill is a much improved player I think, and Patrick Patterson, we’re a bigger team and we’ll be able to protect the rim and protect the paint better which gives our perimeter guys a much bigger margin of error and we can be more aggressive on the perimeter. Last year we were pretty passive on the perimeter; we couldn’t afford it because we couldn’t protect the rim. Not to use that as an excuse, but you have to understand what you’re working with. This year we can be more aggressive and we’re going to expect more out of everybody on the defensive end.

JCF: Alright, well go into NBA analyst mode and give us your best breakdown of what you’ve seen from these guys over the first 5 days of camp.

SB: Well we have a very live team, with a lot of live bodies, which is great. We have a lot of young guys trying to improve themselves and a lot of guys who are established who are still trying to prove themselves as well. I sense a hungry group that understands that if we can put it all together, we have a real shot. We’re not the most talented on paper, but for those who have been around other organizations and teams the last couple of years, you know that doesn’t mean a whole lot. If we can put it together and develop team chemistry, especially on the defensive end, we can be pretty good.

JCF: Who’s stood out to you thus far?

SB: I think Courtney Lee really gives us a dimension that is new to us. We didn’t really have a guy who could swing from the wing and play the point guard position, which gives us pretty great flexibility in a lot of regards. He can defend point guards, he’s so good coming off screens – he really is a complete player and he gives us a really good dimension that we didn’t have before.

JCF: So you think he can legitimately handle the point guard spot?

SB: In spot duty, sure. It would be unfair to ask him to play 30 minutes at the point every night, but to ask him to swing over for a bit – he can do that. In our offense it’s not imperative to have a guy to run the show. Courtney has shown he can handle what we need from that position and it really helps us.

JCF: Well let’s talk about the offense for a bit. I think there’s so much misunderstanding when it comes to the public perception of what Rick Adelman’s offense is all about. So break it down for us: in layman’s terms, what is the difference between Rick’s offense and, say, the triangle or other schemes run by different teams?

SB: Well, ironically, the triangle and Rick’s offense are really the same (laughs) – they’re just called different things.

A more traditional offense revolves around the idea of, ‘We’re going to run our cuts regardless of what the defense does, and we’re going to get a shot at a certain point and a certain time on the shot clock.’ But with this offense, you take what the defense gives you and the shot can come anytime and, depending on how the defense plays you, with any read.

So it takes great coordination on the part of the big guys and the guards; you really have to work as a team on offense versus just telling the big guy to ‘Screen this guy,’ or telling the shooter, ‘Come off this screen and your job is to shoot.’ You’re asked to do a lot of things and make a lot of reads on the run in this offense.

JCF: And what about on the defensive end? What are this team’s core defensive principles?

SB: There are three things. You do these three things and you have a chance to be a very good defensive team: you have to keep the ball out of the paint, which includes preventing offensive rebounds; you have to take away the corner 3-point shot; and you have to keep people off the foul line. Sounds simple enough, right? But it’s very difficult to do all three of them. Now we’ve been very good the last five years that I’ve been here doing those things, but we certainly can improve on what we did last year.

JCF: Last spring we spent a lot of time discussing different ideas for how to improve the game. With that in mind, what are your thoughts on the NBA experimenting with the international goaltending rules down in the D-League?

SB: It doesn’t really happen that much in international ball – it happens maybe three or four times a game, so I don’t think it would really be a true game changer, though I guess it might be exciting for the fans. I’m indifferent, really.

(At this point, an eavesdropping Chase Budinger pipes up to make the sage point that Battier doesn’t care for this rule because he’s incapable of jumping high enough to take advantage of it. Naturally, Battier responds with a rant about being a “jaded, old veteran,” who’s ready to “forget the young guys.” The conversation then devolved into a bizarre mixture of pirate noises and a random, out-of-nowhere discussion about Zach Galifianakis’ brilliant “Between Two Ferns” internet videos. Eventually, however, order was restored and the conversation picked up where it had left off)

SB: Now I would love to adopt the international style of timeouts from a game. If you watched the World Championships this summer, you saw that less is more. If they adopted the international model, we could have a longer halftime so we’d still be able to show all the commercials…

JCF: I was going to say, I think David Stern was just about ready to fine you for suggesting that the games have fewer commercial breaks.

SB: Well, you know what? Let’s have a longer pre-game show and a longer post-game show and a longer halftime. But let’s have more basketball action. Do you not agree? Those World Championships were fun to watch!

JCF: I agree they were fantastic to watch, I’m just not sure how I feel about longer pre and post game shows. But I guess nobody’s holding a gun to my head to watch…

SB: You gotta pay the bills, Jay.

JCF: I know, I know. Alright, how are your fantasy football teams doing so far?

SB: Good. I’m 2-1 in both leagues. In the Rockets’ fantasy league, I lost to Daryl last week, but I think Daryl and I have the two best teams.

JCF: What a shocker.

SB: Yeah. He had a huge game from Dustin Keller last week which really won it for him, but in my other league I’m in the catbird’s seat as well. I went with a new strategy drafting a quarterback late, and my depth at receiver and running back is awesome – I’ve never had this much depth before.

JCF: So does this mean you now feel like you’re on the cutting edge of fantasy football strategy?

SB: I do. I actually read a lot about different strategies. I’m going to sound like a total dork, but I actually did a lot of mock drafts this year. And I just felt like if you don’t pick a quarterback until the 9th or 10th round, you can still get a decent quarterback and the value you get up front is just amazing. You’re gonna hit a sleeper in the 5th or 6th round by not reaching for that quarterback.

JCF: Words of wisdom. Too bad we didn’t have this chat a month ago when everyone was conducting their drafts. Well aside from doing your due diligence for fantasy football, I know a huge part of your summer was spending time with your son – what’s the best thing about watching your child grow up right in front of your eyes like that?

SB: Well, honestly it’s the little things every day. When I go in and pick him up in the morning I say, “Hey Zeke!” and he’s standing there waiting in his crib with a big smile on his face and goes, “Hey Dada!” It’s like, oh my gosh – take me now, this is the greatest thing ever.

We’ll wrestle and he’ll tackle me. We’ll play with these miniature little football figurine guys for hours. He loves to do whatever. He’ll sit and watch football with me and he’s just a sweet kid. And anybody who’s got a child will tell you the same thing, but it’s just the small moments you never knew about before you had children that really make it so special.

JCF: With all the concussion studies coming out now, would you let your son play football if he wanted to when he got older?

SB: I would. I had a brother who had to retire because he had concussion problems from football, but I played football and, yeah, it’s a dangerous game. But when I was in the second or third grade, my dad was the coach and it taught me a lot about teamwork and honoring your teammates and toughness, too. So if he really wanted to, I’d let him do it.

JCF: I guess the real question is: would your wife let him do it?

SB: Yeah, we come from a football family. Her grandfather lived Michigan football for 45 years, so we would. We’re not going to push him, of course. Obviously we’ll let him do whatever he wants to do. If he wants to be a concert cellist, we’ll support him with that, too. But he is a lefty. So he might be the next Steve Young. He’s got a sweet arm already.

JCF: Or maybe Michael Vick.

SB: Uhhh, well... Steve Young is in the Hall of Fame. I’m gonna go with him.

JCF: (laughs) Michael Vick is going to be the MVP this year – what’s wrong with that?

SB: Slow down, Jay. They haven’t played anybody.

JCF: Alright, last question: If you were to pick a song, book or movie to symbolize this upcoming Rockets’ season, what would it be?

SB: Well, I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo this summer so let’s go with that (laughs). That was entertaining. That’ll be our team. We look kinda weird but we can take you out.

JCF: Wow. There are WAY too many jokes I could make right now…

SB: Hey, you mess with us… we’re gonna get you in the end. How about that? We were messed with, doubted, counted out and abused, but we’re going to rise above it all and take you out.

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