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Friday December 9, 2011 6:25 PM

Off And Running

Rockets hit the court for first day of training camp

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Nothing like a nice, relaxing, uneventful transition from the offseason to training camp.

OK, so the Houston Rockets enjoyed nothing of the sort Friday afternoon at Toyota Center – not with rumors flying fast and furious throughout the NBA for the past 24 hours. But credit to all involved, none of the hovering circus had any visible effects on the Rockets players or coaches as they opened camp with a spirited, up-tempo, 3-hour practice session.

We’ll get to the aforementioned circus a little later, but first a rundown of the workout itself. New Head Coach Kevin McHale has made no secret of his mission to make the Rockets a tougher, better rebounding, and better defensive team so it should come as no surprise that the squad spent much of Friday’s practice focusing on that end of the floor.

Lead Assistant Kelvin Sampson led many of the drills and it didn’t take long to figure out the reason behind the fact many of his pro and college teams have featured tough, hardnosed defenses. Sampson is an intense and natural teacher, and he ran the players through high-energy drills on the fundamentals, starting with something as simple as the proper defensive stance before taking the team through the importance of proper rotations, ball denials and communication. He especially hammered home the need for everyone involved to master the art of closing out on shooters; an all-out, every-play philosophy that falls right in line with McHale’s oft-repeated mandate that this will bea full-effort team.

“We made a big emphasis on the defensive end,” said McHale after practice. “We’re going to get better in three areas: defense, rebounding, and spacing and moving the ball from side to side. I think if we can do that the rest of the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”

After practice, McHale singled out Luis Scola and Kevin Martin for their efforts in a nod to both their talent and professionalism. Those two, of course, along with point guard Goran Dragic (who did not practice due to a sprained ankle), have been the focus of a firestorm of trade talk the past 24 hours, and all were on time and on hand for the first day of camp showing nothing but class and professionalism in the face of the dizzying news cycle. In fact, prior to Friday’s practice McHale sat down with each player individually to discuss the matter and then started the session by addressing the group as a whole.

“In the NBA, this is our family,” said McHale. “It’s our group. If we’ve got problems, we don’t go hide in a room with one guy, we stand up and talk in front of everybody. We had a family meeting and we discussed what was happening – that’s how I do things.

“So we talked about some stuff, we talked about adversity and talked about things that happened and, hey, is it hard? Yeah. But am I very impressed and proud that those guys, Luis and Kevin, came out and gave a great effort today? Yeah, I am. It shows that they’re pros, shows that they care, and shows they’ve got character. In this league, at the end of the day if you don’t have any character, if you don’t have any toughness or a lot of that stuff, you’re not going to win anything significant, and they showed they had that.

“We’re going to have adversity all year long. When adversity hits, you either curl up in the fetal position or you get out there and fight, so I said, ‘What are we going to do?’ So we went out there and decided to get after it a little bit.”

As you’d expect from both players, Martin and Scola certainly held nothing back during drills, and afterward both expressed an understanding of the business side of pro basketball.

“It was a little crazy,” admitted Scola, while laughing at the whirlwind nature of the situation. “It was a little weird but, hey, we know that sometimes this business is a little crazy and yesterday was one of those days and it just happened that I was involved.

“No hard feelings. Why would I? It’s just business … I’m still here and I’m happy to be here. If tomorrow I have to be somewhere else, I will try to build what I have here somewhere else.”

Martin was more subdued, but essentially echoed his teammate’s message.

“Everybody’s looking to improve the team. If (Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey) felt like that helped the team, more power to him and the organization but at the end of the day you’re still on the team and you have to come here, be a professional and help the team get better.

“It’s just about business. We’re past that and we’re just worried about getting better as players and helping the team get better.”

And 1s: Goran Dragic (sprained ankle, day-to-day) was not the only player on the Rockets’ roster unable to take part in Friday’s practice. Patrick Patterson also missed out as he continues to work his way back from offseason surgery to treat bone spurs in his right ankle. Also, rookies Marcus Morris and Chandler Parsons will not be able to participate until their contracts are finalized.

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