On April 18 at Westside Tennis Club, the Rockets' practice facility, Rockets Head Coach Rudy Tomjanovich along with owner Leslie Alexander and general manager Carroll Dawson addressed the media on the Rockets' just concluded season and their future plans in the NBA draft and free agent market. The following is a transcript of the press conference:
Opening statement by Rudy Tomjanovich
Summing up our season, I have a feeling of positive growth and progress. If we were talking about 45 wins before the season I think we would have been happy with that because 90 percent of the time you would be in the playoffs. It was just one of those crazy years where it was unbalanced and it just didn't happen this year. I don't think we can use that to put any negativity on this team. I'm very proud of the way our guys responded through adversity. We had numerous injury problems with our center postion, (Kelvin) Cato going out in the first week, Dream being in and out of the lineup several times. Also at the power forward position late in the season, but our guys seemed to adjust quickly. That usually doesn't happen. Usually you have to take a big dip and it takes a couple of weeks to find a new chemistry but our guys seemed like they were in about every game.
I think we had one week where we had two really bad games at home, but for the most part we were very competitive. The level of confidence with this team is very high and I think they feel that we're very close. Our players are already talking about what they're going to do in the summer, how they're going to get together, and their strength and conditioning programs. I feel very blessed - you would think that since we're not in the playoffs, there would be a negativity around. But everybody here feels very positive.
Q: Rudy, what are the reasons why you feel this will be a very important offseason?
RT: We are right there; we are close. There's a chance we will have cap room, there's a chance we will have multiple draft choices and we have valuable free agents on our team. Whenever you have have free agents, they have the option of going somewhere else. So those are some of our concerns.
Q: Since you are close, coming off a 45-win season, does that cloud your planning for next season?
RT: I don't think it clouds it, I think it defines it and brings it into focus. If we weren't where we were at, then you're all over the board. We feel we're pretty established in several positions.
Q: What type of feedback are you getting from other free agents about what they would like to have happen?
Carroll Dawson: We are fortunate here in that we've got a great place and a great opportunity and it's all positive. We've been able to attract free agents when they were just out there without giving up anything to get them because they like our franchise, the city, playing for Rudy, our owner and all the good stuff we've got going for us. I get calls every day from people that like our situation. We've got a young team that's very attractive.
I think that one of the real positive things from this year is our road record. For a rebuilding process to have a winning road record, that's a good mark of the chemistry that Rudy's talking about and learning how to win. I think the growing up process this year from November to now was so dynamic where you could see it every month as it went by. I think that's an attractive thing for free agents that are out there. They look at our young, upcoming team and say 'I'd like to play with that team.' So it's all positive.
Q: Last summer the number one priority was signing Cuttino (Mobley). Do you have a number one priority this summer?
CD: Right now, we've been concentrating on winning games. We'll sit down and get our paths more clearly defined right now as far as what we're going to do. There are a lot of options out there but we like this team. We haven't decided which way we're going to go but we like all these players.
Q: Is it your preference to keep as many of these guys together as possible?
CD: Of course. We want to keep going the way we're going and keep building. If we can add another piece or two like we have the last year or two, then that's our goal. But we like what we've got right now. We improved 11 games over one year and I think that's either the second or the third best improvement this year in the league. So we're happy with the direction we're going.
Q: Les, can you give us your take on where things are?
Leslie Alexander: We won 45 games in the West, which is extremely tough. Since I've owned the team over the last seven years I've never seen this many injuries. I remember being here one night when both our starting "4" and our second "4" were gone, our starting center was gone, our second center was out, and our starting "3" and second "3" were out. I mean six of our top guys were out. I've never seen this many injuries and to win 45 games with guys playing out of position, stepping up, I think that shows this team is very versatile. Our players can play multiple positions, they're very athletic, and I think it's a great shooting team. Rudy, CD and I, all we really want to do is win championships, but I'm pleased with everything that happened this year and where the team is.
Q: What was your take on what happened with Hakeem last night and with his future?
LA: Nobody can appreciate Dream more than me because when I came here my first year we won a championsip and then my second year we won a championship, and obviously Dream was a big part of that. Dream is one of the five or six greatest players to ever play the game. He's an icon in this city and he should be. We're going to do everything we can under the rules with the salary cap to fit him in next year. You always want to include one of the greatest players in the game on your team if it works out and he's physically able to play.
Q: How confident are you that that will happen?
LA: During the season, you try to win games, especially Rudy. He's the coach, and at the end of the season he does a little more than coach, he becomes a general manager in a way, making decisions. But right now, during the season he's a coach and his focus is on winning games. I don't think people understand that enough. Coaches want to win games every single night. You're just sitting there with sweat and tears into winning that game. He doesn't think about the future that night or the next night or the next night. At the end of the season, the future starts to come into focus and that's where we are now. So the question is a little premature in its own way.
Q: When Dream put it all together about midway through the season and played so well, did that change your outlook about whether keeping him was higher on the priority list?
CD: We've always been connected with him. The fact that he did get well was the most pleasing thing of tis year outside of the progress of the team. There were a lot of positive things that happened this year, you can go down the list. But the year before when he couldn't breathe and he had the problem, the way he got back and looked like he turned back the clock, that was exciting. If he's healthy we've never had the question of if he could play. What you worry about is his health. I never worried about his abilities, he's one of the greatest athletes I've ever been around. The concern has always been where he is health-wise.
Q: How would you feel about having mulitple first-round picks this year?
CD: If that's what will help us, if that's the best way to go for us to win, then that's what we will do. But the season just ended and we've got a lot of time to figure that out. Thank goodness we don't have to make that decision right now. We have to look at everything. We've got a number of free agents that we're going to look at and in this process we've been fortunate to be able to acquire some other first-round picks. How many we will get this year, we don't know but we have to be ready for that. So consequently all year long I've had our scouts out more than ever before because you have to be ready. I think any year you don't prepare for getting these picks, then that's the year you're going to get them. We've been ready every year and I think this is going to be a pretty deep draft.
Q: Do you think teams with multiple picks will be able to clear out salary-cap space?
CD: It's become a different league now. Space under the cap has become more important than draft picks. In the old days the draft pick used to be the number one thing, but now the room to move with the tax and everything coming in, it's been complicated more than ever. It has made trading less and less because the room under the cap has become the most important thing. It's not lessening the draft picks by any means, but you have to have the room to take care of your own people and then add the draft picks on. So the cap room as become very, very important.
Q: Is there a chance you could have up to three first-round picks this year?
CD: It could happen. That's one of the decisions we will have to make. We've got a lot of options. It's just going to be one of the more hectic summers because we are in a position right now that is a very exciting position because we've got a number of things we can do to help this team get better and grow. I think we're very fortunate to start this process a little over a year ago and be here now winning 45 games. I think Rudy and the coaching staff and the players have done a great job.
Q: It seems like since you have so many options this year, all you guys are going to joined at the hip this year. Is that true?
RT: That's just the way we do things. We use teamwork because CD can't do it by himself and I can't do it by myself. We've got great guys working all the time, we use video tape as a tool, and you've got to put in the time. We really put in more time down here in the offseason than we do in the regular season. It's going to be just like it always is. The year when we had those three draft choices, we had a lot of options. We have about five scenario boards in our conference room and we had to bring in more boards because we had so many different options. It's going to be the same thing this year.
Q: Due to the new rules changes, does that have an effect on yours and CD's thought process on which guys you want to go after?
RT: We don't know what the system is going to be. That's up in the air. We don't know if a lot of people are going to come out and play a lot of zone or play man-to-man and use some zone principles. I don't think it's going to change our focus on the kind of players that we like. Right now, we don't have any idea how the game is going to be played.
Q: When do the other teams have to notify you whether or not you will be receiving their picks?
CD: There are different times on each of the picks. May 15 on a couple of the picks and June 15 on a couple of the others. So one of them will be pretty quick. I don't remember which ones are which. You always plan on getting them because you've got to be ready. The picks can be anywhere down the line from No. 15 to 30. So we've got to look at everybody. We will bring a lot people in. One of the things our owner likes is to see everybody as many times as we can because we've been very fortunate like getting Cuttino in the second round. I remember sitting right here about a year and a half ago taking all these hard questions on why we took Kenny Thomas and now I think everybody understands that. We think he's going to be a very good player. That whole deal was how much heat we were taking for drafting him and that's because we study them like Rudy was talking about. We go into their background, talk to their parson, we talk to their trainer, everything we can to find out everything we can about these players. It takes a lot of people a long time to do it. A lot goes into it.
Q: Les, you have made some dynamic moves in the past. Will you be happy if there aren't any big changes made this summer?
LA: I really can't answer that yet until it's all put in front of me. It's still a little premature. You think about it all the time but it's still premature.
Q: Rudy, can you address that?
RT: That's a great answer. I really like this team, it's special in a lot of ways. You would think with so many young guys there would have been these lapses where you can't get focused and you get blown out. I mean this team just kept fighting back, fighting back, and I think one of the big hurdles in development is how to win on the road. These guys have got that already. Usually, it's the other way around. You get to be close to .500 because you do alright at home and can't win on the road. But we have such competitive guys that love to be in a hostile environment. We always try to keep an open mind and look for opportunities that we think could help the team, and we're still going to formulate all those things and we'll be in discussion throughout the summer weighing all these options.
CD: I'll say one thing, to Leslie's credit, if we can come up with a way to make our team better, he gives us the go-ahead. He has every time. He's kind of an impatient man when it comes to winning and he wants to get there as fast as anybody. We think we're on a very good path right now and if it happens, it happens, but I think he's proven that anything that can help us win, he will give us the opportunity to do it.
LA: In this league, it's getting tougher and tougher if you make a mistake to trade that mistake, so you have to be right.
You have to take your time and you have to be right because if you're not right you can hurt yourself for a long, long
Q: Would you consider it an accomplishment to be able to keep seven free agents in one summer?
CD: I can say we've been fortunate here in that it's evidently a great place to play and people like to play here. I can't tell you how many calls I get every day from agents saying 'don't forget so-and-so.' You guys cover our team, you know we don't have any unhappy players and it wouldn't surprise me at all. I think the rules have been the main thing that's limited us here because I think we're fortunate to have a very attractive franchise.