To read or not to read: How the Rockets handle life in the information age

Friday January 28, 2011 5:31 AM

To Read Or Not To Read

How Rockets players and coaches handle life in the information age

Jason Friedman

DALLAS - The information is everywhere.

Turn on your computer, fire up Google and a whole world of information – and misinformation – is right there at your fingertips.

For sports fans this is a golden age. Stat heads can discover previously hard to get data or showcase their own at any number of sites. Fantasy fanatics can find up to the minute injury updates from their favorite news source. And for those ravenous souls starving for the latest rumors, gossip and innuendo, Twitter is a godsend with its unending updates that flash through every second.

So the fans are in good hands. But what of the players and coaches, you know, the people whose very livelihoods are laid bare and played out beneath the microscope which tightens its focus and perpetually peers ever closer to their day to day existence? To be sure, the vast majority of professional athletes in this country are well compensated for their time in the spotlight. But that compensation doesn’t make the white-hot glare burn any less fiercely.

This time of year in the NBA the pressure on nearly everyone associated with a club can be overwhelming as the league’s trade deadline comes ever closer. The rumors fly fast and furious as reporters do their best to feed the insatiable appetites of fans desperate for the next morsel of information which might bring hope or heartache to their favorite teams. And while the trade winds swirl around them, the players, so accustomed to expertly controlling their fate on the court, suddenly come face to face with the reality that they are largely powerless in terms of dictating their lot off of it.

A decision, then, must be made: dive headfirst into the ocean of information in an attempt to read the tea leaves yourself? Or opt for an “ignorance is bliss” approach while taking care of your business, accepting the fact that some things in life are simply outside the realm of your control?

Those were the questions posed to several members of the team this week in an effort to get a better feel for how they handle the chaos that often awaits them the second they walk off the court. Their answers were frank and forthright, revealing a keen understanding of the business, an appreciation of the stakes involved and a knowing nod to the world in which they live.

(note: on this particular subject, management is forced to maintain a somewhat different perspective than the view shared by many of the players and coaches since the executives are often the ones pulling the strings. In their world, knowledge is power so, quite naturally, they have to harvest as much of the available information as possible. Or, as Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey put it: “We have to pay attention to everything that's out there. If we didn’t it would be like us working on Wall Street and not reading the newspaper.”)

The NBA Lifer

Over the course of a playing and coaching career that has spanned across six different decades, Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman has pretty much seen it all. He experienced firsthand the days when teams and the beat writers who covered them typically traveled together, so few appreciate today's dramatically different sports landscape and the 24-7 news cycle that accompanies it better than he does.

“It’s changed completely,” he says. “I mean the whole world has changed with the Internet and Facebook and tweeting and all this stuff. Everything’s changed. There’s stuff written that’s out there that has nothing to do with reality and you just have to ignore it. Unfortunately people think it’s gospel and you have to deal with it as best you can but you have to understand that’s the way it is.

“It’s just the way the world is and I see it in every level of life but in sports it’s especially so. There’s so many more outlets, so many more people covering it… You deal with your reality day in and day out and that’s the best you can do.”

Part of that reality is accepting the fact that the social media boom has given players a plethora of outlets from which they can freely and publicly voice their thoughts and opinions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course, but there’s also no denying that the likelihood of having to deal with unwanted scrutiny is infinitely increased when young men frequently subjected to heat of the moment situations suddenly have the power to permanently air their unfiltered thoughts and feelings on Twitter.

Adelman, fiercely private by his very nature anyway, clearly doesn’t have any desire to tap into that sort of stream of consciousness world. It’s worth noting, however, that he in no way begrudges his players who do – presuming, of course, that their actions avoid having any sort of adverse effect on the club.

“I won’t address it unless it’s something that’s affecting our team,” he says. “I haven’t had anything affecting our team and I haven’t seen anything or felt that that was happening. I think it’s pretty idiotic, like I watched that football game, too, and all those players in the NFL who commented (via Twitter) on [Chicago Bears' quarterback Jay] Cutler; what the hell do they know about it? Guys who do that, just for the sake of getting attention, I don’t have a whole lot of time for. I don’t understand the reason to do that at all.”

And as for the proliferation of trade talk saturating the web this time of year, Adelman’s message rings as true now as it did during the days when players and reporters frequently swapped gossip over the dinner table.

“You can’t do anything about it,” he says. “It’s a business. The only thing you can control is what you do when you got out on the court every day. You can’t control trades, you can’t control anything. [Players] can’t control minutes – I control that. You’ve got to do your job. It’s funny because I’m no different that they are: I don’t know what my future is going to hold but I have to do my job and do what I get paid to do and that’s what they have to do.

“You never know when a trade is going to come and I’ve said that before. I’ve had instances where I’ve talked to a player and then a half hour later we got a phone call and he was traded 15 minutes later. He probably thought I was lying to him because it happened so quick. So I learned that you just don’t say anything about it. Every player on our team has worth in this league and all they can do is control what they do on the court at that point and try to make your team better.”

The Grizzled Vet

Few players understand the business of basketball quite the way Shane Battier does. He knows the game inside and out and has a keen appreciation for what takes place at every level, from ownership on down. Future coach, future general manager – if he wants to do it there will certainly be no shortage of opportunities.

But Battier is just a huge sports fan, period. He plays fantasy football, organizes March Madness pools and can frequently be seen paying close attention to whatever games happen to be on the TVs inside the Rockets’ postgame locker room. In other words, he’s the sort of news hound whom you might assume wouldn’t be able to help himself when exposed to all the available information just waiting to be devoured.

The reality, however, is that he does nothing of the sort. He doesn’t have a Twitter account, he ditched Facebook awhile back and typically steers clear of the NBA rumor mill.

“I’m anti social networking to begin with because my life is complicated enough as it is,” he says. “I don’t need to worry about the problems and the whims of other people – that’s just too much for me.

“If I’m bored or if I’m looking for a good laugh I’ll go on HoopsHype. I go on every day; I like to keep abreast of what’s going on in the sports world. I don’t really read a whole lot of NBA stuff though to be honest with you – good, bad or indifferent.”

Avoiding NBA gossip almost certainly is better for Battier’s peace of mind. Having been traded once before, he knows everything it entails and isn’t exactly anxious to repeat the experience. He even made light of his feelings a few days ago when he brushed aside questions about his big offensive output against Minnesota by saying, “With the trade deadline coming, I'm trying to increase my value to the team so they don't trade me. I've got a pregnant wife and my dogs like their doggy day care, so I don't feel like moving right now.”

Asked later about the impact trade talk has on his psyche, Battier maintained his sense of humor but made no attempt to downplay the massive impact a trade can have on a player’s life.

“When I was younger I used to be a lot more sensitive to it and I used to have a little more bitterness toward management. In my old age I think I’ve mellowed but these are real world situations. We’re talking about moving your family Lord knows where across the country and it’s not something I’m particularly interested in at this point (laughs). When I was younger and without child and without family it would have been a fun adventure but I would like to stick around for the rest of the year and do it that way.”

The Consummate Pro

Like Battier, Kevin Martin knows all about what it means to have one’s name bandied about in the rumor mill on a regular basis. It was, after all, just last year that a trade deadline deal brought him to Houston after he’d spent the first six seasons of his pro career in Sacramento.

He, too, has no interest in getting swept up in the circus that so often accompanies NBA life this time of year. His focus is solely on maximizing his potential as a player. What’s more, he says he learned early on that being the source of trade speculation isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it can be downright complimentary.

“I figured that out my second year when they were talking about me being traded for Allen Iverson. So I kind of took that as a confidence booster. It’s just something you can’t worry about. You’re here with the team that’s paying you so just be professional whatever happens.

“With me you’re going to get a person who is very professional when it comes to things like that. Whatever team I’m playing on I’m trying to be an All-Star caliber player and the top shooting guard in the league. So if I’m here, I’m going to be that here, and if I’m somewhere else I’m going to give those talents there.”

Needless to say, Martin is not one to go out of his way in search of the latest news item that purportedly has the dish on any deals in which he may or may not be involved. In fact, when asked if he’d ever gone so far as to Google his own name, he replied with sage advice for anyone – NBA baller or otherwise: “No, I haven’t done that,” he said. “You shouldn’t do that in today’s age.”

The Changed Man

Utterly lacking in pretense and artifice, Luis Scola is one of the more genuine people you’re ever likely to meet. He is straightforward and forthcoming, and makes no attempt to be something he’s not.

So last season when his name surfaced in trade talk while he played out the final year of his contract, he made no secret of the fact he was affected by everything swirling all around him. He heard the whispers, read the rumors and drove himself crazy attempting to digest it all. So after signing a new contract with Houston this summer, he vowed to alter his approach to the hoops hot stove; instead of fussing, fretting and agonizing over every little tidbit that includes his name, he’s steering clear of the static while essentially humming “Que Sera, Sera.”

“It changed a lot,” he says of his tumultuous experience last year. “I don’t look at [trade rumors and speculation] at all anymore. I learned from it. It affected me, my game and my personal day-to-day life. This year I decided I can’t control it. It’s not up to me. Everybody knows that I want to stay here, I like it here, I feel pretty good and I wish I could stay here my whole career, or my whole contract at least. But you can’t control it and the best thing I learned from my experience last year is not to look at anything and if it happens, it happens – you just keep playing and working hard and try to win games.”

The Pragmatist

Aaron Brooks is no fool. He knows the Rockets organization has championship aspirations and that more talent must be added for this team to take the next step toward title contention – meaning anyone on the current roster could potentially find himself part of a trade. He also understands his own value as a player and that there is no shortage of teams around the league who would love to get their hands on someone who possesses the unique package of skills he does.

Does that mean he’s got one foot out the door? Of course not. But he also sees no reason to shy away from the realization that absolutely anything could happen to the Rockets’ roster over the coming weeks. Like the rest of his teammates, however, he says he has no interest in scouring websites and Twitter feeds for the latest scoop.

“I follow the stories that my agent tells me and that’s it, says Brooks. “I feel like, come trade deadline, anything can happen with this team. I’ve been on pins and needles for three or four years now. I think the first two years, you kind of shake and stuff like that, but the fact that you’ve already proven that you can play in this league you should be comfortable wherever you’ve got to go.

“I figure if you go somewhere else and you get traded then that team really wanted you. I refuse to look at it as if the team [that traded you] doesn’t want you – I see it as someone else wanted you even more. So why be mad? Just go out there, do your job and just keep pushing. “

The Rookie

It wasn’t long ago that Ish Smith was just like the rest of us, constantly on the look out for any news pertaining to his favorite players and teams. He hunted, he consumed and then he searched for more.

Yet it took little more than half a season in the NBA for that instinct to be replaced with one even more primal: self-preservation.

Only for Smith, staying away from the rumor mill isn’t so much about maintaining inner peace as it is a function of prudent time management. As an undrafted rookie, every moment that’s not devoted toward honing his craft is an opportunity lost. So while he has a Twitter account, his updates are few and far between. And though he still catches the occasional news story here or there, he’s nearly weaned himself off the rumor mill because he’s all too aware of the fact that if he doesn’t keep improving as a basketball player, his hoops career won’t be a subject of discussion much longer.

“In college you’re a fan of the NBA and other college teams and players, so you want all that information the same way other fans do,” he says. “But once you’re in the pros, if you’re concentrating on really getting better, you really have to focus on your craft, and if you start looking to the left or looking to the right, it’s going to affect you – it really will, especially if it’s about you or your team. You’re trying to figure out where you’re going, you’re calling your agent, you’re talking to the front office, you’re talking to coaches – it really affects your whole psyche and your mindset, instead of just concentrating on winning and competing for the playoffs.

“I still hear it from different people here and there. My sister looks at it and I tell her, ‘You have to stay off that until things are finalized and until you hear it from legitimate reports.’ So I hear it, but I don’t read it.”

Easier said than done, to be sure. But for Smith and so many other players this time of year, ignorance isn't just bliss – it's also key to survival.

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