Can you say awkward?
There was the overwhelming feeling in the Toyota Center on Friday as the Rockets opened their first day of practice with three players on the court who a day earlier all thought they were headed to New Orleans in a blockbuster trade.
Neither guard Kevin Martin, forward Luis Scola nor backup point guard Goran Dragic was supposed to be here Friday. Pau Gasol was.
But that all changed late Thursday night when NBA commissioner David Stern stepped in and played King, nixing a three-team trade that would have sent New Orleans Hornets All-Star point guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers and their center here.
For the teams and the players having to deal with the fallout of the commissioner’s decision face-to-face it was awkward.
“In the NBA a lot of stuff happens,” said Rockets first-year coach Kevin McHale, who spent his first official day with his new team having to make players feel at ease. “A lot happens and sometimes it’s good. A lot happens and sometimes it’s bad. I felt bad for those guys. I felt terrible seeing their names all over the place, traded or not traded.”
For the players, the experience had to be eye-opening. They are here, but they now know they aren’t wanted or valued by general manager Daryl Morey and the other decision-makers within the organization. It seems there is only a matter of time before all three are moved as planned or to other teams.
Scola, however, seemed to take it all in stride following Friday’s nearly four-hour practice.
“No hard feelings at all. It’s just business,” said Scola. “I know Pau Gasol, he’s a great player. I could play with him here. It wasn’t the case. That wasn’t possible.
“I’m not stupid. I know how business work. I’m just happy I’m here.”
Martin, the Rockets leading scorer last season, wasn’t nearly as gracious.
“Daryl showed his cards so you just have to put your teammates first and nothing else after that,” said Martin, who arrived in Houston in February 2010 in the three-way deal that got Tracy McGrady out of town. “He felt like the team should move in a different direction and he showed his cards.”
McHale tried to sit down and talk with the three involved players and then there was team meeting to discuss the whole mess. But what words do you use to make this mess make sense to anyone?
“In the NBA this is our family. If we have a problem you don’t go hide in a room with one guy,” McHale said. “We talk about it in front of everybody. We had a little family meeting and discussed what happened.”
Using family and NBA in same sentence just seems bizarre considering the reason the NBA season is starting nearly two months late and the considering that three people in practice were involved in a failed trade attempt. We all may have some family members we don’t necessarily care for, but we don’t put them on the trading blocks.
Acquaintances may be the more appropriate way to discuss the relationship going forward.
And judging from Martin’s body language, he is not really interested in knowing the Rockets anymore. But he handled the awkward day with class, though he did make the point he really doesn’t have any questions for Morey.
“We were suppose to talk but I had practice,” Martin said of Morey. “We had practice at 1 and I left the house at 12:30 so I had to hurry up and get on the court.”
That speaks volumes about how Martin feels about Morey and the organization now.
But to Martin’s credit, he and Scola showed up Friday and worked hard in practice. Dragic didn’t practice because of a hurt ankle.
“Was I proud and impressed that Kevin and Luis came out and gave a great effort? Yes,” McHale said. “It shows they are pros and shows they have some character.
“In this league if you don’t have character and you don’t have toughness you ain’t winning anything significant.”
But it doesn’t appear the Rockets are trying to win anything significant, at least not now. Landing Gasol without a lot of scoring pieces around him seems says the Rockets are heading for the lottery.
It should be interesting all the same with McHale, the former Boston Celtics great, at the helm. McHale seemed fairly pleased with his first practice session with his new team.
“It was good,” he said. “We put in too much stuff, they got kind of confused. It was the typical first day but they worked hard. We made a big effort on the defensive side. We are going get better in three areas, defense, rebounding and moving the ball from side to side.”
But they made need some family counseling first after the start things got off to.
Let’s just say awkward!