The midseason acquisition of Rasheed Wallace helped propel the Detroit Pistons to the NBA championship last season. The Houston Rockets are hoping the offseason trade for Tracy McGrady can do the same for them.
McGrady makes his Rockets debut as Houston opens the season at Detroit.
McGrady came to the Rockets along with Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines in June as part of a blockbuster trade with Orlando that sent Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato to the Orlando Magic.
Francis, a three-time All-Star and Houston’s floor leader, was traded away mostly because he struggled to mesh his open-court style with Yao’s methodical low-post game.
The Rockets are hoping McGrady can succeed where Francis didn’t accept his role in an offense that will revolve around Yao.
“I have no concerns about Yao and Tracy playing well together,” Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “I have no worries at all.”
Despite being one of the league’s top players, McGrady has yet to take a team deep into the playoffs.
McGrady never has advanced past the first round of the playoffs in his eight-year career. Yao reached the postseason for the first time last season before getting ousted in the first round by the Lakers.
The Rockets are counting on Yao to continue his emergence as one of the top centers in the NBA.
Yao averaged 17.5 points last season, a four-point jump from his rookie year, and did it while averaging only 12.5 shots a game. He was often reluctant to assert himself with Francis running the offense, and the Rockets were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league (25th of 29 teams).
But after flashing a newfound aggressiveness during the Athens Games, Yao said he’s more prepared to take a leadership role on a team with almost an entirely new roster.
“I’m ready to be a leader,” Yao said through an interpreter he uses a little less frequently now. “I think the summer really helped me with that.”
However, Houston looked awful during the preseason. The Rockets barely shot above 40 percent—27 percent from 3-point range—and averaged about 17 turnovers a game. The point guard play in particular was spotty, with Charlie Ward getting most of the minutes.
The Rockets could be in for a long opening night against the Pistons, who were tied with San Antonio as the league’s top defense last season after allowing an NBA-low 84.3 points per game on 41.3 percent shooting.
The Pistons may be in even better shape for a title run this season with a starting lineup that features five players in, or entering, the prime of their careers, and a bench bolstered by savvy offseason acquisitions. Plus, they’ll be getting a full season with Wallace on the roster.
“I’m excited,” point guard Chauncey Billups said. “I’ll take our chances.”
The Pistons added former All-Star Antonio McDyess, who has impressed his coaches and teammates during the preseason.
”’Dyess looks like the old ‘Dyess to me,” Wallace said. “He looks like a good addition.”
McDyess has averaged 16.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks during his eight-year career, but has been plagued by injuries the past three seasons.
The Pistons lost three top reserves—Mehmet Okur, Corliss Williamson and Mike James—but added McDyess, Derrick Coleman, Carlos Delfino and Ronald Dupree. They also re-signed veteran reserves Lindsey Hunter and Darvin Ham, and brought back Elden Campbell.
With such a stacked lineup, last year’s top draft pick, Darko Milicic, likely will spend another season watching from the bench.
“We’re deep, talented and big,” general manager Joe Dumars said. “We have experience and we’re battle-tested.”
2003-2004 STANDINGS: Rockets - 5th place, 13 GB, Midwest Division. Pistons - 2nd place, 7 GB, Central Division.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Rockets - F Howard, F Jim Jackson, C Yao, G Ward, G McGrady. Pistons - F Rasheed Wallace, F Prince, C Ben Wallace, G Billups, G Hamilton.
2003-2004 TEAM LEADERS: Rockets - Yao, 17.5 ppg and 9.0 rpg; McGrady, 5.5 apg (with Orlando). Pistons - Hamilton, 17.6 ppg; Ben Wallace, 12.4 rpg; Billups, 5.7 apg.
2003-2004 SEASON SERIES: Tied, 1-1.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 7; Pistons, 85-66. At Auburn Hills, Mich., Yao was held to four points and Detroit held Houston to 33.3 percent shooting.
2003-2004 AWAY/HOME RECORDS: Rockets - 18-23 on the Rockets. Pistons - 31-10 at Pistons.