This is not the angle I wanted to take on this subject, initially. Limiting Yao Ming - a good idea? Preventing our best player from playing more than a measly twenty-four minutes per night - the right decision? This is all wrong. This isn't the championship mentality. Finals or bust: that should be the mindset, and keeping the Great Wall from ruling the court for more than half a contest does not support that mindset. It's too passive and too cautious. It's anti-win.
And then I reconsidered all of those thoughts from the opposite point of view and came to the conclusion that, initially, I was utterly, spectacularly wrong. Super wrong. Wrong-O. Wrong-didliumptious. Whatever.
The Rockets can't prevent Yao from getting hurt, but they would be incredibly dumb to simply throw their hands in the air and shout, "Whatever happens, happens!" No, they're right to take action here. They're improving their odds of having Yao healthy in May and June. That's a smart decision.
I'm going to trust the Rockets, no matter how much the die-hard, mindless fan in me wants to disagree with their decision. Fittingly, the realist in me agrees with what Rockets trainer Keith Jones and crew have decided to do. Which leads me to my first point.
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1. I'm not a doctor or trainer. Keith Jones is.
Ah, yes, we're all Internet Doctors, aren't we?
"I saw Yao's knee collide with Kobe's. Didn't look like much, he should be fine for the next game."
Even with statements as humble and unassuming as these, we still don't have a clue about what the injury actually is. We've been told that Yao's foot has healed. And that's it. Do we know how stable the foot is, and how likely it could be re-injured? Nope, not a clue. I think you can guess who has access to that information: Keith Jones.
Think of all the numerous injuries that Jones has seen in the past. Think of the gigantic number of those that belong to Yao. In every past situation, Jones has elected not to be extra-cautious. He's not stupid. He'd like for Yao to be on the court as much as anyone else. But for some reason, this specific injury caused him to take added caution. I'll trust his judgment over mine, because the extent of my medical knowledge exists behind the search bar of Web M.D.
2. Depth: It has finally been addressed.
The Rockets couldn't afford to bench Yao whatsoever if they were intent on winning with last year's frontcourt crew. But they've upgraded. They've gotten taller, more athletic and more versatile. Brad Miller, Jordan Hill and Patrick Patterson all have the ability to make significant contributions in Yao's absence.
And don't forget about Luis Scola, who has been tearing it up at the FIBA Championships. The Rockets still have a post game, even without Yao in there. As much as I like Chuck Hayes, it was imperative that the Rockets shore up their hole in the frontcourt. They did just that.
3. Offense isn't really the issue. Defense is.
As much credit as Yao receives for putting up 20 to 25 points per game, it's his defense that has the greatest impact upon the club. Sure, it makes life much easier when one can simply dump it down to Yao in the post and earn a nearly-automatic two points, but with the depth, athleticism and scoring ability of the surrounding roster, effective offense shouldn't be too hard to come by.
Defense is a different story. Without Yao last season, the Rockets were absolutely butchered in the paint. Their shortcomings weren't necessarily in one-on-one post play - that's a Chuckwagon specialty that few can break through easily - but rather in team paint defense. Teams drove at will against the Rockets simply because it's much less intimidating to see 6-foot-6 Hayes in the paint than to see Yao, who is a whole foot taller than him.
Regardless of how good a defender Brad Miller is, his height alone should somewhat discourage opponents from driving nearly as much as they did in 2009-10. It sounds silly, but it makes sense. And it's not as if the Rockets need someone dominant who can step in and play 48 minutes of All-Star caliber defense; they only need a stopgap for the 24 minutes that Yao won't be on the court.
4. Have him fresh for playoffs. We'll be fine in the regular season.
Without Yao last season, the Rockets managed to go 42-40. It's perfectly reasonable for me to blindly assume they'll win 50 this year, even with Yao's minutes held in check. They've improved the roster since last season, regardless. Yao is an added bonus.
How painful was it in 2008 when Yao played nearly an entire season before bowing out in the playoffs with that foot injury? The Rockets could have beaten the Lakers and gone to the Western Conference Finals. They had a legitimate shot. And suddenly, in one swift motion, Yao's regular season contributions rotted. They didn't matter anymore. Come playoff time, the regular season is meaningless. The Rockets want Yao to be as fresh for the playoffs as he can be. Limiting his minutes throughout the year is a giant step forward towards accomplishing that goal.
5. Plan ahead. Remember the McGrady saga?
Don't know about you, but I couldn't stand whenever Tracy McGrady would suddenly announce that he wouldn't be playing on a certain night, or that he would choose one game in a series to play in (Philadelphia) and then sit out the next (Boston). It not only irritated fans; it forced Coach Adelman to adjust his game plan on the fly, and forced players to change roles nightly. McGrady's flakiness nearly derailed the Rockets. Nobody wants to go through that again.
Placing Yao on a strict plan ensures that Coach Adelman and the rest of the team will know what to expect game in and game out. They'll be better prepared. They'll have ample time to game plan around Yao's 24 minutes. And as the season progresses, they'll begin to naturally adjust to the regime and become comfortable with it.
As annoying as it may be, limiting Yao's minutes to a specific number per game solves and prevents more problems than it creates. I'll find times to dislike it or even hate it, I'm sure, but in the end, it's the right call.