Huq’s Pen: The Yao Premise

I wrote some time ago that I hoped the Rockets would make a clean break from the Yao era and move on, not bringing back the large man.  Several of you disagreed, citing that with minimal expectations, there was little to lose.  I’m still struggling to understand this reasoning but I wonder if we’re all even operating from the same basic assumptions.

My assumption is that, regardless of the circumstances, at some point, whenever it will be, Yao Ming will go down with injury once more.  Is this agreed upon?  My basis, which probably needs little explanation, is that his body simply cannot sustain the physical taxation required of such athletics.  If you don’t agree with this starting point, we’ll agree to disagree, and our personal conversation has culminated.  I imagine very few of you here fall into this camp of such extreme idealism.

To the rest of you: we all agree he’ll go down…at some point. You argue that at just simply 15minutes per game, and $3million/year, Yao is a far superior option to the alternatives.  You argue that with such little expectations, and so few minutes, anything he provides is gravy and that the circumstances are risk-free.  I vehemently disagree.

I don’t think we’re placing appropriate value upon the currency of NBA ‘time.’  15mpg may not sound as gaudy as 35mpg, but it holds significance and a greater trickle-down effect upon the entire team.  We saw how much difference there was this season between starting Jordan Hill and bringing him off the bench.  Mere fractions of NBA games determine standings; the Rockets lost out on wins that could have been the difference.  For a team that has missed the postseason by small increments in recent history, games cannot be so easily sacrificed under the premise of ‘experimentation.’  The Houston Rockets are not the LA Lakers; there is no room to ‘figure it out.’

Yao Ming is not a player who can simply be pulled/inserted/replaced from a lineup.  Perhaps moreso than anyone else in basketball, his teammates must adapt to his presence.  This reality is infinitely more heightened with his current physical circumstances.  Yao Ming slows down the game and forces requisite a learning curve of adaptability for those around him.

You argue that when he goes down, because he was only playing 15mpg, hypothetically, nothing is lost and someone else can just be plugged in.  I do not feel this to be the case.  If we all agree that Yao Ming will go down at some point, I do not believe the Rockets can afford to bring him back.  With the time it will require to acclimate him into the scheme in addition to the games it will take to re-set/readapt the new rotation after his inevitable annual injury, the Rockets will have lost more games than they can afford to throw at this stage in their development.  At just 15mpg, the potential upside of his presence is simply not worthwhile.

‘Huq’s Pen’ is a column of musings written by Red94 founder/editor, Rahat Huq.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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  • Ramzykawaja

    I couldn’t disagree w/ you more. Assuming that Yao WILL get hurt is a contaminated opinion derived from frustration. Nobody can predict the future. So saying that Yao’s body isn’t suited for what is demanded of it is a bit cocky to say the least. How would you know? I am one of the fans who believes in the low risk/high reward theory. You’re worried that his presence will have a negative affect on a team who can’t make the playoffs. The minutes that Yao would receive would only take away from Hill’s and Miller’s playing time; two players, whose inconsistencies have been more than noticeable. The Rockets would be prepared for a failed experiment. No harm, no foul. A successful one, in which a full recovery has been made and Yao is back to form, would propel the team to a deep playoff run.

  • Roxfan

    It’s more a matter of dealing with what we’re given with rather than talking about our preferences…
    Our team, as it is currently constructed, does not have the star power needed to compete for a title. History tells us that you need at least 1 or 2 legit stars to build your team around. Now-a-days, even 2 stars will not get it done without a good supporting cast. Yao is now part of that good supporting cast. In essence, he is our X-factor.
    There are a lot of non basketball reasons why or why not Yao should be kept. However, for pure basketball and championship aspirations, Yao (assuming he will be on a veteran’s exception type of contract with lots of incentives based on health) offers the Rockets an edge that no other team has. Ideally, his effect would be similar to that of Posey with the Celtics. Except that Yao’s impact on the game would be much much greater if utilized correctly for matchup purposes.

    In short, keeping Yao (non hampering contract is a MUST) is the best option IMO. If we were going to part with him, it should’ve been a couple years ago before his injuries became chronic. Now, I feel like most people don’t want him back because it’s almost like the scorned girlfriend effect; where we’ve been burned so many times by false hope that we would rather just have nothing to do with it. The truth is that keeping Yao still gives us the best chance at a championship. The difference is that he will be our situational weapon rather than a key component, and his contract will be 8-10th highest rather than top 2.

  • Anonymous

    My issue with your viewpoint is that you assume that it is a certainty that Yao will break down again. I agree that it is a very likely occurrence, but to go deep in the playoffs, you need some things to go your way. Yao is certainly a risk, but to say that he is certain to get hurt again is a stretch. This is a guy that played as many as 86 games just 2 years ago, and while a lot has happened in those years, he’s not done IMO. Look at how many people discounted Grant Hill, who incidentally dealt with a similar condition (stress fractures), but now he’s a top defensive player in the league and a stellar glue guy. The upside is simply too high to completely dismiss him because of the “continuity factor.”

  • Anonymous

    To me the contract game is analogous to a dice game where you roll and choose one number. If someone gives you 10-1 odds, you obviously take him up on the offer. If you lose on the first two rolls, do you stop?

  • Anonymous

    This is interesting because I thought most would agree with the initial premise – that he’ll break down. If that’s not the case, then I think you consider bringing him back, absolutely.

  • Austindth

    Based on empirical data it is ridiculous to place odds IN FAVOR of Yao’s healthy return. This is simple business, no successful operation sticks with such a lackluster ROI. Hopefully Morey proves his worth and separates while he still can (even if with a firesale).

  • Austindth

    I can’t fathom how the initial premise is being challenged, there zero evidence to indicate a good chance of full recovery and mountain to the contrary. ROI, ROI, ROI!!!

  • Austindth

    Are you serious, comparing a 6 ft 8 in, 225 lb Grant Hill’s situation to a genetic mishap with almost a foot and 100 pounds difference? How are you contesting that your assertion is based in logic?

  • Anonymous

    So, you’re saying that because I point to a G/F who is much lighter that recovered from repeated stress fractures and has to move around significantly more, the comparison to Yao is completely invalid? If you want a closer example, take Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the classic comparison to Yao. Ilgauskas had the same issues with his feet and eventually returned to play many more seasons at nearly full minutes. Are you saying just because Yao is heavy and his feet take a lot of pounding that it’s impossible for him to recover and play well again?

  • Anonymous

    Because Zydrunas Ilgauskas the last 9 seasons at nearly full strength… Yep, there’s zero evidence. With the surgery Yao had, there’s really only one comparison, and given the fact that he is doing extremely well, the Rockets should at least give Yao one more shot.

  • Chris

    Am I taking crazy pills? Do people actually believe Yao is worth bringing back to accomplish zero? Patrick, you cited ZI and the cat made it back in time to lose his spot to an aging Erick Dampier. I want no part of the Ming experiment. He was a solid draft pick that didn’t work out. It sucks but it’s over and the idea that Yao could contribute an iota to this lottery bound team frustrates. Cut ties and move on. It’s time. I appreciate his production but his ambassador status is far more financially viable than his participation.

  • Stephen

    I tend to agree w/Rahat about splitting w/Yao and getting a fresh start.
    And I have a serious issue w/Yao on the current roster that I’ll get to later.
    The money Yao brings in is money Les puts back into team. Buying draft picks,RGV,willingness to take on bad contracts to get a draft pick or a coveted player,money into scouting,all of these flow from income Yao brings the team. The Rockets are willing to spend because they know Yao will bring in the cash. If having Yao enables the Rockets to make a deal to get significantly better,even tho Yao isn’t making much-if any-impact on the court…how do you measure that potential?
    Second,the Rockets as is are bereft of stars. They are in the ugly position of hoping their next coach can somehow unlock T-Will’s immense talents ,while keeping him in a team game. Yao is the other player on roster who offers hope of dominating,even if it’s an ever so remote chance of doing so.
    To sum up,re-signing Yao-cheap-offers a remote chance at his coming back and dominating and offers the team significant financial resources for getting better.

    So I’d be tempted to re-sign Yao,except…
    Scola,Patterson,Hill,Miller,Thabeet are under contract. Bring back Chuck and Yao and you have 7 bigs and not a reliable,contending starting C among them. Add a FA C and you’re left w/just 7 spots for PG,SG and SF. That’s leaving almost no margin for injuries among the smalls.
    To bring back Yao,one-or two-of the bigs have to be moved,otherwise there’s roster chaos.

  • Easy

    I mostly (but not totally) agree with you first assumption. I think there IS a chance that he can play a limited role, albeit a small chance.

    What disagree more is your second assumption, which you did not take as assumption: “Yao Ming is not a player who can simply be pulled/inserted/replaced from a lineup.”

    Why are you so certain that Yao is so difficult to play around? Why do you think he will necessarily slow down the offense when Yao might not even be the focus of the offense? If Yao could play 15 mpg for about 60 games, would you take him? That’s about how much Brad Miller played for us. Would you rather have Yao play the role of Miller, i.e. a 2nd-3rd string Center? Consider especially that the new coach might change to a less motion-based offense.

  • Anonymous

    I wish I had more time to respond in depth but I think after this last 3rd of the season, I would actually rather just give those minutes to Jordan Hill – I never thought I’d say that.

    But I’m actually pretty fascinated still that that initial assumption is being challenged. I don’t have a medical background, but I don’t know how any stretch of rationality or logic can lead one to argue that he won’t break down again. I was arguing best case scenario would see him come back, play 10 games, miss 10 games, play 10 games – something like that; but to stay healthy indefinitely? I don’t think you can defy basic physics and human biology like that. The man’s makeup jsut cannot handle it. Would love to hear an MD’s take on it though as I’m talking out of limited knowledge obviously.

  • Nostalgia is such a burden for some people in this town! SHEESH
    Let the guy go play somewhere else.

  • RP

    You’re telling me that you wouldn’t use $3million of the salary cap to potentially get the swan song of one of the best centers of the last decade? Do the 1986 NBA Finals ring a bell?

    Clearly the Rockets aren’t in the same position as the Celtics that season, but you can’t just pass up a chance to have a player as talented as Yao shoring up your bench, especially if he comes in knowing he’s no longer the focus of the offense.

  • Anonymous

    You’re not giving the warranted weight to your “Clearly the Rockets aren’t in the same position as the Celtics that season” disclaimor. If the Rockets were contenders, I’d be singing a different tune. But in their current state of rebuilding, I don’t see the benefit. They need a clean break.

  • HC

    Clean break from Yao Ming wouldn’t make sense. Injuries are part of the game but it’s not like he was Tmac during his injuries, still proclaiming to be a dominant player. Look at the positives – Yao can still clog up the middle and rebound and block a shot or two – which is something the Rockets strongly lacked. Rockets ranked at the bottom of shot blocks and did not have a great rebounding margin. Night after night the smaller rockets hustled as hard as possible but you can’t out-hustle size (look at the Lakers). Bynum on one knee can still pull down 10 boards in limited minutes. Rockets got pounded on the boards this season. Having a proven veteran off the bench who has averaged 8 – 10 rebounds can be very helpful.

    There is off the court presence that he brings too. We all know that Rockets games are broadcast in China and generating revenue for the NBA and Rockets that way that will allow Morey to use resources to find more assets. He is probably the most hard-working, humble man in the NBA and you want someone like that with your franchise.

    If Yao comes with a low price tag (there are tons of dead weight out there – Darko for 5.5million and I’ll take Yao not playing to Darko at his best any day of the week and twice on Sunday) than he is CLEARLY worth keeping.

    You can plug Yao at the high post too. He’s a pretty good shooter and a good passing big man. He understands the game more than any player on the floor – how can you say that the Rockets will need to adjust to him? I think he will be able to adjust to the team. He can secure rebounds for the fast break, he can take up space in the paint and he can be a good option to get a needed bucket or free throws during the Rockets famous droughts. So many times this year I saw Lowry or Martin on the perimeter having to create with 5 left on the shot clock 25 feet from the basket – simply unacceptable offense. Remember also that he is 86% free throw shooter and that he’s a big man you can’t foul like Hayes…or even Scola who’s FT% dipped this year.

    In short keep Yao, he wants to be here and he’ll take only a fraction of the salary and will be good veteran presence for all the young talent we have. His statesman mentality and basketball IQ will pay dividends…

  • Bob Schmidt

    When you consider that every year we seem to have a player or two who end up on the roster being paid for little or no playing time in games (Jared Jeffries, 138 minutes, 6.8 million salary), I’d rather see Yao given a chance under the right conditions.

    If he gets hurt again, he will retire. We all know that. A limited veteran’s salary is a very small risk to take. Thabeet is a very expensive project ( 5 million guaranteed) and not likely to be an impact player for several years. Hill is not really a center. Brad Miller is as likely a candidate for injury as a re-habbed Yao. So, we have to get a center for the future without a doubt. I give Yao a final shot for some role as an NBA player without being unrealistic about his chances for success. He has been loyal to the Rockets and I expect Houston to show him the same loyalty, within reason….

  • Anonymous

    “If he gets hurt again, he will retire.”

    Isn’t that what we said this year?

  • Mike B

    I think they’ll give him one more shot just out of sheer desperation to find a Center. Morey said himself after the trade deadline that bigs are so hard to come by now that you have to take chances on projects and hope they pan out. Yao’s questionable health is similar to taking a chance on a project like Thabeet. Not very likely to pan out but you never know.

    Chances are very grim that he’ll ever finish out a season, but 7’6 bigs with talent don’t come by very often. I think we might as well make sure we’ve squeezed every last drop out of him and give him one last end-all-be-all chance to play through a season. I know that we said that last year, but unless we land Gasol or Jordan in free agency, I don’t mind taking the chance — and Jordan Hill has had enough of a chance to show that we can never depend on him to be much of anything.

  • RP

    When you put it like that I see where you’re coming from. It’d just be bittersweet to see him picked up for that sort of Walton-esque role for, say, the Heat or Lakers.

  • Stephen Palmer

    If the Rockets can sign him for $3m and get him in for 10-12 minutes per game and IF he stays healthy, wouldn’t he be a huge trade asset at next season’s trading deadline? If those things were to happen, I could see multiple teams willing to roll the dice that Yao can give them some quality minutes in the playoffs, especially since if they crap out they aren’t out much in terms of salary. In that scenario, the Rockets could pick up a second round pick or, maybe, even a late first-rounder. Since Yao and Brad Miller offer similar skills and are definitely on the downside of their careers, give Yao Miller’s minutes at backup 5 and keep Hill in the starting lineup. Additionally, Yao could mentor Thabeet, even if/when Yao gets hurt again.

  • Bob Schmidt

    Two differences:
    1. His surgically repaired foot wasn’t the problem
    2. Amount of salary committed to him.

    This isn’t a big issue to me personally, we don’t even have a coach.

  • Wtflife

    I think it comes down to Yao, will he embrace the reduced role. (Is he willing to be the 10th or 11th man). Will he work with the team to make Thabeet better? I mean Brian Scalabrine still plays in the NBA, so Yao undoubtedly will. The Rockets have profited immensely from Yao and if he is willing/ wants to stick around for 3 million and no guaranteed playing time from a business perspective its a no brainer. He will get more than that if he wants from another team desperate for a backup big.

    On a side note if Derrick Rose is healthy and the Bulls win it all won’t Scalabrine have a championship with two NBA teams? I find this deeply upsetting. I mean he is a very very very bad version of Matt Bullard as I see it. In fact that is an insult to Matt Bullard.

  • Wtflife

    Lets be fair Big Z is not exactly destroying the NBA with his ability to pivot and rebound these days. I am for keeping Yao by the way, but that is because I think he represents maximum value for the franchise at 3 million a year on the end of the bench.

    Everything points to him not being able to play 82 games without getting hurt ever again. Regardless of the number of minutes. I think the biggest thing is it has to be clear with Yao and his new coach that Yao has to earn his minutes. He can’t have minutes because he is Yao. He gets minutes because he is part of our best 5 plus minus and such.

  • Anonymous

    Big Z is not exactly destroying the NBA because he’s almost 36 years old… Foot wise, he’s been healthy since the surgery.

  • Jon

    I agree he will go down eventually but id rather take my chances with him. The Rockets haven’t made the playoffs these past two years that they’ve been missing Yao. Ill take 15 minutes of Yao over 15 minutes of Miller and Hayes(not to say they aren’t valuable as well). This year he looked fragile but I think he could be a valuable asset down the line, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking…

  • Anonymous

    Zydrunas Ilgauskas made it back to 4 seasons with a PER above 19… When he came back, he was extremely effective and just got worse because of age.

  • Michael_D


    I hate to do this but…I think I have to agree with you Rahat. In fact, I don’t “think” I do, I have to agree with you.

    I concur with the initial premise that he will be hurt again. While I understand his foot has been surgically reconstructed, to say that he will (or reasonably expect) rehabilitate and enjoy a similar renaissance like Ilgaskus (sp) is perhaps overly optimistic. Yes, they share similar specs (+7′, ~300lbs) but different body types, biomechanics, etc have very different effects. Personally, I’m betting he sustains a similar injury or at least a related one. Sorry, I don’t want to think that but it’s prudent to assume that.

    As for the second premise, unfortunately I agree and the most ready analogue to that is Shaq, particularly Shaq on the Suns. Shaq is (or was) a force and a presence down low and can be effective, but he is slow and in an offense that is geared to a motion/movement offense he sticks out like a sore thumb. I fear Yao would appear to be the same unless we had a second unit that “catered” to his skillset.

    The human side of me is naturally optimistic and I want to believe he’ll recover fully and be healthy for another couple of years. I also want to believe he could be very useful as a backup center to come and play 10-20 minutes a game, max. But if I’m Morey, I know what I have to do…

  • Kay

    I’ll freely admit, most people who want Yao gone seem to view it from sort of emotional perspective from my viewpoint. They can’t stand the pain of wondering when he’ll break down, so they want us to dump someone who can contribute ( and far more than Jordan Hill, for cripes’ sake). If Walton after his injury could become a 6th man of the candidate year for the Celtics, why can’t Yao take a more limited role? I don’t think we should build around him like in the past, but Yao’s not AI, or Francis – there is a place for him between superstar and useless. And I’m not confident he’ll remain healthy like a lot of guys here. But I am convinced that there can be a role for him. And you don’t throw away someone who can be valuable because you’ll feel sad when he gets injured.

  • Thenit11


    Long time reader first time writer. I have become a big Rockets fan since Yao join the team. This might sound a little bit far fetched and simplistic. But didn’t his injuries start with him bulking up too much. I haven’t done the research, but I just saw the documentary with Yao during his first year as a Rocket and he had a lot more speed and quickness and probably over 50 pounds lighter. Don’t you think if he slims down to his rookie year weight, his feet would take a lot less pounding ? I believe Big Z is a lot lighter than Yao and that may be the reason ?

  • West

    Hey Rahat, hope finals prep is going well. Clearly, mine could be going better considering that I am writing this email from your carrell instead of outlining.

    I want to believe that re-signing Yao is the best move for the Rockets but I still can’t commit to a formal stance on the issue. I have a few questions regarding your argument why Yao should not be back.

    Essentially, it seems like you’re saying Yao’s slow, deliberate style is only effective if the entire team adapts to his style of play and that he’s unable to adapt to different roles on a team.

    My question to you is: accounting for your belief in his lack of adaptability – do you think Yao can succeed anywhere as a backup, low-minute player, assuming he misses a chunk of the season b/c of injury?

    Semi-related to my first question: How much does Yao’s history with Houston and the team’s failure to meet expectations play into your conclusion that he shouldn’t be back? Good luck next week.

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