"I'm tired of losing and watching other guys playing in June,"
says stellar point guard Steve Francis, who enters his fourth
year without postseason experience. "I'm in the gym shooting and
they're on TV playing. The honest truth is that we can be as good
as any team in the conference if we all stay on the same page."
That's a big if for a team with an average age of 25. Hurdles
include inexperience, particularly that of 7'5" center Yao Ming,
the league's No. 1 draft choice, who will be going from China's
Shanghai Sharks to the NBA, and Francis's continuing problems
with Meniere's disease, which caused migrainelike headaches,
blurred vision and dizziness last season. Though Francis has
been on medication and a low-sodium diet since last February, he
is still suffering. "I'm taking every step possible, but until I
feel 100 percent better for 30 days in a row I can't say I'm
cured," says Francis, who missed seven games because of the
illness in 2001-02.
Yet Francis believes the Rockets, racked by injuries last
season, can be better than the team that won 45 games two
seasons ago. Coach Rudy Tomjanovich has installed a motion
offense to exploit Houston's wealth of talent, which is two deep
at every position. "We're going to look a lot crisper," says
power forward Maurice Taylor, "and everyone's going to be
The Rockets arrived at training camp saying all the right things
and looking hungry--literally. Center Kelvin Cato lost 20
pounds, as did guard Moochie Norris. Forward Kenny Thomas, who
four years ago weighed 261 pounds, has whittled 40 pounds off
his 6'7" frame, thus giving Tomjanovich the option of playing
him at both forward slots. But the Rocket who ought to write a
diet book is the 6'9" Taylor, who bloated to 312 last spring
while recovering from a right Achilles torn before last season.
Taylor worried that he would take after Vin Baker and Shawn
Kemp, two players whose production dropped off drastically after
enormous weight gains. But the pounds began dropping off as soon
as Taylor was permitted to start running in late April, exposing
an upper body bulked up by the weightlifting he had done during
his lost season. Taylor expects to play at 270.
The Rockets could use their youth as an excuse for poor play
this season, but Francis is demanding a sense of urgency from
himself and his teammates. "Our first day back Coach said, 'If
you think about the future, you're going to lose,'" Francis
says. "We have to put a whole lot of todays together, starting
with today." --I.T.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL BAPTIST/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES ROCKETS' LAUNCHER If his headaches abate, Francis will continue his ascent through the ranks of the elite point guards.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL BAPTIST/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES CUT DOWN In Houston's new offense, top scorer Cuttino Mobley isn't likely to get the 18 shots a game he got last year.
The 2001-02 Rockets forced the fewest turnovers per game (12.0)
since the league began keeping track of the stat in 1970-71.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Rockets
"They're a chaotic team. They break off a lot of their plays and
end up going one-on-one. That matches the style of their two
stars, Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley.... Francis is no Jason
Kidd, but I love him. He dominates the ball but he's
unstoppable, he's competitive night in and night out and he's a
leader. He's everything that Stephon Marbury ought to be....
Mobley has developed some bad habits. He's shown he can hit big
shots as the shot clock runs out, so now you see him dribbling
out the clock and heaving up tough shots on a regular basis....
Houston is weak at shooting guard behind Mobley. Glen Rice is no
longer quick enough to play there.... I give Rudy Tomjanovich
credit for coaching to his talent. You see him changing plays as
they go. It makes them really hard to scout.... At first it
looks like Rudy runs a loose ship, but he has an ability to get
on his players and they accept it. You never hear them bad-mouth
him.... They're a risk-taking team on both ends. Yao Ming's
shot-altering height might change them from a horrible defensive
team into a decent one. He should give them an inside presence,
even if it's only for 20 minutes a game.... Francis and Mobley
should love playing with him. You can just see the double-team
coming to Yao and his teammates flaring out to receive open jump
shots or making hard cuts to the basket.... Eddie Griffin has
turned into a nice player. His body is filling out. Last year he
was a perimeter kick-out guy, but he's starting to balance his
game with some inside play.... Kelvin Cato never lived up to
expectations as a starter, but he will look very good coming off
the bench if Yao takes over.... Maurice Taylor is more of a
skilled player than a dirty-work guy, but he's the only one with
the size and strength to be an enforcer inside.... This is a
team on the way up."
2001-02 record: 28-54 (fifth in Midwest)
Points scored: 92.3 (22nd) Points allowed: 97.2 (20th)
Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich (12th season with Rockets)
STARTERS PVR* 2001-02 KEY STATS
SF Glen Rice 159 8.6 ppg 2.4 rpg 1.6 apg 38.9 FG% 28.1 3FG%
Taylor 120 13.0 ppg 5.5 rpg 1.5 apg 0.55 bpg 48.9 FG%
C Yao Ming (R) 48 32.4 ppg 19.0 rpg 2.9 apg 4.50 bpg 72.1 FG%
SG Cuttino Mobley 42 21.7 ppg 4.1 rpg 2.5 apg 1.47 spg 43.8 FG%
PG Steve Francis 22 21.6 ppg 7.0 rpg 6.4 apg 1.25 spg 41.7 FG%
BENCH PVR* 2001-02 KEY STATS
F Eddie Griffin 106 8.8 ppg 5.7 rpg 0.7 apg 1.84 bpg 36.6 FG%
G Moochie Norris 129 8.1 ppg 3.0 rpg 4.9 apg 0.99 spg 39.8 FG%
F Kenny Thomas 132 14.1 ppg 7.2 rpg 1.9 apg 1.18 spg 47.8 FG%
C Kelvin Cato 243 6.6 ppg 7.0 rpg 1.27 bpg 0.53 spg 58.3 FG%
F Terence Morris 288 3.8 ppg 3.1 rpg 0.9 apg 0.31 spg 38.4 FG%
 New acquisition
 2000-01 statistics
(R) Rookie (statistics from Chinese League)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 92)
YAO'S SHOT-ALTERING HEIGHT MIGHT CHANGE HOUSTON INTO A DECENT