I've never been a beatwriter. Never really wanted to be, especially after closely watching the New York/New Jersey guys so often left with no choice other than to make something out of nothing. Gotta feed the beast. And today's Houston Chronicle bore a perfect example of that, in a story headlined "Rockets Changes Coming." Hm, really? You think? They're 4-12, dead last in the West, and just lost a game in which they trailed by 20-plus at the end of the first quarter (the first time they'd ever done that in team history). Change? Can't imagine why.
Nothing against Jonathan Feigen, who I think does a great job on the Rockets beat, but this is news? A team that was expected to be second to only the Spurs in the West comes out of the gate—well, falls out of the gate—and the fact that changes are coming needs to be reported? "Changes Not Coming" would be a headline. "Changes Coming" isn't news. Especially since no details are given (as usual, Jeff Van Grumpy is playing things close to the vest).
I don't know about Van Gundy. Had doubts about him ever since he was with the Knicks—the only reason he took them to the '99 Finals was a mind-blowingly lucky Allan Houston shot, and Patrick Ewing's injury (which forced him to finally play Marcus Camby, who, teamed with Latrell Sprewell finally brought some excitement to the Knicks offense). Now he has a Rockets team with no identity, a superstar with injury issues, and a center whose fame exceeds his talents. Or at least his desire. Yao Ming needs to be MEAN to succeed (and succeed Shaq as the best center in the L), and it just seems like he doesn't have it in him. Ironically, with Shaq injured, the best center in the L has been the aforementioned Mr. Camby, who racked up a 30/20 the other night. And the second-best is probably Alonzo Mourning, whose leg Van Gundy famously humped in the infamous Zo/LJ brawl. Another funny thing is that Vin Baker, Charlie Ward and Clarence Weatherspoon all remain on the Rockets payroll, despite the fact that all three are out of the League. Seems like Jeff is still working for the Knicks.
The Rockets can still come out of this and make the playoffs (maybe), but it'll certainly be an uphill battle. And that, that will be a story.
Want to know how bad the Atlantic is, compared to how competitive the Central is? The Bulls are in last in the Central at 8-7. The Sixers lead the Atlantic at 8-10. If the playoffs started today (I hate that phrase, but I had to do it), the entire Central would be in.