Rockets need team-first approach

Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, the Rockets' talented tandem, can learn from Shaq's team-first approach with the Heat.

Originally Published: January 4, 2005
By George Karl | ESPN Insider
Jeff Van Gundy is facing a significant and age-old coaching challenge with the Houston Rockets this season: How do you take two young, talented players and create winning team chemistry?

Guard Tracy McGrady and center Yao Ming, Houston's talented tandem, haven't consistently been playing together at either end of the court, and the Rockets (16-15) have struggled to stay near .500 as a result.

Ming, a former No. 1 draft pick, is still maturing as an NBA player, while McGrady came to Houston last June in a blockbuster, seven-player deal that shipped Steve Francis to the Orlando Magic.

Van Gundy's challenge is to take these new pieces and put together a winning basketball puzzle -- a puzzle in which Van Gundy himself plays a key role. So far, some pieces appear to be out of place, but there's still time for them to fit.

This is the softest Van Gundy-coached team I've ever seen. These Rockets don't play with the intensity or the physical presence of, say, the teams Van Gundy had with the New York Knicks.

At 7-foot-6, Yao has a tendency to play with too much humility, so sometimes the 24-year-old doesn't embody an intense, competitive spirit. Meanwhile, McGrady is probably one of the three most skilled players in the NBA, along with Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

But the 25-year-old McGrady hasn't found the consistent ability to multiply the skills of his teammates. In fact, sometimes he negates them. Too often, he freezes the other Rockets, playing the game by himself rather than incorporating the team as his ally.