On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to chat with Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle over the phone. I'm sure that everyone here is well-aware of Mr. Feigen's fantastic work as the beat writer for the Houston Rockets, as we try to link to his work as often as possible. The interview went as planned, except for the fact that I flubbed the audio. Currently, it sounds like he and I are exchanging thoughts in the middle of a tornado. However, I was able to type up a transcript of the interview, or at least what I could hear through the static storm. There are a few things that I missed, indicated by (...) or an explanation, but an overwhelming majority (I'd say about 98%) of the interview can be found below. And just to kill off your hearing, the audio is after the jump as well. Enjoy.
Tom Martin: How long have you been working for the Chronicle?
Jonathan Feigen: Uh, 19 years. I'm right around my 20th anniversary.
TM: Has that been all Rockets coverage?
No, I switched ten years ago. I had just switched in Dallas, and then I wanted to come work for the Chronicle. So I came and covered colleges for nine years, and then switched to the Rockets about ten years ago.
TM: Do you have a favorite team that you've covered, Rockets-wise?
That's a good question. Covering this last team was something that I really enjoyed because it was such an interesting season. It was a really incredible team to work with. But it's hard to say. Any team with Charles Barkley on it might just do it. He was such a leader in the clubhouse for the first few years I was covering the team. I tend to think that covering the championship teams, even though I was part of the playoff coverage (...) I got to cover those teams, but I wasn't the beat guy so (...) I have fond memories of those early teams. They were a lot of fun.
Hakeem was such an incredible gentleman. He would thank you for interviewing him. There was a time when I was in New Jersey and all the New York media wanted to talk to Hakeem that night, and one by one they asked me what his "policy" was - does he talk before games? I remember telling them all that not only would he talk before the game, but that he would thank you for interviewing him. He did, one after another. (...) Any of those teams were just great to cover.
TM: What do you think separates this upcoming team from those past teams?
Well, there are no stars. There are stars, nor are there superstars. You know, I've never covered rebuilding, and I'm not sure if the Rockets are willing to consider this to be rebuilding. But there's a good chance. They're definitely young, and they're definitely counting on people to do more than they've been asked to do before, at least until McGrady gets back. I've never covered that before. Even with the "step back to move forward" Steve and Cuttino years - they overlapped with Hakeem. The Rockets never viewed themselves as not a contender as a team until now. So, with the bad teams that I've covered, it's been the [injuries or other issues]. With this team, it's going to be a fight to make the playoffs. I've never covered that. It's going to be very different from past Rockets teams.
More with Mr. Feigen after the jump. It's worth your time.
TM: You wrote about this earlier in a blog entry, but, you know, we've seen hustle, grit, and scrappy play win the big game for us, or even win the big series, but do you think it can work for a full season to translate to any success at all?
Well yeah, it can translate to some success. I just don't know if it can translate to enough. It's a very good team in that regard. It's not going to be like those Clippers teams, where guys are playing to get out of there, to get their next job. These guys do play to win. If you take a look at the guys we have who are playing big minutes, they are very competitive individuals who want to win the game. That's why they play. There have been a lot of teams, usually borderline playoff teams, that are trying to just get numbers. They're trying to get a better job or a better contract. You don't have that a lot with this team. You have guys like Luis Scola who are just fine with Carl Landry entering the game. Uh, Shane Battier too - there are so many guys who are that way. That is the mentality of this team. Yeah, you can win that way. But can you win more often than you lose playing that way?
TM: Realistically, what do you think is the best-case scenario for this year? Do you think that we can fight for a playoff spot, or is the main objective to develop guys like Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, and even Trevor Ariza?
Well, there's no reason why you can't do both. The main objective is to win as much as possible. You want to win more often than you lose.
One of the thing's that is not understood about Rick Adelman, because he sort of has this image of being laid back, is that the guy is incredibly competitive. He's just a competitive guy - as much as any coach you'll ever be around, this guy is really competitive about winning games. (...) He'll choose what he needs to say most. The players do get the feeling that he's super-competitive. (...) Because of that, and because of who the owner is, and because of who the individuals on the team are, we're trying to win. And there's not any unwritten rule that because you want to develop your players for another season, you can't win. You don't have to be that way - there's the off-season [for development]. Rick couldn't stand being that way. It would eat him up a lot to try to not win the game. He's just so much about both. So, there totally about seeing how many games they can win and how far it can take them.
TM: I mentioned Ariza. When he was part of the Lakers team that won the championship, he was more of a catch-and-shoot role player, a great defender on the wing, but wasn't a prominent scorer for that team. Do you think he'll have that same role in Houston, or can he become a more prominent scorer?
I think he can be a little bit of both, in that I do think that he'll get more touches, but largely in the same way that he got them - in other words, catch and shoot. What I don't know, and what teams have to show, is that do they want players to take the early open look. Of course, the straight answer, if asked whether or not a guy should go for a layup, is: "Yeah, everybody wants that." But in every season, the teams that talk about running but never really do all that often don't allow that early open look. [Speculates whether or not the Rockets will be a running team and allow the early open look]. If they do that, I think Ariza will get a lot of early looks and more shots, assuming that he can take it. [Talks about teams deciding whether or not they will run more - repeats what he said about Ariza's touches].
TM: I'm assuming you caught all the summer league action. We went 5-0, and it had to be a great week for us. Who do you think was the most impressive Rocket?
Chase Budinger. I don't think there's any question that he was terrific. He shot close to 70 percent. He was under control, too. Yeah, he shot at a high percentage, but he was under control, and didn't take bad shots. He basically shot very well. In the first game, he looked kind of nervous, he missed that layup, and then he had one three that was just ugly. But even then, I thought the way he looks for options, and how he can see what the ball is doing very early, as soon as he touches it - it was things like that I was very impressed with, even in that first game, when he was losing confidence, when his shot was not going and it all looked bad.
I saw some things in Jermaine Taylor that I thought looked really good. Now, he shot badly, especially from range, and as a 2-guard, as a shooter and scorer, if he shoots badly, he's not going to be playing well. I don't think he had other qualities that were so outstanding that he could shoot badly and be playing well. But I think if he shoots well, which he didn't there, I saw other things in him, such as his vision with the ball and his opportunities inside and underneath, that I didn't expect to see and I was impressed with that. But the ball has got to go in more often when he shoots. As for his shooting range, I don't know if it's suspect after a few games. But it wasn't good in Las Vegas.
And then Joey Dorsey's attitude on the court was different in that he was looking for things to do to help. You could just see him looking for things to do to help *here*, to crash the boards *here* (...) He's got to do that, and then some more; he has to be the hardest working player on the court when he's playing, and he took a lot of important steps in that direction.
TM: Do you think that [Budinger, Taylor, or Dorsey] can make the opening roster, and if not, at some point this season? Do you think we have room?
Well, either they're going to make the roster, or not at all. Once you cut a guy, you lose your rights to him. It's possible that Chuck Hayes is one of those guys to cut and then bring back. I mean, we're not cutting Budinger; I'd be very surprised. I think those guys will make the roster, but right now, it looks like there is one roster spot for Budinger, Taylor, and James White to compete to get. [Can't make out what he said next, other than that he asked Daryl Morey about all the money that the Rockets spent to get the draft picks] They spent a lot of money on those guys to get them. I just don't think that they would so erratically change their minds and cut them before the first regular season game.
TM: What do you think they can do with Brian Cook, and possibly Brent Barry, to make room for the younger guys?
Well, Barry is interesting, because he could play a lot better than he did last year. He just got beat out. And he was incredibly turnover prone, much more than I would have expected, and that's not good. He has to play better to play at all. But I don't think they'll rule him out. That said, it's a close call. Do you take the young guy, or do you take the guy in the last year of his contract, and maybe the last year of his career? [Discusses the possibility of cutting Cook and Barry and losing money].
The Rockets would love to do a two for one trade. However, everybody has to do those these days. The closer you get to November, and once you get into training camp, every team starts making those tough decisions, and it's really hard to do a two for one deal. Everybody is thinking, "Now who do I cut?" and, "If I cut him, I've got to pay him," and it really makes those decisions tougher. That's what they'd like to do. They'd love to have someone else pay Brian Cook next year. But it's easier said than done. It's pretty tough to do.
TM: You mentioned James White earlier. He's obviously one of the most athletic guys on the court, he's fast, and he's a very capable defender. But whenever he had the ball on the offensive end, he looked kind of erratic, almost awkward, and do you think the Rockets were impressed by what he did? Do you think he can be a Von Wafer kind of a guy in the league?
It was a weird situation. They tried to give him opportunities by putting him in isolation situations, and he didn't do very well with them. He needs to be a guy who is within the offense, to where he might be able to get by somebody on the dribble if that somebody is closing in a rush on a rotation - not in an isolation situation. [Couldn't make out the name] has got a little bit of that shake to him. With James White, I didn't see that. And that's not that bad a thing because he's not going to be in those type of situations in the NBA anyway. But he was in a lot of those situations in the first three games, and didn't look good during them.
Does he give you enough? He did look like he can defend a little bit; it's so hard to tell so early. Sometimes he had real height advantages over guys who are trying to find their way, and he can wow you with the athleticism, but he did look good defensively. With his ability to get out on the break, and his ability to occasionally get to the rim - will that be enough? I know that he's not guaranteed, and I think that [the Rockets] are pretty high on the two rookies. I think White's got the tougher job [to make the team], as Von Wafer had last year, and he beat out a guy who had a guarantee. Right now I think he's got to do the most in that three man race, if that's what it turns out to be. I proceed with caution, because some of the bad things we saw was when he was trying to do things that he won't be asked to do at the NBA level.
TM: Do you think the Rockets will sign Von Wafer?
The fact that he hasn't grabbed any deals yet...I mean that's basically saying, you know, he goes out, and he looks at the market. The problem with that is often somebody looks at the price on making an offer, and the buyer just takes it. You know, why should I come back and see you for the same offer I just got? He's not a restricted free agent; he's unrestricted. I think it's going to be tough. But [the Rockets] haven't closed the door; they've been very careful not to burn that bridge. Even though Wafer's agent, Mitchell Butler, was critical of the way they did things in signing Ariza (...) I just tend to think that he will get some sort of offer at some point. I think it's unlikely, but it wouldn't be shocking if they somehow signed him. They're going to let him play the field, and get a better idea of what kind of contract he can get.
TM: We just signed David Andersen, of Australia. What are your impressions of him, and how great of a fit is he for Rick Adelman's offense?
You know, I'm tempted to do that Airplane line: "I'm sorry, I don't do impressions." I haven't seen him in person for about five years, and I didn't form a real firm opinion about him at the time. He does have a fit for the way they will run their offense. And you know, I'll just do my little rant here, the whole "Rick Adelman offense" or "Rick Adelman system" thing has been so mis-described, or inappropriately used, during his time in Houston. His offense is what makes sense for the players he's got. His offense using Yao Ming is very different from his other post offense in Sacramento because he's got Yao Ming! Yeah, David Andersen will fit well, because they'll do what David Andersen does. And if David Andersen is a really good low-post player, they'll do that. I mean, Rick goes on this rant for a lot longer than I do. Although, the one thing I got him to admit one time in Dallas when we were talking is that [Feigen asks Adelman], "Yeah, the stuff you did in Sacramento is still part of your offense," and he said, "Well, yeah." So I'll live with that.
But now that I've got that out of the way, (...) Andersen looks like a guy who can be a pretty reliable 18-20 foot shooter, which can create openings and spread the floor a little bit. He can pick and pop with Aaron Brooks. It fits what they feel that they have to now, which is spread the floor and let Aaron beat people off the dribble. And then they've got to hope, and this is the biggest thing - they've go to hope that Aaron can improve and can develop in that when he beats people off the dribble, and someone slides over, that he can find the right open shooter. And David Andersen helps with that. He spreads the floor. If you want to pick and pop, you can bring the big man out, making Aaron tougher [to keep in check]. It all fits with the people he's got, with Ariza and Battier to both be catch-and-shoot guys, and they've demonstrated that they can do that. It all fits. And he looks like a guy (but until you do it, you're not going to know, as we've seen with Yao Ming) who could be a high post passer on back cuts and things that the Rockets like.
The Rockets have never made as much off of back cuts as Sacramento did. Their best passer, by far, among the 4's and 5's in that situation is [Couldn't tell, but I think he said Hayes]. And that's kind of a stroke of irony, that your worst shooter is your best big man passer. So maybe this guy can do some of that. But until you do, and it looks like he might be able to...you know, Yao Ming never got that. He looks like he should be really good at that. But he's just not quick enough; he's too mechanical with that. It'll be interesting to see if David Andersen can do that, but he can shoot, and he can spread the floor, and he should be able to play well with Aaron Brooks. And, for what they've invested, for a replacement/backup center, that's a pretty good thing. It's not a lot, but it's something.
TM: Last question: Any the word on Tracy McGrady's rehab?
Not a lot. The Rockets give him a report quite regularly. It's just so tedious. Everybody is asking right now, because it's been out there for a long time that July is when he'd hit the court. But you know, when he gets on the court, it's just so controlled. It's what they call diagonals: he does careful diagonal cuts, set shots, free throws - it's slow. That's what they say with microfracture patients. The real challenge is having the patience go as slowly as you are supposed to, because with a lot of guys, that's where they messed up. They think, "I feel great!" and they don't do the really tedious stuff that you seemed to have progressed beyond. They've told me for years that you've still got to do that stuff.
I think that's part of the reason he had the commitment to go to Chicago [for his rehab] and say, "Tell me what do to. You tell me, I'll do it." And because of all that - I mean, what he's doing now, it's so little compared to what he will be asked to do in the coming months. The one thing that's good, and one of the things I heard last month quite a bit, is that there have been no setbacks. (...) There are two reasons for optimism: [no setbacks], and that his leg strength has been reported as being just really good, way better than what it has been. It's kind of what they hoped would happen last year. They say they feel really good about the leg strength. So there are some good signs, but there's just a long, long way to go.
Thanks again to Mr. Feigen for giving such an informative interview. You can read his blog here, and we'll be sure to keep linking to any articles of his. Now, here's your worst nightmare (on Windows Media Player):