ESPN reported on Tuesday, July 27, that Rockets center Yao Ming may retire after the 2010-11 season if his foot doesn’t heal properly.
That’s a big IF, but should this spontaneous statement cause concern for Houston fans and management? Probably so.
Yao’s been out for quite some time as is, and the Rockets made quite a remarkable run without the Chinese seven-footer on the hardwood.
But his presence was absolutely missed, and it’s a key reason Houston missed postseason play last year.
“If the foot injury does not heal next season, I might choose to call it quits,” Yao told the Chinese media on Monday.
However, according to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, Yao is “currently participating in on-court basketball workouts” and is expected to be ready for the start of training camp—according to ESPN.
“Yao Ming is working diligently on his return and has consistently received positive feedback at each of his scheduled medical checkups,” Morey said.
Regardless of Morey’s consistent optimism, there is still a cause for concern, especially considering the big guy is even questioning his own ability heading into the 2010-11 season.
“The foot injury will not allow me to play so many games anymore,” Yao said. “Like I said before, I will quit the national team and the sport one day. It’s what happens to every athlete.”
If Yao does retire, don’t be too surprised. Just don’t expect his jersey to be hanging from the rafters in Toyota Center near Hakeem Olajuwon’s either. Unless, of course, Yao makes a miraculous comeback and the Houston Rockets win it all in 2010-11.
“I know I will retire one day; my career will end sooner or later,” Yao said. “Even if I can play until I am 36, I have to accept that fact. The only problem is that 30 is the golden time for an athlete, but for me it’s sudden death, and I find it hard to accept that.”
Sudden death for Yao or not, the Rockets must move on.
Can they, and will they, win a title without the Chinese big man?
If you ask Yao, the answer is yes.
“Even some of my close friends bet there was no way for the Rockets to win more than 30 regular season games last season,” Yao recently told reporters in Beijing. “Just have a look at how much they won.”
Whether Yao returns in perfect health—or not—should not be Houston’s concern right now, though. Instead, they should be focusing on the future of the franchise.
And regardless of whether Yao returns to the hardwood in prime fashion or as a worn-out dud is beyond the point; right about now, coach Rick Adelman and the Rockets need to be aiming toward improving.
Especially after a remarkable run last season.
Are Yao’s best days behind him?
Will the Chinese big man ever return to All-Star form? And can he even continue to lead the team and dominate the league such as in year’s past?
Whether yes or no, the solution is fairly simple: It’s time to move on.
Yao or no Yao, the Rockets have a damn good team.
Now it’s time to build around the current team and create a title-bound squad…
Denton Ramsey may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org