We almost expected Yao Ming's comeback to be one of surprises and good fortune.
Houston fans were subjected to so much soul-crunching misery over the past 18 months, yet always came out miraculously relieved at the end. When it looked like Yao's career was in serious jeopardy, he was given a clean bill of health (so to speak).
When word began to circulate concerning Yao's season debut being mid-winter, he showed up Tuesday night, and played very...well at least he was there.
His pivotal decision to have potentially career-ending surgery on his foot, sent shivers down the spine of Houston fans the world over, made worse also by the fact that he was to be a mere spectator for Houston's 2009-2010 season.
So were we ecstatic to see the franchise player back on the hardwood? Of course we were. Were we impressed with his performance? Not by a long shot.
Yao's leap and quickness seem to have decreased substantially, yet again, rendering him little more than a signpost for long rebounds, and against skilled rebounders like Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
His agility was comparative to that of a bridge. Yao was left literally motionless against Dwight Howard on several occasions in the low block.
One particular incident resonated resoundingly with me. With 1:54 to go in the first, Yao fumbled one of the easier rebounds he will ever get, instead knocking the rock into the gracious hands of Dwight Howard, who immediately preceded to use Yao as a checkpoint in his successful spin to the basket.
Yao is rusty.
And we all expected that. If you haven't seen any professional competitive action for 16 months, your fundamentals will be severely diminished. We must also consider the fact that Yao was shooting free throws from the comfort of a wheelchair a little over two months ago (although this facet of his game seems to be relatively sound, as he connected on all three of his freebies against Orlando).
However, we can all be considerably confident that we will see some good out of the mess we saw in the Toyota Center Tuesday night. Simply because it doesn't get much worse than what we all witnessed.
Assuming he finds his range again, and cleans up his footwork, we should be able to benefit from him offensively. However, his lateral quickness and defense are not there. It is just a matter of minutes before he can produce effectively again.
At the moment, he is merely a shadow of the player he was. And who knows, with a huge operation under his belt, and about seven NBA and International playing years slowing him down, he may never recover.
Only time and luck will tell us, and I believe Houston fans are long overdue for a decent dose of both.