The NBA can be a whirlwind. This lockout turned it into an all-out hurricane.
Even on the eve of the beginning of the season, several NBA veterans were without new homes and were still out on the free agent market. Some were still waiting for buyouts from Europe, others simply had not found the deal they wanted. With teams still trying to figure out how to set themselves up for the inevitable tax hike that is coming for the 2013-14 season, a lot of those questionably long contracts were not available to many players who have come to rely on them.
Players like Samuel Dalembert.
Dalembert was a free agent throughout the entire abbreviated two-week offseason. It was not until Sunday that he officially signed with the Rockets. And the big man was in uniform Monday night for the season opener in Orlando, even though Dalembert had just one shoot-around to prepare for the regular season. He entered the game a hair over two minutes into the game after Jordan Hill picked up his second foul.
“As they say, you have to be ready,” Dalembert said following Houston’s 104-95 loss to Orlando on Monday. “I went out there and got some minutes and kept it going. That is what a team is all about. You can see the effort there today and we did a really good job of playing defense.”
The Rockets fell short in their first game and it was clear Dalembert could make an impact once he gets into the swing of things. It is tough to be completely ready after missing all of training camp and getting only one shoot-around in preparation.
Dalembert was ecstatic to be with the Rockets, he was in Orlando waiting for his contract to be finalized while the Rockets prepared for their opener against the Magic. He said he was most excited for the opportunity to play with a big-man coach for the first time in his career. He said he is hoping that he can make a mark on a Rockets franchise that is well known for its strong centers — from Moses Malone to Ralph Sampson to Hakeem Olajuwon to Yao Ming, that is a pretty strong lineage of centers.
Right now though, Dalembert is trying to catch up as this hectic season begins. Hopefully with practice, he said he can absorb and learn from Rockets coach and NBA Hall of Famer Kevin McHale.
“The main thing is basically try to understand what’s going on the offense and be able to do that,” Dalembert said before Monday’s game. “Other than that, everything else is just natural. You’ve got to do your thing, you’ve got to guard, you’ve got to play defense, you’ve got to understand what kind of defense you’re going to be in.”
Dalembert’s stats are not that impressive — last year he averaged 8.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and during his 10-year career he averages 8.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. In Monday’s season opener for Houston, he scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds in almost 20 minutes of play. There were moments when Dalembert both looked out of shape and ready to play. And there were more moments when Dalembert seemed in the wrong spot like he was still learning the team’s plays and his teammates.
Dalembert has been a starter (sometimes by necessity) in this league for most of nine of his 10 seasons. He provides a steady defensive presence with his long arms and quick hops. Maybe he was not worth the nearly $65 million he earned during the last six years. OK, he was probably not worth that much. But surely someone was in need of a center who can still challenge shots and play with energy in the post.
That team became the Rockets when they signed Dalembert to a multi-year deal (terms remain undisclosed and unreported).
It is still unclear what role Dalembert might play. The Rockets were desperate for a true center to start alongside Luis Scola as they trotted out Jordan Hill to line up against Dwight Howard in the opener. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey described Dalembert as “exactly the rim protector we have been actively pursuing.” He showed some of that in Monday’s game, but there is still a long way to go.
Dalembert will have to learn quickly. The Rockets return to action Thursday against the Spurs and face a back-to-back-to-back. It is just going to be another chapter in a whilrwind journey for the veteran center this week.