It was certainly a welcome sight for Rockets fans last week—Yao Ming, moving confidently, working up a sweat, banging around in one-on-one situations with teammate Chuck Hayes(notes). Last year, Houston put up a valiant effort in trying to slip into the playoffs in the West, but came up just short. But there was a general overall confidence when it came to the Rockets, because this year, Yao was expected to return to the court after missing the entire season because of foot surgery.
Now, doctors have declared Yao’s left foot 100 percent healed, and he has been cleared to work his way up to 5-on-5 practices. Expect to see Yao suiting up for training camp, and expect to see him on the floor for Houston’s opening night game on October 26 against the Lakers. But just how much of Yao we’ll be seeing, at least in the season’s early going, remains a mystery. He has averaged 32.7 minutes per game over the course of his career, but probably isn’t going to approach that kind of court time this year.
“He is fully healed, and that is great news, of football jerseycourse,” Rockets GM Daryl Morey told SN. “But the doctors are still evaluating everything. There is no question we are going to have to be very cautious with his playing time.”
The Rockets haven’t figured out exactly what that will mean. But the team has some different options when it comes to keeping Yao healthy. “He is going to be more limited, it is just a matter of how you get to that point, how you limit him,” Morey said. “Obviously, you start with less minutes per game. He won’t be out there for 35, 40 minutes per game, we know that. But then, things like back-to-backs, you might see him not play in the second part of Miami Dolphins jersey those or something. Practice time, he might be limited. There are different ways to keep his minutes down. No one knows exactly right now.”
Yao understands that he needs to keep his minutes down—after all, there was a time he feared his latest foot injury might end his career. He is on board with being cautious, and told reporters last week, “That was really a hard month for me," Yao said. "I got a lot of phone calls from the Rockets staff, coaches, players, teammates and my friends and of course, my family will always be there to stay with me. That was the hardest time, (it’s) already passed. Now, we’re looking forward and making something good.”
But so much of the Rockets’ success depends on Minnesota Vikings jersey Yao’s play, that it is hard to see how Houston can work out a plan that allows Yao to get back to top form while keeping the team functioning at its peak. And while Yao is saying he is OK with limited minutes now, Morey knows that will change once the season heats up.
“He is such a competitor, there are going to be times when he absolutely won’t want to come out,” Morey said. “I know the first game that is close and he is playing well but his minutes are up, we will have to have (trainer) Keith Jones go on the floor and tackle him and drag him off. We have to look at the big picture here.”