Found December 23, 2011 on
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Samuel Dalembert is a realist, and equal to his defensive might and rebounding prowess, the attitude he brings to the Rockets is of value.
The Rockets coveted Nen only for the free-agent center to re-sign with the Nuggets. They traded for Pau Gasol only for NBA commissioner David Stern to void that three-team agreement between the Rockets, Lakers and Hornets. Dalembert had been on the Rockets' wish list, and they on his, but he wasn't at the very top. This fact did not dissuade him.
On Friday he arrived at Toyota Center ready to work. He is proud of what he has accomplished over nine seasons in the NBA. He is anxious to provide the Rockets with the skills that have yielded modest renown.
"I know I wasn't the first option for the Rockets. They made that clear and I respect that," Dalembert said. "I didn't know that (the signing) was going to happen. Eventually when it does happen, it's very exciting.
"You're here now to do my part. Everybody does their part and I do my part, and I promise that I'm going to make a difference defensively."
At first blush the pairing of Dalembert, 30, and the Rockets, who inked the free-agent center to a two-year contract, represents a marriage of convenience with the potential to produce something bountiful. As Yao Ming labored through assorted leg and foot injuries that undermined and ultimately ended his career, the Rockets struggled finding a center capable of providing the requisite rebounding and rim protection.
Dalembert ranks second among active players in block percentage at 5.62 percent, trailing only the Blazers' Marcus Camby (6.13 percent). He finished in the top seven in block percentage five times between 2003-2010, blocking an estimated 6.9 percent of all two-point shots while on the floor during the 2005-06 season with the Philadelphia 76ers.
On four occasions Dalembert ranked in the top nine in total rebound percentage, finishing third in his last two seasons with the 76ers (2008-10). He is fifth among active players in total rebound percentage at 18.69 percent, trailing Dwight Howard, Camby, Ben Wallace and Jeff Foster. Incidentally, Dalembert will defend Howard on Monday when the Rockets open the 66-game regular season in Orlando against the Magic.
"He'll help everybody," Rockets forward Luis Scola said. "He's a shot blocker, he's an intimidation presence and we've been looking for that for a long time. We had Chuck (Hayes) who gave us a lot of things last year and he was part of every win we had. Now we don't have him anymore so it's great to have this kind of presence, a seven-footer that can block shots and take care of other centers."
After the plans for acquiring Nen and Gasol fell through, the Rockets were poised to enter this season with third-year centers Jordan Hill and Hasheem Thabeet manning the middle. Both are just 24 years old and neither has cultivated a reputation as exceptional defenders or ferocious rebounders. Before Dalembert signed, the Rockets' roster closely resembled what was featured last year when the team finished just outside of the playoff picture for a second consecutive season.
Now the Rockets have someone able to fill those voids where they are deficient and acutely aware of his individual strengths. Dalembert is content to leave the scoring to the other options on the floor. The Rockets return their top five scorers from a team that was fourth in the NBA in offensive rating last season (111.3 points per 100 possessions). What he does well is precisely what the Rockets have sought and what first-year coach Kevin McHale has described as his fundamental tenets.
"I'm thrilled, I'm ready for it and I'm excited," Dalembert said. "A lot of times with my teams it took a while sometimes because of the direction they want to go before they really allow you to do what you do best. When you do see me in any situation of being on any team such as Philly or Sacramento and they allow me the opportunity to do what I do best, the game speaks for itself. They don't lie.
"I take pride in what I do. You can talk to me about the offense, but defensively I take pride in what I do. I'm very proud of that. I've always been a defensive player, from playing soccer to playing basketball."
How quickly Dalembert can familiarize himself with his teammates' defensive tendencies is the foremost challenge facing the Rockets. As a rim protector and the last line of help defense, such responsibility comes with the territory. He has plenty of acclimatization to do, both in regards to conditioning and schematically. Time is of the essence.
What Dalembert already possesses is a book on NBA centers. He knows what Howard plans to do in the post, which pet move is the favorite of the Spurs' Tim Duncan, how to best negate the bulk of Memphis' Marc Gasol. Instead of entering this season green in the middle, the Rockets have a vet who they can rely on to supply something new and needed.
"He understands the league," McHale said. "Whatever concepts we've been doing, whatever defensive assignments we have may have different names here, but it's the same basic assignment that everybody does. There won't be a lot different for him. Our calls will be different, offensive sets will be a little bit different but the game of basketball is essentially the same.
"He's going to have to do some pre-practice stuff and some pro-practice stuff to catch up. We're basically going to have to do what we've been doing, but just give him more reps to give him an opportunity to get more familiar with what we've been doing."
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