Yao Ming to return to Rockets
Yao Ming is returning to the Houston Rockets — a giant selling point for general manager Daryl Morey as he begins courting big-name free agents this week.
The seven-foot-six all-star centre said Tuesday that he has picked up his player option for next season, the last year of his five-year contract. Yao sat out last season following reconstructive foot surgery and said he wanted to see how the injury healed before making his decision.
Yao said he's resumed basketball activities and should be 100 per cent when training camp begins.
"To miss one year is a long time," Yao said. "I've never been in this situation before, and I'm getting as much information as I can about my foot, to see what's the best for me and best for the Rockets. I decided a couple of days ago, and there's no one better than the Rockets now."
If he had turned down the player option, Yao would've become an unrestricted free agent on Thursday. He is due to make $17.7 million US next season, but wouldn't reveal how close he came to joining the star-studded class of free agents who will hit the market this week.
"Not considering it anymore," he said. "That's most important."
Yao and Morey would not say if the two sides are working on an extension beyond next season. The Rockets selected Yao with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft, and signed him to a five-year extension in September 2005.
Foundation of the franchise
"He's the centrepiece of the Rockets, the foundation of our franchise," Morey said. "We're looking forward to great things from him next season."
Morey said Yao will play an "active" role in helping the Rockets land a top free agent. While the Rockets don't have enough salary cap space to offer a maximum contract to guys like LeBron James, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade, Morey thinks Yao's commitment will sway free agents on the team's championship potential in 2010-11.
"Obviously, Yao Ming is an unbelievable piece to have on our roster," Morey said. "We feel like we're a great destination. We don't really feel like the underdog. Any free agent, when they take the time to look through their options — they all will — they are going to see us as a very interesting option. Obviously, a great roster that's ready to win."
With Yao back, the Rockets also offer a unique marketing opportunity for any free agent to consider. Regular-season games draw enormous television ratings in China and several of Yao's teammates have landed lucrative endorsement deals with Chinese companies.
"If free agents want to be a global presence," Morey said, "we have more people tuning in to our regular-season games than the Super Bowl."
Morey wants Yao to talk to potential additions, and Yao already has talking points in mind for his recruiting pitch.
"We have a very good team here, we have very good fans and a very good coaching staff. Why not come here?" he said. "I would love to play with any of those guys out there. Hopefully, they come here all together."
Top secret 'presentation materials'
The Rockets have already come up with a creative way to lure them, sending a caravan of fans on the road to rendezvous with Morey at his initial meeting with a top free agent. The plan is for the caravan to deliver Morey to the meeting with "presentation materials" for the free agent to peruse. Morey wouldn't specify what the materials included.
"It's top secret," Morey said. "We don't want to give up what he's going to unwrap on Christmas morning."
Morey said he's not discouraged by reports that the most coveted free agents of this year's class have already decided where they're headed. Free agents can't sign contracts until July 8.
"Until July 8, no one can make up their minds 100 per cent, no one can sign their name to the dotted line," Morey said. "So there's an opening there. My sense from the chatter is that no one has really made up their minds. But the only people who really know that are the free agents.
"All we can do is put our best foot forward and make the free agent understand why Houston is a great destination, and hopefully, it works out."
Once free agency begins, the Rockets will also have to decide whether to re-sign restricted free agents Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry. Houston also holds the option on re-signing forward Chuck Hayes.