Barry Warner with Shaquille O'Neal. Courtesy photo
Before Game 2, when the Rockets looked like the 65-win team, I visited courtside with an old friend - TNT Analyst Shaquille O’Neal. I covered Shaq over 25 years ago when he was playing for Cole High School in San Antonio. A quick Q&A with the big man:
Q: Shaq, as you reflect on your career, what are you proudest of?
A: That a young kid from San Antonio, Texas, a football state, could go on to the NBA and win not just the rings, but meet so many wonderful people. Most of all, that young kids, our future, can look up to me.
Q: What did you learn from your rookie season in Orlando when the Dream schooled you in the 4-0 sweep for the title?
A: I learned a great lesson. If you want to succeed you must be humbled and fail. Always have to learn. We came against the Rockets after beating the Bulls and got manhandled. Dream had four or five moves that were impossible, even at my size, to defend. He was devastating on the block, then would move away so quickly with the Dream Shake. Dream had four or five moves on each shot.
Q: How about your relationship with Yao Ming?
A: At first, I tried to create a controversy, then my father got very upset. He read my fan mail and reminded me that a 14-year-old kid from Shanghai, China named Yao Ming wrote to me several times. We hang out when I am in China and became great friends. It’s cool how two different people from two different worlds became close.
Q: How great could Yao have been healthy?
A: He would have been incredible and eventually the best center in the world. Yao could shoot from outside with touch and played great defense. Had he been healthy, there is no question the Rockets would have won some championships.
Q: Is this series more like the main course compared to an appetizer?
A: This is the series America has wanted to see right from the start of the season.
Q: Do you realize that you are a crossover? Older people knowing you as the NBA star, while the millennials see you as the fun- loving pitch man on commercials, the rapping and acting career?
A: I’m just here to have fun and make people smile.
On the Rockets
So, Andre Iguodala may be held out of tonight’s Game Four. Big freaking deal.
Your home town heroes in short pants are the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players. Harden continues to dribble, dribble until the shot clock goes down. His teammates continue to make turnovers and not defend.
Coach Mike D’Antoni called them soft after getting hit by the haymaker.
The playoffs make and define legacies The Rockets have spent months living up to their promise that this season would be different: They have won more games, defended more effectively, and played with greater consistency than at any point during Harden’s tenure. But now they are down 2–1 with Tuesday’s Game 4 at Oracle Arena, where Curry and the Warriors are undefeated in the playoffs since 2016.
Three seasons ago, the Beard had 13 turnovers in the series ending loss.
And how can we forget Game 6 here last season when he was a no show, acting like a guy from outer space who never played the game, a 39-point drubbing against the Spurs?
Steph Curry’s return to All-World form occurred in the 41-point Game 3 win with 35 points. After getting his groove back, Curry immediately went back for more, torturing Harden with crossovers before stepping back into another ceiling-scraping 3. He celebrated that one in vintage style, breaking into the type of extended shimmy that has long delighted the Oakland crowd and ticked off hoops purists.
The Houston Astros were in need of some serious help in the bullpen with Phil Maton, Hector Neris, and Ryne Stanek likely leaving this year in free agency.
The Houston Astros have acquired RHP Dylan Coleman from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for RHP Carlos Mateo. pic.twitter.com/hDYuBLn2Kv
— Houston Astros (@astros) December 6, 2023
While some fans were getting concerned about the quiet offseason, the club has made two moves this week to get the ball rolling.
First the team signed Victor Caratini to be the backup catcher, and now they have added some relief pitching.
The Astros traded pitching prospect Carlos Mateo to the Royals for RHP pitcher Dylan Coleman.
Coleman appeared in 96 games in the past three seasons for KC, including 68 games in 2022 and 23 games last season. He has a career 3.88 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. He’s fastball (95 mph), slider (81) and cutter (90) and walked 57 batters and struck out 99 in 92 2/3 innings.
— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) December 6, 2023
Coleman is under club control for the next several years, and made just over $700,000 in 2022. With the Astros right up against the tax threshold, this is a good way to add to the bullpen without having to hand out a large contract.
The Royals had a tough roster decision to make with Coleman, and the Astros made the decision easy for them by making the trade.
Something to note
There's a reason Kansas City wasn't determined to protect Coleman from the Rule 5 Draft. Despite his decent numbers over the last three seasons, 2023 was a rough year for him, posting an 8.84 ERA over 23 games.
In fact, Coleman pitched more innings (30.2) for the Royals AAA team than he did for the big league club (18.1) in 2023.
Hopefully, the Astros can get him back on track this season with some help from their highly touted player development program.
You can watch some of his 2022 highlights above.