Robinson, Garcia on their first Rockets' practice
Practice was over and the rest of the Rockets quickly left the floor for a meeting.
Not Thomas Robinson. Not head coach Kevin McHale.
Instead, the Rockets’ head coach grabbed a basketball and called out “T-Rob!” and the two went to the far end of the practice court for some extra work.
One a 55-year-old Hall-of-Fame player, in his second basketball life. The other a 21-year-old rookie, No. 5 overall pick, probably too young to appreciate the magnitude of being taught by the former.
Together, the two worked on some big-man moves after the first practice in which Robinson and his Sacramento teammate Francisco Garcia were able to participate since they joined the team via trade.
“I’m excited,” Robinson said about working with McHale. “He’s one of the greats of the game.”
The two worked for about 10-15 minutes after the practice before pausing 20 feet from the near baseline to chat. Then, Robinson hit the showers and McHale posted up for his daily chat with reporters. Of course, the topic of McHale’s newest forward came up early and often.
“I assume if you would rebound, run and defend, coach might find a spot for you,” said McHale, who also likened the first day of practice with a new team to a first day of school.
Robinson has tremendous potential. He was the fifth overall pick in the last draft to the Kings but they were willing to send him to Houston in exchange for Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas and Cole Aldrich.
Team leader James Harden said it will be easier for Robinson to earn minutes because of Robinson’s specific skill set.
“I think so because that was one of our assets that we didn’t have,” Harden said. “A big guy who’s active, who’s as versatile as him. It’s good that he can come in and contribute right away.”
But contributing right away might not be exactly what McHale has in mind. When discussing the way a player earns playing time, McHale talked about Donatas Motiejunas, who has very slowly gotten more playing time as he’s shown more and more in practice. But even still, Motiejunas has played in more than 15 minutes just twice this season, one of those times coming in the last game with a very short Rockets’ bench.
“We were trying to figure out how to get him in and stuff but (Motiejunas) just practiced hard enough, worked hard enough, that I was bound and determined that I would find him some minutes and it finally happened for him,” McHale said. “Practice is important.”
But Robinson isn’t Motiejunas. Robinson is a fifth overall draft choice. He’s a highly regarded player who said joining the Rockets is like a “second chance.” He was asked about living up to his high draft status on Monday.
“It’s not about that right now,” Robinson said. “I felt like I had something to prove coming into the draft and I didn’t get a chance to show that or whatever the case may be but, like I said, I got a second chance here and I got a long career ahead of me. My career will show.
“I’m not sure why it was the decision (for the Kings to trade him). I’m not sure why it was made, who made it and it’s over now. I’m a Houston Rocket and that’s what I’m focused on.”
Harden said it’s the responsibility of players, coaches and the entire organization to make the new players feel welcome.
Apparently it’s the job of the media too. On Monday as Robinson prepared to take part in his first practice, he had to ask a CSNHouston cameraman where the practice court was. The cameraman happily pointed it out to the newcomer and Robinson was on his way.
What will his role be? How much will he play?
“I’m just going to keep working every day,” Robinson said. “No matter how many minutes I get, I’ll give the same effort.”
And eventually he’ll be able to show that effort on the practice court. After all, at least now he knows where it is.