HOUSTON // The Houston Rockets are still hoping Yao Ming returns next season, but they have been able to cash in on his injury. The Rockets were granted a disabled player exception from the NBA who agreed with the Rockets' assumption that their All-Star centre could miss the next season with a hairline fracture in his left foot.
Meanwhile, Ming himself was not sure about his comeback and is trying to put everyone at ease. "I am optimistic about the future and I will return to playing basketball when my foot has fully healed," Yao said in a statement released by his agent on Wednesday. "My focus is on selecting the best treatment option for my injured foot and committing myself to do what I can to ensure a complete recovery."
Yao is still consulting with doctors and will announce within a week what kind of treatment he's chosen. Yao broke his foot in a second-round play-off game against the Lakers on May 8. He was fitted for a boot that immobilized the foot and the team initially said he would miss eight to12 weeks. Tests two months later showed the foot had not healed and he was out indefinitely. The team doctor said that the injury could potentially end his career.
The Rockets had then applied for the exception a few weeks ago. The NBA approved the request on Wednesday, freeing about US$5.7million (Dh21mn) that the Rockets used to sign free agent Trevor Ariza from the Los Angeles Lakers. The Rockets retained midlevel exception which meant money can be used on multiple players. The general manager, Daryl Morey, clarified the league's approval for the injury exception does not rule out Yao's return this season.
The Rockets are also awaiting on the return of Tracy McGrady, who underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee in February and could be out until the middle of next season. Morey said he could havee applied the disabled player exception to McGrady, but thought the league would be more willing to grant the request in Yao's case. "We chose the one we thought had the best likelihood of succeeding," Morey said.
When free agent Ron Artest signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, Morey moved quickly to sign Ariza, a versatile forward who will fill Artest's spot in the starting line-up. The Rockets are still looking for an experienced centre - their projected starting line-up have no player taller than Luis Scola (6ft 9in). Rockets made an aggressive pitch for the Orlando Magic centre Marcin Gortat, but Morey said they were unable to offer enough money.
* With agencies