HOUSTON (AP) -Tracy McGrady has felt this way before. Last year, in fact.
He was surrounded with talent, guided by an accomplished coach and convinced that the Houston Rockets were ready to make a deep run in the NBA playoffs. All that added up to another postseason flop for McGrady and the franchise.
The Rockets retooled their roster and replaced Jeff Van Gundy with Rick Adelman, who brought a more fast-paced, eye-pleasing style. McGrady is optimistic again - but with last season's failure still fresh in his mind, don't ask him to get too excited just yet.
``We look great on paper,'' he said, ``but sometimes it really doesn't translate on the court.''
Houston was one of the most active teams in the offseason, starting with the coaching change. The Rockets acquired point guards Mike James and Steve Francis, and power forward Luis Scola, three presumably good fits in Adelman's free-flowing offensive system.
Kirk Snyder and Bonzi Wells bring potential scoring punch backing up McGrady. The temperamental Wells probably wouldn't have returned to the Rockets if Adelman hadn't been hired as the coach. Wells had one of his best seasons playing for Adelman in Sacramento in 2005-06.
McGrady should also thrive in the system, as current Rockets broadcast analyst Clyde Drexler did under Adelman during Portland's successful run in the early 1990s. The 28-year-old McGrady has been stricken with back problems the last two seasons, but thinks Adelman's style could extend his career by several years.
``It's what I played all along, and that's up-tempo,'' McGrady said. ``I can adjust to any system, but I think as far as my ability, my talent and what I do best, it's get up and down the court and play off the ball. I can do that.''
It's not McGrady, but Yao Ming, who could prove to be the key player in Adelman's offense.
Yao mostly posted up in Van Gundy's half-court sets and took a pounding in the process. He'll work more away from the basket and pass more often in the new system, similar to what Vlade Divac did in Sacramento when Adelman was there.
Yao, who averaged 25 points and nine rebounds last season, noticed during the preseason that defenses seemed off-balance trying to guard him in the new scheme.
``It's very simple and very easy for me,'' Yao said. ``Now, they cannot just focus on me because I can shoot the ball, I can pass to the open man, I can set a screen and roll to the basket, or flare to the corner and take a jumper or something.
``I have too many choices right now.''
Forward Shane Battier is the only other certain starter heading into the season. Battier was the Rockets' top individual defender last year and averaged 10 points and four rebounds.
Chuck Hayes started 43 games at power forward and averaged almost seven rebounds. He'll be pressed for playing time by the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Scola, who helped Argentina win a silver medal at last summer's FIBA Americas tournament and was voted the tournament's MVP.
Adelman said Scola already possesses NBA-caliber offensive skills; it's his defense that needs to improve.
``The biggest thing for him to get a feel for what the NBA is all about,'' Adelman said. ``What he can do defensively is the biggest thing - how he reacts to schemes we throw out there, whether he stays out of trouble. Offensively, I don't think he has a problem because he's always been a very active player.''
It's still anybody's guess who will be Houston's No. 1 point guard. The additions of James, Francis and first-round draft pick Aaron Brooks set up a crowded competition with incumbent Rafer Alston.
The 31-year-old Alston started every game last season, but his inconsistent shooting was a liability. He also had a rough offseason - he was charged with public intoxication in Houston and arrested a month later in New York City after an altercation at a nightclub.
Back on the court, Alston seems comfortable in Adelman's system, averaging five assists in Houston's first three preseason games.
``I'm a pure point guard,'' Alston said. ``I'm going to run your team. Yes, I'm a streaky shooter. Besides that, I'm in a great shape, I can get up and down the court. Whatever style he wants to implement, it's ideal for me.''
James is a better perimeter shooter than Alston, and Francis is potentially the most explosive scorer of the trio, though his numbers have dropped in the last two seasons.
All three played healthy minutes in the preseason as Adelman decides who's the best fit.
``The best thing any of these guys can do is come in positive, compete and show what you can do,'' Adelman said. ``They all can play in this league. How they play within our system is going to tell us a lot.''
The 61-year-old Adelman sat out last season and thinks he's returning a bit wiser than he was when Sacramento fired him after the 2005-06 season.
``You always learn from everything you do,'' Adelman said. ``You've got to look and say, 'Maybe we could've done this better, maybe I could've handled this better.' Hopefully, I'll be a better coach this year than I was two or three years ago.''

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