HOUSTON (AP) — The practice almost felt like the start of a new season — and era — for the Houston Rockets.
New acquisitions Kevin Martin, Jared Jeffries, Jordan Hill and Hilton Armstrong passed their physicals and watched their new team work out Friday, a day after Houston acquired the quartet in a three-team swap that sent Tracy McGrady to New York.
And for the first time in months, the remaining Rockets could finally take the court without facing distracting questions about McGrady. The seven-time All-Star met the New York media earlier in the day, officially ending his rocky six-year tenure in Houston.
"It's exciting to get to see how all these pieces work," point guard Aaron Brooks said. "The deadline's over, everybody was on pins and needles, so that's over with now."
The Rockets had to deal away forward Carl Landry, their most productive bench player. But Houston was willing to pay the price to dump McGrady and nab Martin, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard highly regarded by both Rockets coach Rick Adelman and the front office. Adelman coached Martin for two seasons in Sacramento, and Morey had talked to the Kings about him long before Thursday's deal.
Martin, Sacramento's second-leading scorer (19.8 points per game), conceded that he had grown increasingly frustrated as the Kings lost 20 of their last 24 games. He was thrilled to find out at halftime of the Kings' 130-98 loss to Golden State on Wednesday that he was going to be reunited with his old coach and join a more successful team.
"I'm just happy to be here, because they want to win now, and that's a big reason why I'm excited right now," Martin said. "It was time to make a move."
One of the main appeals of Martin is his familiarity with Adelman's offense. It all came back to him in a wave as he watched Houston practice in advance of Saturday's game against Indiana.
"Adelman and his staff, they always bring out the best in their players, and that's what they did with me four or five years ago," Martin said. "I'm excited to take on that role again."
The Rockets rank 26th in field-goal percentage (44.2 percent), and Adelman said Martin is not only a good shooter, but an attacking player who gets to the free-throw line. Martin was shooting 39.8 percent from the field this season, but 45.2 percent over the last three games. He's also ranked among the top 10 in free-throw attempts in each of the last three seasons, and he's shooting 82 percent from the line this season.
"Getting to the basket and drawing fouls is the thing he's really improved on," Adelman said. "When we drafted him, he came from a small school (Western Carolina) and he was pretty much their only talent. When he got the ball, he was very good and when he didn't, he stood a lot. But he learned and he grew. Getting in the lane and drawing fouls, he's one of the best in the league at that."
The Rockets also added some much-needed size while they wait for Yao Ming to return from his foot injury next season.
The 6-11 Jeffries was averaging 5.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 52 games this season. His contract, which will pay him $6.9 million next season, was the perceived downside of the deal for Houston. But Jeffries said the Rockets' win-now mentality — which he hinted was absent in New York — will re-energize him.
"I was really excited to come to a situation where there is a winning culture, and people who expect to win and know how to put together a winning situation," Jeffries said.
The 6-10 Hill was the eighth overall pick in last summer's draft, and this move reunites him with former Arizona teammate Chase Budinger. Hill played sparingly in New York, averaging only four points and 2.5 rebounds in 24 games.
"When I was in New York, every minute I had, I tried to just give it my best and compete," he said. "Now I'm with the Houston Rockets. Hopefully, I can just go out there and show my stuff, show people I can play."
The 6-11 Armstrong was traded for the second time in less than two months. He was dealt from New Orleans to Sacramento in January, and never felt like the Kings even gave him a look.
"I was happy to get another start, and I could try to help another team, especially a team that's doing pretty well right now," he said. "That's huge, that's something everybody in here wants to play for is the playoffs, and the opportunity to help a team in the playoffs."