Dillon Brooks joins the Houston Rockets with a love for the grind

LAS VEGAS — Rockets summer league practices finished, Dillon Brooks moved from the weight room to the court and went to work.

Brooks, Tari Eason and Jabari Smith Jr. ran through drills, cutting and shooting over and over until finally a team representative, who was to have the field next, asked how long they would be.

Brooks loved it. With a layer of sweat as a shirt, he smiled widely and enjoyed being with a team again after several weeks as a free agent.

“I enjoy the grind, the offseason,” Brooks said. “I just love the work, being around the team. I love being around the guys. Free agency was so by myself. I like being around people, being around the ones I want to be around. I’m happy being here, being around the guys. I’m excited to get the season going.”

Free agency went very well, earning him a four-year, $86 million contract (that can swell to $90 million with incentives). But as Brooks enjoyed the day’s work, it was clear the hunger remained. And probably always will.

“The great thing is, I’m a little scared when I’m close to my senior years,” Brooks said. “I feel like I’m going to have the same drive when I get old and wrinkled.”

The time may come when he has to accept that he cannot improve, and it may be before crow’s feet and gray hair develop. But Brooks’ desire to take his game beyond shooting the occasional 3-pointer has brought a balance that became part of his successes and struggles in Memphis and shows his potential in Houston.

His quest to grow as a player is not new. It hasn’t always gone well. Not only would Brooks be cast as a 3-and-D player, Brooks appeared to be more confident in the Memphis offense, but often became over-aggressive in looking for his shot. His shooting percentages suffered. Criticism swirled when he ran headlong into the NBA players’ dilemma.

There is a catch-(and-shoot) 22 between not going beyond shots set up by others and not understanding limitations and only taking those shots. Criticism comes for not expanding his game and for trying.

Brooks went from making 37.5 percent of his 3s in his sophomore season and 35.8 the following season to making 33 percent the past three seasons. He shot just 23.8 percent in last season’s playoff series loss to the Lakers.

“I think you’re going to be criticized all the time,” Brooks said. “It’s part of the job. It’s part of basketball. But I feel like I’m growing up as a person, I’m growing up as a fiery, gritty guy, I’ve always wanted to be better. Constructive criticism – it doesn’t matter.”

For Brooks, a veteran of six NBA seasons from Oregon and a native of Mississauga, Canada, the determination to keep improving is neither an empty promise nor over now that he has a rich contract that is fully guaranteed. He has a list of ways he expects to improve.

“Just finding ways to work on my jump shot, keep tweaking my defense, getting back to my mid game and finding ways to create for my teammates,” Brooks said. “More on the offensive end, just getting better from last year. I think last year was a bad year for me. I just wanted to get better from it and be motivated and give a little more.”

He needn’t worry about that for a moment. The Rockets were similarly indifferent to his sensational comments before and during the series against the Lakers, when he called out LeBron James and to his tendency to pick up technical fouls, of which he drew an NBA-leading 18 last season.

Instead, Rockets general manager Rafael Stone said, “We really wanted to find guys like that who are really going to bring an edge to our team.”

It comes naturally to Brooks, whose drive and intensity made him a second-team All-Defensive selection last season. For now, he expects to bring “energy, cohesion and then learn ways to win.”

The Rockets need all of that along with Brooks’ tremendous competitiveness. That made him a big part of the Grizzlies’ growth since the Grit ‘N Grind era, a journey he envisions with the Rockets.

“I feel like it’s almost the same team,” Brooks said. “Three, four years ago, we had almost the same type of players. Jalen Green (is) like Ja Morant. Jabari is like Jaren (Jackson Jr.). Young guys who can expand their game to be among the best or the best in the league. I feel like those two guys are almost the same type of deal.”

Brooks said he was also especially “excited to work with Tari because I played against him for a year. I know he’s athletic, has a lot of potential, a lot of intangibles. If he just focuses on the little details, he can take his game to the next level.”

So far, Brooks said he’s only offered “little nuggets” of advice. There is much more to come.

“I’m vocal, especially on the floor,” Brooks said. “Throughout my years in Memphis, I learned to take guys under my wing and communicate what I learned by stories of what I went through in the NBA. And then you just have to find ways to win.”

He has noted over the years that he was the Rockets’ second-round pick in 2017 when they signed him to a deal with the Grizzlies, and that he would have joined a 65-win Rockets team with James Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon and Clint Capela. He didn’t know until Monday’s practice that the general manager who drafted him to the Grizzlies, Chris Wallace, is now a Rockets director and scout.

“I guess they didn’t know what I could have been,” Brooks said. “Now, seven years later, things are coming full circle.

“I think it was a good new start for me, being (with) young guys, trying to change the narrative of the team and I like challenges. I thought that too if I go there with Ime Udoka there, will help me grow as a player and person.”

That is the motivation behind Monday’s happy summer training and his goals for the upcoming season. But for the record, Brooks said there is “nothing” wrong with being old and wrinkled.

“You just can’t play basketball anymore.”

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