When the Houston Rockets started this season, people expected the worst. ESPN labeled them a definite top ten pick and fans (especially on this site) were prepared for a rough year where we decided the Rockets probably wouldn't be near a playoff spot.
Fast forward a few months later, and everything has changed. The Rockets were breathing down the necks of the NBA's elite and grandeur visions of what could be filled the heads of the Red Rowdy fan base. And then it happened. Loss after loss after devastating loss, capped by one to a decimated Timberwolves squad, one the Rockets should beat easily. At least that's what the beginning of the season told us.
This horrific stretch has been nearly gut-wrenching-ly unwatchable, and now, fans, once elated, are calling for McHale's head. They say he has underperformed as a coach. Disagreements arise, and whoever you talk to, you get a multitude of answers, some conflicting- He's played the starters too much, he hasn't played some starters enough, he needs to expand the rotation... The list goes on and on. But through this, I pose the question: Have the Rockets underperformed during this stretch, or have they over performed during the first half of the season?
This is the youngest roster in the NBA, and traditionally, younger rosters are the definition of inconsistency; the variad of highs and lows throughout the season as grand as the Grand Canyon. Why should the Rockets be any different? Why expect them to spit in history's face and go against it? We already have seen the highs youth brings. Now we are experiencing the lows. Should McHale be blamed for the inconsistency that we already knew would be there?
Why do we expect that players, young players, who have never been asked to do the things they are doing, perform at an incredibly consistent level, an expectation usually reserved for only a handful of NBA teams? I know it's against nature to ask fans to do the impossible, to rationalize their emotions and knee jerk reactions, and they shouldn't be expected to do so. They pay good money to watch their team play. They invest too much time to be asked of anything different.
At the same time, we need to remember who we are and where we came from. The Rockets are pushing for a playoff spot. I don't know if I thought that was possible by the midway point of this season. The Rockets gelled quickly and made an early impact this season, despite having the most moving parts as a team this past off season. Part of that should be attributed to McHale.
Looking at this roster, this is not a playoff worthy roster to me. I see one all star (Harden) and a see a bunch of all stars, two who have potential to be great one day (Asik and Lin). I see cap space that will allow Houston to bring in another all star with these supporting pieces. The Rockets are in a position to be great. I'm just not convinced that this is the year they're supposed to be expected to do so. They've shown flashes.
One of the mistakes I've seen a multitude of pro sports organizations commit is not giving the people in charge enough time to follow through with their vision. They get impatient when the team doesn't perform particularly well and try to force the issue when it's not time for that issue to be forced. If McHale was fired today, who would replace him? Who would be a better fit for this team? I don't know if there's anyone outside of Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy available who I would feel more comfortable having as a coach... Do we want either of those headaches?
I don't have a lot of answers, but when I ask myself the questions, about what would make this team better, I don't see a situation out there there would be a definite improvement that has a realistic shot at happening. All I know is I suffered through too many years of the post Yao/T-Mac area to not forget how promising and exciting this season has been, even as we go through this rough and painful stretch.