The draft is on Thursday so the NBA is once again in reach. Before you get jacked up for the USA v. Germany game on Thursday, let's talk Kevin McHale.
The Rockets kept Kevin McHale as their coach.
Before launching into the justifications for why the Rockets will keep Kevin McHale as the head coach let's agree this article is not passing judgement on his performance as a coach. It's simply the justification.
Here's a statement no one will argue: Kevin McHale isn't the best coach in the NBA. That accolade belongs to the scarred cheeks and stubborn disposition of Gregg Poppovich who has melded an unquestioned knowledge of the game with the career arch of three impressive talents. That's the golden standard. We don't have that or five titles spanning the Shaq-Kobe-LeBron eras.
McHale is most commonly lambasted by Rockets fans and NBA observers for a spotty understanding of contemporary X's & O's. When his decisions work he's hailed as one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players who has translated his experience and savvy to his players. When his decisions fail we quickly Tweet that he's a coach out of his depth.
Some Quick Notes:
The Celtic legend has a 133-97 record in three seasons with the Houston Rockets. That includes a pre-James Harden 2011-2012 season that finished 34 - 32.
Anyone remember the statistical leaders of that team? The offensive leader was free throw machine Kevin Martin. The defensive leader was Samuel Dalembert who will one day be remembered as "that guy was paid eight figures for four seasons? that guy?" Looking back, it's unbelievable that team posted a winning record in the Western Conference.
With the Rockets, McHale has posted a 57.8% win percentage. Vastly improved from his ill fated attempt to rescue the Timberwolves, which resulted in a 41.5% win percentage.
From the outside looking in, it doesn't appear the Rockets front office gave a passing thought to letting coach McHale walk away. Here's the reasons the Rockets are keeping McHale at the helm...
We -- Not The Rockets -- Are McHale's Biggest Critics
McHale's decisions light up Twitter almost every night. Why can't the Rockets get more quality looks at the end of games? Why do they let off the gas every second quarter? Why was James Harden on the court to play defense with 00.9 seconds on the clock and no possibility of an offensive possession against Portland?
Legitimate questions. But not questions originating from the Rockets front office or players.
Go look in the mirror, Kevin McHale's biggest critics are Rockets fans and league observers. Our complaints have become commonplace: Player rotations, an inability to draw or execute plays and the outright refusal to put Dwight Howard and James Harden in the pick and roll.
There's plenty of legitimate questions to accompany the complaints. Is McHale too close with the players? There's a distinct inability to motivate James Harden on the defensive end. Is there a fear of upsetting the balance of the clubhouse and his relationship with the players?
Even without judging these complaints on merit we must acknowledge that none of them have originated from the Rockets front office, owner or players. They come from us.
Teams are built to rally around adversity and there's a possibility our blog posts, comments, Tweets and media criticism only draw the Rockets organization and team closer to McHale, not further from him.
McHale Bought Into Daryl Morey's System
This point is easy to make after the Warriors fired Mark Jackson. A coach who brought the Warriors franchise to an unrecognized level of relevance suddenly let go for his disagreements with the front office. Mike D'Antonio could tell a story or two about front office relationships defined as 'strained at best.'
Daryl Morey has already left an undeniable mark on the NBA as a general manager. There's already a chapter in the next Bill Simmons book about the changes he ushered in. To the uninitiated in one sentence: Morey changed the way the league views the valuation of shots, you want to take as many threes, layups and free throws as possible.
McHale is bought in on what Morey's doing. He understood it from the start and knows pieces will come and go in the quest to build a team capable of winning a title. There's a purpose for Troy Daniels and there's value in developing Patrick Beverley's three point shot.
There's plenty of young coaches who would jump at the chance to man an NBA franchise with an understanding that the orders come from upstairs. But there's no coach who gets what Morey is doing and can bring McHale's credentials, experience and immediate gravitas. Players have to respect McHale's knowledge of the game and experience. Few players in the league have achieved or come close to what McHale did as a player and no one on the Rockets fit that bill.
We Sold Dwight Howard On McHale
Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Yao Ming, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Les Alexander, Daryl Morey and Kevin McHale. That's the crew required to land Dwight Howard as a free agent. That's what Dwight was sold on.
He was sold on Houston's "Legacy of Bigs," access to Hakeem Olajuwon to improve his post moves and coach Kevin McHale. Howard knew exactly what he was getting with McHale. A player friendly coach who he respects because of accomplishments and experience, not offensive or defensive schemes. In Dwight's eyes McHale is not X's and O's, a voice that's easy to impersonate or diet coke press conferences. Once you brush away whatever thick layer of sugar, bewonderment and awesome coats Howard's brain he recognizes the tips and tricks McHale can teach on a daily basis. Those pointers will both improve his offensive game and extend his career by moving his post game away from an all out dependence on overpowering dunks.
Howard wants to win now, he's not looking three years down the line. If he believes, or is sold on the belief, that McHale is what's holding the Rockets back, he can give up on the relationship they've built. In the meantime, Dwight has a coach he can co-exist with for the first time in several seasons. That feels good.
McHale Is A Recruiting Tool
Nearly a year later let's be brash and just say it: The Rockets won the 2013 free agency period. A mix of wooing and Chandler Parsons text messages landed us Dwight Howard (one of the NBA's most potent mixes).
Now, here we are again. Trying to land a max level free agent and the unheralded key to doing that may end up being McHale. The power of the Dwight Howard-James Harden pairing goes without saying and no team in the NBA appears "one piece away" like Houston does.
Until the merger of Miami's Big Three the NBA free agency was almost entirely dependent on paychecks. Go ahead, ask Rashard Lewis if he regrets a dime of that Orlando contract. In the modern NBA, you might already have a Scrooge McDuck style basement full of gold coins. Suddenly the offer of a big pay day from every NBA team with cap space might not mean as much as a situation that makes you comfortable.
McHale delivers comfort. He oozes comfort with his collection of misfitting suits, been there done that anecdotes and player-first attitude.
Sure, Steve Clifford has the chops to be a successful NBA coach. You're not going to Charlotte to play for him. Kevin Love could see himself playing for hall of famer Kevin McHale. Carmelo Anthony could see himself playing for three time NBA champion Kevin McHale. No one is itching for the chance to play for Dave Joerger. Never mind, Mike Miller.
At the end of the day, players look at Houston and they see a happy Harden-Howard-Parsons and a coach that allows them to exist as they are. Also, the fast paced offense and limited defensive commitments help.
Assistant Coach Turnover
Kelvin Sampson is staying in Houston but will be patrolling the sidelines of the University of Houston under the shadow of Phi Slamma Jamma. His move makes sense as he doesn't appear on the immediate cusp of an NBA head coaching job.
Since Tex Winter officially made the second row of NBA coaches relevant, there's now plenty of space for change behind the scenes as NBA coaching staffs continue to grow closer in size to NFL staffs.
McHale catches flak for not being a basketball mastermind. True or not he doesn't have to be, thanks to the ability to have offensive and defensive minded coaches. McHale has control of this team and its players. That control makes it possible to get through a season without him personally drawing up the perfect inbounds play.
That control respect and trust may be more scare in the modern NBA than basketball brilliance. What McHale lacks can be fixed with the right assistants. Or more assistants. Or a really smart iPad.
Rumors right now would bring ex-Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins to Houston. Hollins won 56 games and reached the conference finals with the Grizzlies before being let go. He'd be a welcome addition for everyone but McHale, but fans would hope that competition breeds success.
At the end of the day, it doesn't appear McHale was ever under siege in the Rockets clubhouse or front office. It was still his team.
That didn't keep us from sending a few thousand Tweets about it.