The Houston Rockets have reportedly hired Kevin McHale to be their next head coach, a giant step that I doubt anyone predicted to come so quickly, at least as of Thursday afternoon. McHale gets the nod over Dwane Casey and Lawrence Frank, two outstanding assistants who will find work as head coaches again at some point.
To keep a long story short, McHale is the right hire. He's the best man for the job, and I never thought I'd actually believe that. For once, I wanted to vehemently disagree with a front office decision. I really did. But the more I read into the situation into which McHale would be welcomed, it all began to make sense to me.
Now, for the long story. For anyone who wasn't convinced by that incredibly vague preceding paragraph, I suggest you read further. Like me during this whole process, perhaps you'll learn something. Or, like many others before, perhaps you won't. I can't tell you which pill to take. Only you can do that. We'll start with a necessary concession.
I'll admit that about two weeks ago, I hated the thought of McHale roaming the sidelines as Houston's head honcho. This is the same Kevin McHale who didn't last a full year on the job in Minnesota, the same McHale who has been a television analyst the last two seasons and has never shown much of an interest to committing himself to coaching. His reputation wasn't as pretty as it was underwhelming, and a man's reputation can weigh heavily on the minds of the uninformed public, of which I am a member. In that regard, I jumped to the conclusion that McHale wasn't qualified for the position simply because of the awful stench that leaked from his public perception. By and large, that was a mistake.
I don't flip-flop often. My political ties aside, John Kerry lost an election because he flip-flopped. It's not a safe or enviable trade to practice. Though I suspect it may sound too cliche to say this, I think that a man is only as good as he is firm in having convictions. Don't you find it difficult to trust someone who could suddenly change his mind on a subject within a few days? I certainly do. And that's why I feel embarrassed to admit that I, your beloved blogger, have flip-flopped. By all accounts, I placed myself squarely in the anti-McHale camp, from day one. Today, I'm here to tell you that I've made an 180-degree turn and have since Tokyo drifted into McHale's lane. Let me explain why.
Much of my newfound confidence in McHale stems from a shift in my views of the appropriate coaching hierarchy. I'll be the first to tell you that, shockingly, I have no clue how head coaches and assistant coaches split up duties. It's easy to tab in football, for example. Each team has an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator, and while a coaching staff's handling of certain duties -- such as play calling -- may vary from team to team, there is at least a blueprint in place for how each team should divide responsibility.
In basketball, however, there is no established practice along these lines. My guess is that many coaches have far more control over the X's and O's than do others. Rick Adelman was certainly one of those coaches. This is not to say that Adelman's assistants were useless -- it's quite the opposite, actually -- but at the end of the day, the Rockets were, in essence, whatever Rick Adelman coached them to be. For example, Adelman encouraged extensive ball movement on offense. Once the Rockets became comfortable with his philosophy, they led the league in team assists per game. This ideology is what we as fans have become used to. We've subscribed to the idea that the product on the floor -- not the players themselves but the offense and defense that they run -- is a direct result of the head coach's influence. While this brand of ball has its many positives, I think it is about time that we as fans allow ourselves to commit to a different philosophy: that of equal distribution.
Let me explain, using an odd and somewhat silly, yet meaningful example. I'm in a fraternity at Missouri. I'll choose not to reveal the name, as I don't want you suckers knocking on my door (then again, if we're Facebook friends or if you follow my Twitter, you already know). In any case, our fraternity is run by an executive board, made up of a president, vice president, treasurer, secretary pledge educator, historian and a dude we just refer to as "the grades guy." Each office is voted on by our fraternity's active membership. Suffice to say, during last semester's elections, we ran into a huge conflict upon voting for our next president.
Half of the house wanted, uh, Fred to be the next president. The other half placed their faith in Kurt, Fred's opposition. The trouble was that the two men were polar opposites. Fred was older, a junior, was the more personable of the two and had garnered the most respect from older actives. Kurt was only a sophomore, but he had his hand in far more house matters than Fred, got along better with the office of greek life and was considered to be the harder worker. Eventually, Fred won the election, but not after some bitter disagreement. You might ask where I'm going with this. Here's where I make my point.
Early in the semester, the house ran into some trouble with the law. Consequently, the guilty member was kicked out of the house and very suddenly, the collective morale of the place spiraled downward. We weren't in good shape with the greek office, nor were we in good standing with many people in the greek community who had once respected us. Everything sucked, for the moment. We needed a boost, and that boost came in the form of Fred, our president. Fred sat us down for our next chapter and delivered a motivational speech that quite frankly makes Al Pacino's "Any Given Sunday" quip seem half-assed.
Fred told us where we needed to go as a house. He told us what we needed to do collectively and individually to get back on our feet. He explained how he had known people in a similar position back during his days as a freshman and had since seen them recover. Everything that we needed to hear, Fred told us. We believed in Fred. He made us believe in him. And not only did Fred rub off on us, but to the greek community as well. Somehow, Fred managed to convince everyone of the honest truth: that this was an isolated incident and that it did not represent the true character of the house. Suddenly, people backed us. After a weeklong deliberation by the greek office, we were given minor sanctions but were allowed to remain on campus, a victory for everyone involved. Since then, the house has been on the upswing and has improved significantly, all a result of an original rebirth of confidence and belief in ourselves.
Do you know the best part of it all? The truth behind the success? It's that Fred did absolutely nothing. He told me himself, and it came as a shocker.
Oh sure, Fred spoke and smiled and looked confident, but it was the executive board that put in the dirty work. Led by Kurt's attention to detail, they put together a phenomenal performance during the official hearing and prepared diligently so that everything would be addressed appropriately. Both sides came to an agreement. Everyone was on the same page. Did Fred show up to that hearing? Yeah, but only to smile and look confident. Kurt's dirty work sealed the deal.
Behold, my long-winded attempt to convince you that McHale, as a member of the Rockets organization, will play the role of the president, Fred -- the shiny face and figurehead whose personal experience and motivational talents can be used build confidence in a team and improve it from the grassroots up -- and that either Dave Joerger, leader of the Memphis Grizzlies' defensive renaissance and likely our next top assistant, or Chris Finch, the hot coaching prospect from the Rockets' D-league affiliate, could play the role of Kurt or that of any executive board member -- the X's and O's geniuses who advise the president and work with the front (greek) office to make everyone happy and prepared. Whew. Understand?
McHale doesn't need to be a philosophical genius to be a successful head coach. With a top-notch staff of assistants and a revolutionary front office, McHale will have all of the help that he might need. His job will be to communicate and inspire players. The players will need a leader, and regardless of whether or not that leader's ideas are purely his own, the fact that they will come from his mouth could make all the difference in guiding young players to success. Don't let me convince you that McHale alone isn't a smart basketball mind or a lousy tactician. Hell, his greatest asset may lie in his ability to develop young big men, something that the Rockets need. However, instead, allow yourself to subscribe to the idea that his impact will be influenced by those who can only make it better.
The McHale administration will not be like the Adelman Administration, but that does not mean that it can't be successful. Given the right influx of players, you never know what could happen. McHale reminds me a bit of Doc Rivers, in that Rivers -- widely criticized for his work in Orlando -- came to the Celtics without a great reputation as a tactician but was known to be a motivator and a players coach, no doubt due to his own success in the NBA as a player. Subsequently, Boston brought in some of the smartest X's and O's assistants available -- namely, the beloved Tom Thibodeau -- and after Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were added to the roster, the Celtics took off. What does this say about Rivers? That he suddenly became a really, really great tactician, like Adelman? Nope. It does speak volumes, however, about two things: Rivers' ability to work with his assistants in order to devise a gameplan and then communicate that plan to his players cannot be overlooked, and two, it takes more than just one guy to win ballgames.
There are two arguments against the hiring of McHale that I can grasp. The first is that many believe that there were better options available. My personal favorite, Dwane Casey, has been popular in plenty of NBA circles and has garnered plenty of attention from the media as "the next hot assistant." Casey will land somewhere, of that I have no doubt. But again, this move was not about hiring the best coach. The Rockets fired the best coach in order to get here. This move was made with the idea that the coach and front office would see eye-to-eye on a direction and that the new head coach would allow for said direction to be spearheaded by Morey and his staff. Perhaps McHale fit that specific bill more so than Casey.
The second argument is that McHale isn't "cut out for coaching," as he once said himself. To this point, McHale hasn't been able to convince anyone, including himself, that he could commit to the position and place the necessary work into successfully executing it. I don't have an answer for this, and I doubt that the Rockets have anything else to go on other than McHale's word. From this standpoint alone, it is a risky hire.
By the same token, however, we can at least agree that over the next three years, McHale will make a sizeable paycheck and rub off on potential successor Chris Finch. Both of these are good in that they should both keep McHale on his toes and at the same time allow for him to step aside if Finch one day is promoted. I don't think the Rockets are in the long haul with McHale, but if they are going to "groom" a head coach in Finch, it's better that all parties are on the same page. Plus, McHale doesn't appear to be a long-haul sort of guy, anyway. In this sense, the anticipated transition from McHale to Finch could be incredibly easy, if it ever happens. I'll also point out that McHal
Let's get one thing straight: McHale was never a "bad" coach during his stints in Minnesota. You could argue that he was a really good coach, actually, but then again, we don't know what kind of coach he was because he wasn't in place long enough for anyone to properly gauge his impact upon the players. This is the boom or bust aspect of the decision: we simply don't know what sort of results we should expect.
That said, the Rockets desperately needed to make a risky move, so here we have it. I'm not saying that if McHale dedicates himself, the Rockets will win fifty games. In fact, no matter how much McHale dedicates himself, Houston won't win games without a better roster. What I am inferring, however, is that McHale could be the right guy because he's in the right situation. That alone makes for a solid foundation, especially in a rebuilding situation. The Rockets may finally be able to settle on a definite direction, something they could never do with Adelman in tow. Widespread agreement and same-page thinking can only be considered good things.
I'm excited to see what happens now, and I can't begin to tell you what will happen now. But isn't that the point? To be blindly excited?