The Rockets' loss to the Mavericks this week was not the first time I realized J.B. Bickerstaff was not up to the job of coaching the Rockets. I knew I didn't want him to return, and I've been fairly confident he won't return.
Now, my feelings about him have gone from disappointed resignation to frustrated anger. Yes, Kevin McHale also had a bizarre affection for Corey Brewer, but Brewer played a lot better under McHale than he has this season. Against the Mavericks, when a win would have all but sewn up a playoff spot and a loss either guaranteed missing the playoffs or facing the Warriors in the first round, Brewer played 23 minutes and shot 1-9.
Worse than the raw number — eight missed shots, one make on a layup — the Rockets managed just 15 points in the fourth quarter. More than one possession ended in a bricked Corey Brewer mid-range jumper. It's one thing for Brewer to throw up shots that have a 25% chance of going in from three-point range. It's entirely another for them to be 13 feet from the basket, and therefore less valuable and less likely to go in.
And yet, as the clock ran down and the Rockets continued to have chances to overtake the Mavericks — who won 88-86 — Brewer remained, steadfastly, on the court. James Harden was defended superbly by Wesley Matthews, and still dropped 12 of the Rockets' 15 points in the quarter. Michael Beasley, the only other Rocket capable of creating his own shot, sat on the bench. K.J. McDaniels, who's proven to be a better player in 2016 than Brewer, also sat on the bench.
I would even argue Josh Smith should have seen the floor over Brewer at some point in that game. Smith and Dwight Howard's alley-oop connection in the first round of last year's playoffs will probably haunt Tyson Chandler's dreams for years. They devastated the Mavericks. And yet, Smoove sat, and Brewer played on.
Here's the thing about Brewer: he has genuinely good games and moments. I'm not saying Bickerstaff should bench him permanently. But a good coach makes rational, logic-based adjustments. Brewer never played well last night. He missed a handful of wild layups, as he has many times before, in the first half. No one would have thought to themselves in the second half "why is Corey Brewer still on the bench?" without also asking "what smart person took over lineup decisions from J.B. Bickerstaff?"
And it'd be one thing if Bickerstaff was the kind of coach who says "these are my guys and we'll go down swinging with them." But he's not. Goudelock, Beasley, Donatas Motiejunas — conspicuously absent from the floor last night — Clint Capela, Montrezl Harrell and *shudder* Terrence Jones have all seen wild minutes fluctuations, from DNPs to 30 minutes. The only constant has been Brewer.
The Rockets have all but been eliminated from the playoffs, and after the game against the Mavs followed by the debacle against the Suns, I think most fans would agree they'd rather have the likely 12th pick in the draft rather then back into the playoffs because of the Mavericks' further ineptitude. So it's probably safe to say J.B. Bickerstaff has coached his last meaningful game as a Rocket.
We'll go more into who should replace him at a later time. But this piece is in response to Jeff Van Gundy saying J.B. Bickerstaff has done "a fantastic job," a sentiment that has largely been echoed by most national broadcasters. I think most national writers have, correctly, focused on the piss-poor job the players have done this year, and Bickerstaff has largely gotten a pass.
Bickerstaff deserves no pass. Yes, he's in a crappy situation because his boss should never have been fired in the first place and Dwight Howard is somewhere on the spectrum between "complaining during the game about touches" and "locker room cancer." But he's been really bad.
It wouldn't surprise me a great deal to see him as a head coach next season. Good luck to whatever team gives him that job. If the team expects to win now, Bickerstaff is not up for that job, and this year has been proof.