A Coaching Change In Houston- Kevin McHale Fired

Kevin McHale was fired Wednesday morning. The Rockets were 4-7 on the season. J.B. Bickerstaff will be interim coach.

After the Rockets started the year losing three games in a row, they then won four games in a row and all of the whispers were silenced as the losing streak was considered to be a “slow start.” James Harden seemed to recover his identity as the runner up to the MVP. The Dwight Howard excuse the Rockets reflexively threw out there as an explanation as to what was wrong with them appeased everyone in the short term who thought the Rockets looked absolutely awful. Using Howard’s on again-off again game schedule excuse hid the fact that Ty Lawson was a mistake, Jason Terry is old, Trevor Ariza plays too many minutes and Kevin McHale is out of answers.

When the Rockets won three in a row, all seemed to be as it was last year when Harden was draining threes and getting to the line. The Rockets won a tough game in Los Angeles, an ode to last spring when they did the same thing against the Clippers and saved their playoff hopes. Everyone exhaled.

And then it happened again, another ugly losing streak and against teams who are effectively miserable at a lot of basketball things. The Rockets lost to Brooklyn at home, giving Brooklyn their first win of the season. They lost to Denver, a rebuilding team, on the road. They lost at home to Dallas without Dirk Nowitzki. The Rockets incomparable defense made a star out of the aged, uninteresting Ray Felton. Then tonight, losing pretty easily to the Celtics, an exhausted team playing five games in a week. It was the Rockets who were the exhausted ones. The loss was a nail in the coffin, not on the Rockets season, but on this idea that nothing is wrong.

Everything is wrong.

Defense: The only team who gives up more points per game than the Rockets are the Pelicans. Scoring against the Rockets is pretty easy. Teams shoot 47% against them, nearly dead last. Only Memphis, Sacramento and New Orleans are worse. The Rockets are not much better from the  three point line either, giving up 36% shooting behind the arc. Rebounding? They are 18th.

 Defense Ranking  Points Allowed  Field Goal Percentage  3-Point Percentage
 2015-16  29th  27th  22nd

Offense: They are middle of the pack, 15th in points scored. Assists? 15th. The Harden-Lawson combo has zero chemistry. 3- point field goal percentage? 29%, next to last. It is this, their bread and butter, that is cruelly deserting them. On their current losing streak they have not scored 100 points.

 Offense Ranking  Points Scored  Field Goal Percentage  3-Point Percentage
 2015-16  16th  25th  29th

If you can’t stop scoring and you can’t score the way you have been built, you lose 7 out of 11 games. The Rockets best player is like all best players. He carries the burden. James Harden has not been good. His numbers are depressingly awful for someone who felt cheated out of the MVP. 37% field goals. 26% three point shooting. His 28 points per game is because of his 12 trips to the free throw line per game.

Check out the PER numbers for some of Harden’s teammates who play 20+ minutes a game:

  • Corey Brewer: 5.5
  • Ty Lawson: 8.5
  • Trever Ariza: 10.2

Against the Celtics, Trevor Ariza recorded a -23. Dwight Howard was -11. James Harden was -27. Ty Lawson was -12. Jason Terry was -18.

On Tuesday the Rockets held a team meeting, players only.

“It was good for us to sit down and talk, but it’s a long season and you can’t get caught up in losing a couple of games and getting upset and so frustrated and it feels like it’s the end of the world. It is embarrassing. We hate to lose but at the same time we have a long season and we can’t think negative when we lose. We have to try and find the positive I the situation. You keep thinking negative, then negative things will continue to happen to you. All this stuff will build character.” (Dwight Howard)

“It was a good talk for us. We hadn’t had an opportunity to communicate like that since the season had been going. Each guy basically said what their role was and every single night they’re going to contribute to that role.  After the talk we had a really good practice, guys communicated, we worked hard and now it’s about carrying it over. It’s about doing it on the floor.” (James Harden)

Coming into the season, the Rockets were talked about as possibly taking 1000 three’s. Their three point or layup offense has gotten them into the playoffs the past three years. But is it time to scrap the feast or famine style in which they play when Tom Thibodeau is out their lurking, a former Houston assistant?

This disaster is in definite need of a defensive coach. But Thibs doesn’t buy into the three point shooting nirvana that has taken over the league.

The Rockets only saving grace is that the Western Conference is plunged into the cold bath of mediocrity. Two teams have established themselves- the Warriors and Spurs- and the rest are treading water. But the Rockets can’t even say they are average.

Change is good. This dog can’t hunt.

It’s been 21 years since a title in Houston and the Rockets are going backwards. Nothing about it is pretty, particularly since Kevin McHale seemed helpless and confused. After losing to the Nuggets, he said he couldn’t imagine things getting much worse.


photo via llananba