BY: RAMZY KAWAJA
When I heard the news about Stan Van Gundy, I started picturing him sitting on the Rockets bench. Then I started thinking about how many more games the team could have possibly won if they had a coach with the experience and playoff wins that Jeff’s brother has.
After 66 games under Kevin McHale, the Houston Rockets didn’t look better than they were the previous season. Nope. The boys on Polk street looked very much the same. One can’t dismiss the fact that coaches weren’t given much time to put their teams through enough rigorous practices and pass their knowledge on to the impressionable young minds they were hired to teach until playing basketball at its absolute finest became second nature. Two weeks of training camp and only a pair of preseason games was all that was given to teams to hone their new craft. So I know I shouldn’t be too rough on the guy but there were many glaring weaknesses in McHales ability to manage a basketball game.
The Rockets, as they were, were more than capable of making the playoffs this season. The Suns and the Jazz are very mediocre teams who shouldn’t have even been in the race. It took a mega-collapse from Houston to not make it in. During the six-game losing streak, the Rockets were getting romped in the third quarter by an average of 30-19. At that point, you have to start examining the man in the players’ ears and why everything he’s preaching is making a b-line towards the other ear.
One of the promises made to the fans was that Kevin McHale was going to kick-start the development of the young bigs. Instead, players like Patrick Patterson, Jordan Hill, and Hasheem Thabeet had not showed the improvement we all expected to see. In fact, Morey was so unimpressed with Hill and Thabeet that he traded both of them at the trade deadline. Scola’s rebounding took a big dip as well.
For a former power forward/center, Coach really favored his lineup without a natural center, especially at the end of games. In panic-mode, McHale routinely went to a Scola/Patterson front-court combo. This proved to not work over and over again as the Rockets were constantly getting beat on the glass while two elite rebounders sat at the end of the bench collecting dust. The stubborness showed in using a failing strategy raised a red flag in my eyes. How are the players supposed to learn from their mistakes if their own coach wasn’t learning from his?
For a man who was brought in to insure the steady maturation of our future Rockets, McHale seemed to not be interested in giving Marcus Morris a chance to improve. I have never seen such a short leash on a lottery pick. If the rookie wasn’t in the right spot while the team was supposed to be in a zone, he was done for the night. I personally attribute his lack of knowledge in this area due to his uneccessary stint in the NBDL amongst the inferiors of basketball. A first-year player needs to be with his team and coaches in order to soak up whatever he can to ready himself for games down the line. At the end of his inaugral season, Morris was still making rookie mistakes. Fault, McHale.
Other frustrating things stuck out as well. McHale would fail to adjust to obvious mismatches or take advantage when the Rockets created one, stay too long with a backup during crunch-time, not pull his best player with five fouls in intentional foul situations, and use up his timeouts with over a minute left. Even in April Coach didn’t seem to know his personnel and which combinations worked the best. This becomes evident when a coach calls three timeouts in a four minute span to substitute 3 or 4 players at once. Yes, that actually happened.
I’m not saying that I’m an expert in coaching NBA basketball and I know Kevin McHale has more basketball knowledge than I will ever learn. But after having the priviledge of watching men like Jeff Van Gundy and Rick Adleman work their magic, you tend to pick up on a few things. The Rockets newest coach is nowhere near their league.
Am I unfairly judging the guy after one season? No. Didn’t he say that the Rockets would make the post-season? Yes. Were the eighth, seventh, and sixth spots ripe for the picking? Yes. Did the Rockets underachieve? Yes. Am I confident in McHale going forward? No. Kevin will certainly get another chance to make something out of this bunch if he doesn’t resign. I hope he changes my mind.