May 2, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale watches the replay of Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) hitting a last second shot in the second half in game six of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center.Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
At the beginning of the 2011/2012 NBA season, it was announced that three time NBA champion Kevin McHale would be the next head coach of the Houston Rockets.
McHale’s pedigree is immaculate. As mentioned above, McHale is a three time champion, he is also a seven time NBA All Star, a six time representative of the All NBA-Defensive team, three of those selections for the first and second sides respectively.
He was also sixth man of the year twice (1984-1985) and was selected to the All NBA First team in 1987. To top it off McHale was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1999.
McHale’s legacy as a player is undisputed. He was an integral cog of the Celtics juggernaut that won three titles in the 1980’s and is still regarded today as one of the greatest Power Forward’s to grace the court.
But McHale as an NBA coach is another discussion all together. Unfortunately the crux of the matter is: He’s simply average.
Not great, average.
For the majority of NBA franchises with little to no championship aspirations, average is acceptable. To be fair to McHale, he is an adequate proposition for a young side in transition with little hope of contending.
The Houston Rockets are not such a side.
If McHale remains as head coach beyond this upcoming NBA season, the combined powers of James Harden and Dwight Howard will be wasted.
The Rockets will never claim ultimate glory if McHale remains at the helm.
On first glance this claim may seem preposterous and ill advised. McHale has after all led Space City to consecutive Playoff berths. Last season the Rockets claimed the fourth seed and clenched 54 wins, winning over sixty percent of their games. In the 2012/2013 season, McHale led Houston to 45 wins and the eighth seed.
If one were to merely assess McHale on his regular season performance, it would seem apparent that the Rockets were on track for a championship that has evaded their grasp for over a decade.
McHale’s problem doesn’t lie in the grinding nature of the regular NBA season, as the Rockets have compiled successful campaigns the past two seasons.
The playoffs are a different beast, where elite defense and tactical prowess is needed to advance through to the finals. Above average team performance in the regular season counts for very little when the playoffs roll around, where a constructed offense and even defensive effort is required, not optional.
Unfortunately for McHale, this phenomenon has been reflected in his coaching. When the Rockets collapsed against another promising team in the Portland Trailblazers, Houston had won the home court advantage. This advantage disappeared immediately by losing the first two games of the series at the Toyota Center.
The Rockets went on to lose 4-2, unable to fully recover from a rampaging Trailblazers led by LeMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard.
Whilst the series loss against Portland could be attributed to career best form by Aldridge in the first two games, there is an honest truth that must be realized.
McHale’s inability to make in game rotations and reluctance to defer to differing game plans ultimately cost the Rockets the series.
Whilst it may be premature to conclude that McHale can not take Rockets to the promised land, Dwight Howard has precious little time left at his peak. Without Howard, it is hard to foresee Houston being a legitimate threat in the playoffs.
McHale has shown little to no progress in his two post season appearances with the Rockets. He got a pass for his first round exit performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2013, but the debacle that was the 2014 playoff series reflected a concerning trend with McHale’s coaching.
His reluctance to change up the Houston offense from isolation sets to a triangle offense or pick and roll offense (which Howard excels at) resulted in a complete mirror performance from the previous year.
The lack of development in McHale’s coaching during the playoffs means it is conceivable that the peak years of his star players will be wasted, whilst he continues to fall into the same indecisive tendencies that have seen him fall well short the past two years.
In summary, McHale is a more than competent regular season coach. When the pressure and intensity rises, his reliance on individual play making and lack of alternative options exposes him. The question that must be asked is: what good is an above average regular season if it is undone in the space of a week?
This Houston Rockets team is a win now proposition, and can little to babysit an incompetent head coach when the whips are cracking.
As it stands, Kevin McHale is not the coach the Houston Rockets are looking for to take them to a third championship.