Tag: Kevin McHale

Houston Rockets fire coach Kevin McHale


Off to a 4-7 start with a terrible defense and with some clear chemistry issues on the team, the Houston Rockets needed to shake things up. The players tried to do that with a players-only meeting on Tuesday.

That wasn’t enough for GM Daryl Morey — he fired coach Kevin McHale on Wednesday. The news was first reported Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports and has since been confirmed by the team (you can see GM Daryl Morey talking about it above).

This came as a shock to many both because it came just 11 games into the season — this team had won 56 games last season and made the conference Finals, it’s not like McHale forgot how to coach over the summer — and also because McHale is one of the most liked people around the league. However, reports also say McHale saw this coming after the Denver loss. The Rockets are a win-now team without much patience.

The Rockets host the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday night. Houston is entering a softer spot in its schedule which could help J.B. Bickerstaff gain some traction and pick up a few wins.

[MORE: Bickerstaff given short window to fix team]

Bickerstaff was the guy credited with the Rockets’ sixth-ranked defense from last season, he is charged with returning that mindset. The Rockets are giving up 5.4 more points per 100 possessions than they did a year ago, but what was more disturbing was Houston was getting crushed in effort categories — defensive rebounding, contesting shots in the paint and in the rim, just all the hustle stats. The Rockets played listless basketball this season and their body language spoke of a team that was dejected.

That was ultimately what did McHale in — the effort issue suggested he had lost the locker room.

The Rockets’ problems go well beyond defense. Houston has struggled because Ty Lawson has looked a step slow, while James Harden has looked less explosive, and the two have not meshed at all. The Rockets have spent 27.6 minutes a game with Lawson and Harden paired and they are -8.4 points per 100 possessions in that time. The Rockets offense is down 5.8 points per 100 possessions from a season ago.

McHale was certainly not the entire problem in Houston, but management didn’t see him as the solution, either. So he’s gone.

Morey and McHale had their differences early on in McHale’s tenure, but had moved seemed past those problems. The fact McHale was fired with two years left on his contract speaks to how concerned the Rockets were with the start. This is a win-now team that needs to turn this season around — and they decided to shake things up.

Earth to Houston: LaMarcus Aldridge is a problem. Is Howard the answer?


Earth to Houston: LaMarcus Aldridge is a problem.

That bit of information is obvious to the most junior of fans, but Kevin McHale and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard have yet to get the memo.

Howard finished ninth in this year’s DPOY voting and probably deserved to finish somewhere in that ballpark.  But he and McHale have yet to embrace the challenge that Aldridge presents by allowing Howard to put those defensive skills to work.

Out of 80 possessions we tracked in Game 2, Howard was called upon to defend Aldridge just 25 times. Most of the remaining defensive possessions went to Omer Asik, who clocked in at 51 assignments, with the remaining four going to Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons. About a third of Asik’s covers happened with Howard off the floor, and Asik dominated the fourth quarter covers.

Make no mistake, hitting 18-of-28 shots in Game 2 it didn’t matter who was covering Aldridge – he was torching them. He beat Howard on 5-of-6 challenges and the only thing that saved Asik was a series of eight consecutive misses by Aldridge – though the tape would show it had less to do with Asik than it did the fact that mere mortals can’t make every shot. Prior to that Asik gave up points or fouls on 9-of-10 chances against Portland’s big man.

Any way you slice it, with Aldridge averaging just under 45 points per game so far and setting records for his fast start, something has to change. Kevin McHale would prefer to keep Howard on Robin Lopez in order to protect the defensive glass, and a close second to that is keeping Howard out of foul trouble. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and being down 2-0 heading into Portland tonight would fall into that bucket.

On the other end of the floor, the Rockets have spent considerable time using Howard against Lopez on offense, and true to season-long form that has been productive for them. But in Game 2 the Rockets’ pair of wings in James Harden (6-of-19 FGs) and Chandler Parsons (5-of-15 FGs) didn’t get many easy looks as a result of it. While Howard’s offensive game has improved this season, it’s still not to the point where it consistently makes players around him better. Taking a page out of everybody’s book against the big man, the Blazers are more than willing to let Howard beat them if it means that threes aren’t raining on their heads.

Playoff adjustments usually determine the winner in a closely-matched series. If Howard is the defensive player many folks say he is, it goes without saying that the Rockets need to go all-in with the superstar assignment. Aldridge isn’t going to continue shooting at his current high-volume 60 percent from the field, but one more big game tonight and the series is all-but over.

Even though Howard is facing-up Lopez at will, the Rockets would be wise to open up the game plan by unleashing Harden and Parsons with high pick-and-roll action, since both guys are having a hard time getting penetration against sturdy defenders Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum. If Howard is the defensive player folks make him out to be, he should be both willing and able to make his matchup with Aldridge a wash. With Patrick Beverley effectively slowing down Damian Lillard, and Howard theoretically doing the same to Aldridge, the rest of the Rockets’ pieces should be able to outscore their Portland counterparts.

But Houston has it backwards right now, saving Howard for offense when he is needed on defense. It begs the question of whether or not McHale believes he can answer the call against Aldridge. If he can’t, it may be time to re-evaluate where he stands in the league’s defensive pecking order.

Kevin McHale teaches, talks post play at adidas Eurocamp

Kevin McHale at adidas Eurocamp

Kevin McHale was the guest speaker at adidas Eurocamp on Monday, and spent his 45-minute session with the players giving a teaching clinic on low-post play. The video clip above shows the opening five minutes or so of his lecture, where he talked about the need to fight for position to get the ball down low, and having a plan with what you want to do with the ball once you get it.

McHale said that as a player his goal was always to try to get to the middle of the paint, right above the restricted area, where he knew he could convert a jump hook over his defender at an extremely high percentage. He chastised players for not fighting hard enough to get that low-block position, and pointed out that if you receive a pass with your back to the basket 18 feet from the paint, it’s not a post-up situation — it’s a wing isolation.

McHale’s signature move as a player was the up-and-under after getting the ball in position on the low block. He said he’s constantly asked why players in today’s game don’t try to emulate it, and the answer, he said, was a simple one: Defenders don’t respect the offensive skills of the post-up player, so they never bite on the pump fake, which makes the move obsolete.

After the session was over, McHale lamented the lack of good low-post play in the NBA, while pointing out the decline has been a steady one that might be reaching an all-time high.

“It’s really odd,” McHale said, when asked why there’s such a dearth of low-post players. “I don’t know why because it’s such a valuable element of the game. I just think big guys now, there’s an infatuation with the three-point line, and like I said — you’re going to get better at what you practice. You’re going to get better at what you work at, and they all work at their perimeter games, so they’re all better at that.”

McHale implored the young players during his lecture to practice short jump hooks and shots over each shoulder on the low block, hundreds at a time, until they became automatic. He also said that the lack of development in that area is part of what’s led the NBA game away from it in recent years.

“It’s been a weird dynamic that I’ve seen over the last 20, 25 years, and it’s really kind of hitting an apex right now,” he said. “You watch the NBA, and no one’s even dropping it into the post anymore. It’s all about perimeter stuff. I’m telling you, that post right there — you don’t have to have a million moves, but if you can just get a basic couple of moves down there, you can really affect the game.”

McHale also believes that post play won’t return in force to the NBA until the players capable of playing down low make a conscious effort to develop that skill set at an early age.

“I think it’s more incumbent on the players,” he said. “It doesn’t appear to me to be a priority when you’re a 16-, 17-year-old kid. Everybody says ‘I want to shoot the three, I want to be a spread four.’ You very seldom hear guys say ‘I want to be a power post offensive guy.’ It’s hard to really say why. I can just tell you that it’s very noticeable when you watch the NBA game right now.”

The question came up of how important it was for a big man to be able to learn to pass out of a double-team in the post — a skill Lakers center Andrew Bynum has struggled to develop as he’s started to face that extra defender inside. McHale said that’ll come, but smiled when the question was asked, because it’s really the very last step to come in a competent post player’s game.

“First of all, there’s like three prongs in that thing,” he said. “One, you’ve got to get good down in the low post. Two, you’ve got to get good enough to beat your man steady. Three, they double-team you — that’s the third prong, and then you’ve got to pass out, OK?

“You learn pretty quickly, because in the NBA especially, when you start getting double-teamed a lot and when teams have success, they’ll do it every single night. Bynum a year from now will be a very good post passer. He’ll know where to go, he’ll be relaxed, he’ll read it, and pass it out. Then you’ve got murder on your hands because the guy can score down there and he can pass out. And any time two (players) guard one in our league, three have got to guard four. And three cannot guard four in the NBA, the players are too good.”

It’s no surprise McHale is passionate about skilled post play; he had a Hall of Fame career in the NBA after working so hard to develop his own. His teaching on the topic was straightforward, easy to understand, and on-point. Whether or not the young players will choose to listen remains to be seen, but McHale remains committed as ever to his principles.

“The game is won and lost in the paint,” he said.

Kevin McHale says Celtics’ Big 3 may not be done just yet

Minnesota Timberwolves v New Orleans Hornets

The Celtics have a lot of questions heading into next season. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will both enter free agency this summer, and the organization will have to decide if they think the core four of those two, along with Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, are solid enough to contend for one or two more seasons in the Eastern Conference.

While Danny Ainge may be open to the idea, most don’t think that Boston has enough, at least as currently constructed. Add in the fact that Brandon Bass and Mickael Pietrus played key roles in the Celtics’ run this season and are also free agents, and the team has some serious decisions to make.

With the stricter salary cap restrictions put into place in the new edition of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, conventional wisdom says to start to rebuild on the fly around Pierce and Rondo, instead of sinking further of the team’s cap space into aging veterans who might not have much left.

Nothing has been decided yet in Boston, however, and it’s entirely possible that the organization may indeed try for another run with what it’s got. That plan of action wouldn’t surprise former Celtics Hall-of-Famer and current Rockets head coach Kevin McHale who, speaking at adidas Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy on Monday, said that talk of the end of the Big Three era in Boston may be a little premature.

“Not done yet,” McHale said, when asked what he thought of the end of the current era in Boston. “They got to the Conference finals, we’ll see what happens. Those guys have got contracts that they’re going to have to get signed; it has yet to be determined what’s going to happen.  I would be surprised if they didn’t try to put the team together for another run for a year or two.

“If you get to the Conference finals, you’re one of the last four teams. So why would you blow up a team that’s better than 26 other teams in the NBA? I think they’re going to probably ride this out a little bit.”

The reason, of course, is that if it’s a championship you’re after, then what the Celtics have isn’t enough. This run was a nice surprise, but it’s unlikely that this current group will get as far next season. Derrick Rose’s injury took out the Bulls, the Pacers are young and only getting better, and the Heat are back in the Finals for the second straight season.

Boston ended up as one of the last four teams standing. But it’s a stretch to think the same level of success could be achieved again by bringing back essentially the same core group of players.

Unless there are major changes, Kyle Lowry wants out of Houston

Kevin McHale, Kyle Lowry

That sound you hear is the sound of 29 teams’ GMs heads whipping up like German Shepherds when there’s a loud noise. Houston Rockets “should-be-All-Star” Kyle Lowry sent a message loud and clear through the Houston Chronicle. He has a problem with Kevin McHale, he has a problem with how minutes were split with he and Goran Dragic, and unless things get resolved real quick, he wants out. Kaboom.

“I don’t think so,” Lowry, 26, said. “I honestly think it would be tough. Things have to be addressed. The situation would have to be addressed.

“If things aren’t addressed coaching-wise, I guess I have to be moved.”

via Ultimate Rockets » Disgruntled Lowry feels it’s his time to move on.

Check out the rest of the interview for more discussion from Lowry about how it is not working with him and his coach in Houston. This is pretty big stuff. Now, a lot of guys will express negative feelings right after a season is over and then things cool down. And Lowry’s not blasting outright. This is strong stuff, but “I guess I’ll have to be moved” is different from “It’s time” or any of the other flat-out trade demands used.

The second this came out, the Pau-Gasol-to-Houston trade talk lit up Twitter like a Christmas tree. Houston, of course, was set to receive Gasol in the vetoed Chris Paul trade last year. They have badly wanted a dominant big man to score inside with their army of talented wings. This would provide them within one, in exchange for what may be the best production-for-dollar-value contract in the league and a top 10 point guard. But with Goran Dragic available to be re-signed, that gives them options there.

But considering Kevin Martin’s struggles and Luis Scola’s downturn last year, do the Rockets seem monumentally better with a Dragic-Parsons-Gasol core?

That’s skipping several beats ahead, however. There have been no discussions, and there likely will be no discussions any time soon, as Daryl Morey will not negotiate from a position of weakness. Morey and McHale both downplayed Lowry’s comments, and the team’s not going to trade away Lowry and then try and re-sign Dragic from that position.

Nothing will happen as of now, but it’s something to put on your radar. If Lowry’s on the block, there will be callers. Lots of them.