Why Kevin McHale?

Last week the Houston Rockets announced that they were hiring Kevin McHale as the team’s next head coach.  

The hiring of the former Boston Celtic left many fans and analysts wondering one thing—why McHale?

Forget that the team was trying to replace the man with the highest winning percentage in team history. Typically, coaches do not like to be the guy to follow up “the guy,” but in this case whoever they hired would be in a pretty good position to do well quickly.

The Rockets have one of the better teams not in the playoffs this year. After a poor start to the season, the team rebounded after the All-Star break to win 15 of the next 20 before dropping three of their last five to fall out of playoff contention.

Not known for being a high scoring team, the Rockets became just that last season. In the four years that Rick Adelman was in charge of the team their scoring average improved from 96.7 points a game (during the 2007-08 season) to last season’s 105.9 points per game.

However, in that time the team’s defense went from being one of the best in the league holding opponents to just 92 points a game in Adelman’s first season, fourth best in the league. Last season they allowed 103.7 per game (21st in the league).

Even with the poor defense, the team was still in contention for a playoff spot last season. What makes that fact remarkable is that they accomplished what they did without a single marquee player on their roster. Yao Ming tried to return, but played little before another injury ended his season early once again.

In the Rockets, the new coach inherits a team that can score 100 points a game on any given night and if they could just figure out how to stop other team’s from scoring.

So did the team hire one of the better, defensive minded coaches available this off-season? No. They hired Kevin McHale.

His skill as a player was remarkable, but as a head coach he has not been anything special. He has yet to coach a full season on an NBA bench, and when he did he was not exactly very successful.

Supporters of McHale are quick to point out that he did well his first time as a head coach for Minnesota going 19-12 during the 2004-05 season. With some of the candidates that were available, McHale’s limited success did not measure up.

The team did not choose him for his defensive prowess either since the team is looking for a defensive minded assistant to help develop that segment of the team’s game.

So then why hire Kevin HcHale?

Danny Ainge, one of McHale’s former teammates, thinks Houston will do well with McHale in charge.

“I’d put Kevin’s intelligence level about basketball up there with anybody’s,” said Danny Ainge. “I think that Kevin, though he lacks front-line coaching experience, has watched as many games and as much tape as anyone, and has learned about basketball from some of the great minds.”

McHale has also been credited with doing great work with young players which since the Rockets are full of youth could be a great thing. Of the starters, Kevin Martin has the most experience with six seasons under his belt.

Why the Rockets hired McHale is not clear. The numbers simply do not add up.If he does not work out, there will be one thing that will become clear real fast—the displeasure and hatred of fans that expect to see the playoffs next season.
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