It is rather amazing just how fast things can escalate in sports. Just one week ago, we heard next to nothing about Kevin McHale and his job security. Yet, the day after another home playoff loss, who his successor will be at head coach next season is the hottest topic in town.
I’ve gone on record plenty of times that I’ve been quite indifferent to Kevin McHale as head coach of the Rockets. I’m not whiny about it like the rest of the fan base is by constantly bringing up how they wish Jeff Van Gundy or Rick Adelman were still here (even though I do love Rick), but Kevin was never the guy I wanted this team to hire. I admittedly gave him an unfair rating due to his time in Minnesota, and judging him off his record was fair, in my opinion. But I understood why they went with him as the team went through their inevitable rebuild.
McHale has always excelled at getting through to younger guys and they love to play for him. When it comes to developing young talent, he’s a great coach. It’s an overused sports cliché, but he is the type of guy players would run through a wall for. But with a team that is built to contend for a title, I never truly believed he was the guy to lead them to the promised land.
I have felt all season that this team has no structure to their game. They’re a bunch of chuckers that, if they’re hot, can win you games in bunches. Adding the best center in the game to that, of which Kevin McHale was a big part of his decision, made them go from fun and exciting to a legit threat. However, they’re still just a bunch of chuckers. And when you play that kind of ball, it rarely results in a ticker tape parade in late June.
I’ve argued the past 24 hours that I would venture to say that he keeps his job, regardless of how this series ends. We all remember what an unhappy Dwight can be like and, again, McHale is a big reason he chose Houston. Also, a five seed knocking off a four seed is far from a stunner. The two teams had identical records and have a lot of the same strengths. Sure, the expectations may have been higher than a first round flame out, but upsets happen. But if the team just opened up a can of quit the next two games en route to an embarrassing and decisive series sweep, things could change and quickly.
The popular name around Houston this morning is Jeff Van Gundy. He is quite beloved here in his post-Rockets career, as most tend to ignore similar flame outs the team had under his tenure. But I have a hard time seeing Les Alexander decide to go back to move forward. Him re-hiring a guy he fired seems like the most un-Les thing ever. Just because JVG might be interested doesn’t mean the man who signs the checks would be.
Personally, if this did come to pass and I had to guess, I think Chris Finch would get the nod.
I realize that name has plenty of folks exclaiming “who?!” But Finch was the coach of the D-League team that many around the organization believe Daryl Morey was grooming for the job. In fact, him being on McHale’s assistant staff was a stipulation of him getting the job offer. The only thing that makes me think it might not happen this fast is because if the Rockets are going “win now” mode, giving an inexperienced guy the reins would be risky.
My ideal scenario would be for the team to bring in Van Gundy. No, not that Van Gundy. The other one. Stan Van Gundy has been the only guy who has been able to get the very best out of Dwight Howard and he has even said that Stan was one of his “key advisers” in helping him choose Houston last Summer. The only reason I’m not so sure it would happen is because Stan has apparently promised his family that there would be no more moving until the kids finished school. But that could just be talk in waiting for the right job to open up.
In the end, I expect Portland will win this series, but no games will be in blowout fashion. This will help in McHale having his option picked up and keeping his job another season. Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t be heartbroken to see him go. I’m just not ready to bust out the torches and pitchforks over one playoff series.
Indifference is a killer.