Entering his fourth and final year of his coaching contract, Kevin McHale has found himself in somewhat of a hot seat after Houston’s disappointing first-round exit against the Portland Trail Blazers. Despite the offensive success Houston has had under the hall of famer, Daryl Morey must be thinking of a prominent assistant coach to either alleviate the defensive woes or replace McHale after this upcoming year.
Houston has always had a winning season under the former Celtic during his tenure here, however, I believe we could’ve went a bit further in the playoffs under a coach that could instill a little more discipline in the players and also make better decisions on what players to play.
Let’s start with the opening series of the 2013 playoffs against Oklahoma City.
In my mind, Houston should not have lost in the first round to the Oklahoma City Thunder after Russell Westbrook’s season-ending injury in Game 2. I can accept a brand-new Rockets team losing their first two games of the postseason on the road, but what was really disappointing was how the Rockets passed a great opportunity of exceeding expectations and upsetting the number one seed by losing Game 3 and 6.
The moment I knew McHale wasn’t the coach to take us to the promised land was when he chose to continue to play Jeremy Lin instead of fan-favorite Aaron Brooks. Lin had a combined 13 points in the first 2 and a half games of the series with eight assists and seven turnovers. He then suffered a bruised chest to where he had to miss two games, yet fans were nowhere near defeated because we knew we had a stud in Brooks.
Fans don’t forget when a player has a strong performance in the playoffs and what Aaron Brooks did for the city of Houston during the 2009 postseason — he made every Rockets fan love him and they show that same love every time he steps on the court in Toyota Center regardless of the team he plays for. The 5’11″ point guard led the Rockets past a stout Trail Blazers team and forced a Game 7 upon the 2009 NBA Champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet the Oregon guard wasn’t shown much love from Kevin McHale in the Oklahoma City series.
Brooks was inserted into the lineup playing major minutes in Game 4 and 5 in which the Rockets won both. The beloved guard performed well, played within himself, and most importantly didn’t turn the ball over. The combination of he, Harden and Beverley presented a very talented, diverse back court compared to Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, Jeremy Lamb, and Thabo Sefolosha. After winning Game 5, people commenced to believe the Rockets could be the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-0 deficit in the postseason.
Nonetheless, McHale killed all hope when choosing to put the Harvard guard back in the lineup in Game 6 as Lin dropped a measly 3 points in 13 minutes. Knowing how to utilize resources is a vital job for the head coach and McHale failed the team by letting wounded Jeremy Lin back into the series.
WHY MARK JACKSON
Now the question “Why Mark Jackson?” comes to mind. Anyone who knows basketball could see that the former point guard had quite an impressive run in the West his first three years with the Golden State as the Warriors’ record improved significantly each year.
This past year in the playoffs, the Golden State Warriors drove the Los Angeles Clippers to a seven-game series in which they were playing without their starting center in Andrew Bogut. This was the same Clippers’ team that the Rockets couldn’t win a single game against during the regular season.
Jackson is simply better at looking at match-ups and coming up with a game plan than McHale is. Houston couldn’t figure out for the first two games of this year’s playoff series against Portland that there was absolutely nothing Terrance Jones could do to stop Lamarcus Aldridge and it ended up costing them the entire season.
Jackson is also better at drawing up plays.
Watching the Rockets trying to execute plays decided by McHale usually end up in a turnover or an off-balanced prayer.
Houston can’t even execute defensively.
Instead of putting an NBA All-Defensive second team player like Beverley on Lillard for 0.9 seconds, he chooses the slower 6’9″ Parsons hoping that length would interrupt Lillard’s view, yet it doesn’t work and the Rockets’ season goes down the drain.
There is absolutely no reason Houston should have lost in the first round to Portland. The Rockets have holes in the team but Morey has placed enough talent around Harden and Howard to where Houston most assuredly should get past the Trail Blazers in the first round especially with home court advantage.
Another example of unacceptable coaching by McHale is losing to the Lakers at home this year. There should never be miscommunication between teammates coming out of a timeout, however, with McHale there often is. In result, Steve Blake caught Howard and Lin sleeping and ended up humiliating the entire city of Houston in Howard’s first game against his former team on national television. The game shouldn’t have even been that close.
Now, you look at the Golden State Warriors and the numerous game winners they had last season between Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala. It’s not because they are better than Houston, it’s because Mark Jackson draws up plays to put the players in a position to be successful.
But one of the most important qualities Mark Jackson brings to the table aside from coaching intellect is fire. You can always see his passion when the television networks go behind the scenes and into the huddles during timeouts. His energy spreads onto his players and that’s exactly what kind of coach Houston needs especially when guys like James Harden are only playing on one end of the court.
McHale is a great player’s coach and was a huge reason Dwight Howard chose to come to Houston, however, he doesn’t really have that fire in his belly that players feed off of. He has instances where he shows great fervor but it just doesn’t pass through the players as it should. Of course, there are coaches that don’t have this fanatical enthusiasm, such as Phil Jackson; nonetheless, their coaching skills surpass McHale’s by a substantial amount.
One reason the Spurs are so successful is because Gregg Popovich happens to have both the skills and passion to win; and when you have that kind of coach, players will want to play for that organization, which is why you rarely see San Antonio players leave for another team.
Very few people know exactly what went on between the coaching staff and other executives in the front office at Golden State which led to his firing, but the simple truth is that Mark Jackson had three admirable years with the Warriors and Daryl Morey would be a fool to not consider hiring him. He instantly turned that organization around and I’m certain he’s the guy that will take us to the level that leads to a championship.