The executives for the Houston Rockets felt it necessary to make a change to the team due to multiple lackluster performances in many of the 11 games to start the season. The first three games were 20 point blowouts in favor of Houston’s opponents, followed by a four-game winning streak and a four-game losing streak before beating Portland in OT last night.
Many representatives of the organization said that they felt the players weren’t responding well to Coach McHale; displayed by a lack of effort and really poor defensive play. I’m confused as to why the Rockets’ players wouldn’t want to listen to Coach McHale, but more so as to why management felt that he was the necessary change. McHale is one of five coaches in Houston’s franchise history to take them to a Conference Finals (Tomjanovich, Fitch, Harris and Nissalke) and last season was their first trip to the Conference Finals since 1996-97; their 56 win season last year was the third winning-est season in franchise history.
The 5-7 record might lead many people to believe that he’s doing a poor coaching job, but realize that it’s the players who go out there and play and they ultimately dictate how the games pan out. The coach can only do some much by way of calling the plays and yelling out defensive sets, it’s the players who need to execute them. Houston’s defense has been terrible this season and that’s not something you can blame on the coach. You can fault him if he doesn’t stress it as much as he should, but a three-time champion knows how important defense is to winning and I feel he puts a lot of effort into defense at practice. Especially since they were loads better last season and went to the Conference Finals.
James Harden has played no defense at all this year. None. If your superstar isn’t playing defense, it’s going to show up with the rest of the team because, like it or not, he is their leader. Maybe not vocally, but by example because he goes out and puts up numbers. Now, it’s not like James Harden plays Scottie Pippen-esque defense, but when he wants to play defense he’s shown he can really step up. Last season he had 4.2 defensive win shares which was tenth in the league, the season before that there were multiple mixes on YouTube of Harden’s embarrassing defensive moments – hilarious. Could Harden be fed up by not winning a championship? Possibly, but the team’s gotten closer and closer each year since McHale got there so it seems foolish if Harden is trying to spite the organization.
I heard Brian Windhorst of ESPN on Mike & Mike this morning say that he had been told by people inside the organization that the team has no chemistry which is leading to the poor play. If anything is to upset the chemistry it would be by way of the team’s newest point guard, Ty Lawson. Not because Lawson is a bad player, but he’s adjusting to his new role of being a third option behind Harden & Dwight after being Denver’s focal point on offense. His usage rate is at a career low of 15.4%, while his turnover percentage is at a career high of 19.7%. When he was in Denver, his usage rate was above 20% for his last four seasons and his lowest was 18% as a rookie. His turnover percentage was stead around 14-15% and never went any higher than 16.9%, so clearly he’s struggling.
Things like that happen all the time, just look at LeBron’s first seasons in Miami and then back in Cleveland. Teams have moments of struggle when multiple first options come together for the first time. It didn’t seem like it in the instances with LeBron because they went to the Finals in those first seasons – although the Cavs did have a 19-20 start before LeBron took his hiatus last year. It worked itself out because Wade & Bosh and Love & Kyrie all have superstar level talent, Lawson doesn’t and Dwight is inconsistent; to piggyback off that, Bosh and Love have both said that a reduced-role adjustment is tough.
I wholeheartedly believe that it was way too early for Houston to get rid of Coach McHale and I also believe that it was a very foolish act by management. David Blatt’s seat in Cleveland was a lot hotter than McHale’s this season and he was able to make it through the year and even make it to the Finals. Think what you want, but the Cavs could have inserted anyone in as their coach and not much would’ve mattered. The Rockets, on the other hand, need a coach who has experienced success in the league, which was Coach McHale.
*All stats via Basketball-Reference*