Speaking candidly for the first time since being fired in November, former Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said he was "really, really surprised" to be let go in an interview with TNT's Inside the NBA.
Adam Wexler of KPRC-TV Sports captured McHale's comments. The Rockets unceremoniously dumped the Hall of Fame forward 11 games into the 2015-16 season despite McHale having led the team to a Western Conference Finals berth the year prior. Houston was 4-7 at the time.
"We got off to a tough start and I came in and I sat down [and] they said 'You're fired.' I went 'oof.' It really, really surprised me," McHale said, per Wexler.
Given that the Rockets are only 23-19 under interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, it's clear at this point McHale wasn't the root of the problem. They rank 24th in defensive efficiency, a complete 180-degree turn from their sixth-place finish in 2014-15. Some of the blame has been placed at the feet of guard James Harden, who has succumbed to his worst instincts after making significant improvements during his MVP runner-up campaign.
McHale offered up the team's injury issues as a reason for the lackadaisical performance.
"We had a rough camp...Dwight couldn't do back-to-back practices...James had sprained his ankle in the summer, came in overweight," McHale said, per Wexler.
There are multiple prisms through which one could view McHale's comments.
In one sense, he sounds understandably jilted by his firing. The Rockets had winning records in each of his first four seasons and improved their winning percentage each year. While McHale was never the best tactical mind, he made noticeable improvements in every category and was leaps and bounds better as a coach than he was during his ugly Minnesota Timberwolves tenure.
Firing a guy with his recent resume after 11 games reeked of desperation. McHale's probably right to be a little sour.
On the other hand, Festivus was almost two months ago. There is no real reason to air grievances three months after being fired, and the comments bordered on throwing players under the bus. Even though McHale acknowledged Harden's injury, it's typically damning to say a player came into a season out of shape. It puts James' early-season struggles into better context, but the takeaway quote here for most fans will be "overweight."
Speaking freely is what made McHale a great analyst during his run in the booth. Still, it's unclear what it accomplishes.
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