After supposedly narrowing their coaching search down to former Nets Head Coach Lawrence Frank, Dallas Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey and former Timberwolves GM and Head Coach Kevin McHale, sources are now saying that McHale has moved ahead and is the favorite.
The response from Rockets fans has been lukewarm at best and it's easy to see why. In parts of two seasons (four years apart) as Head Coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, he went 39-55. More infamously, he was the VP of basketball operations (general manager) for the Timberwolves from 1995-2008.
During his time in the T-Wolves front office, McHale built the franchise around Kevin Garnett, but was never able to get them over the hump and into the NBA Finals. More often than not, the Timberwolves were mediocre at best.
But in order to evaluate what kind of head coach McHale would make for the Rockets, you need to put things in perspective.
Parts of two seasons is not nearly enough time to make a judgment on what kind of head coach he will make. Also, in neither season were the Timberwolves going to be a contender for the NBA title.
As a matter of fact, he did a pretty good job the first time around considering the circumstances. In that 2004-2005 stint with the team, he took over with the team sitting at 25-30. They finished 19-12 to get them to six games over .500 on the season. His not being retained had more to do with the fact that he had enough on his plate as the VP of basketball operations and less to do with the job he did.
Granted, his second stint was much worse as the team went 20-43 with McHale at the helm. In that season, though, no coach was going to win with that roster. After Al Jefferson, the two most productive players on the roster were Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes.
Neither situation was a good one for him. Both times he was brought in during midseason and in both cases, he was trying to juggle front office and coaching duties at the same time. That's enough to make even the hardest working of people cringe.
I also wouldn't read too much into the fact that McHale has never held another head coaching position. For me, that has less to do with his coaching ability, or maybe lack of, and more to do with him being content with where he was. Very few front office executives spend their time looking for head coaching positions.
The biggest thing is to not confuse Kevin McHale the front office executive with Kevin McHale the head coaching candidate.
If we know anything about Rockets general manager Daryl Morey it's that he is certain of himself and the way he selects players. Supposed disagreements about the direction of the franchise and personnel between Morey and Rick Adelman were a big reason that Adelman was let go (or walked away, depending on your perspective). So we know that McHale is not going to be making final personnel decisions.
The two jobs really couldn't be any different. The only similarities are that they both greatly influence the success of the team and they both require knowledge of the game of basketball. Otherwise, they are two different skill sets.
A front office executive has to evaluate college and international talent, negotiate with player agents and other teams and put together a cohesive roster.
A coach has to motivate the players he currently has, find the right combinations within those players and run the correct plays and sets to put those players in a position to win. It's up to the collective front office to determine how much these roles intertwine, but largely, they are unrelated.
With that being said, I can't see a reason why McHale wouldn't be a good coach given what we know.
In his playing days, McHale was one of the most feared post scorers in the league even without freakish athletic ability or a physically imposing body type. He knows a little something about how hard work and good technique can turn an ordinary player into an extraordinary performer.
He knows what it takes to win. His Celtics teams of the 80s are some of the best teams in NBA history. On those teams, he played alongside fellow greats like Larry Bird, Bill Walton, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson. Bill Fitch and K.C. Jones also aren't bad guys to model your coaching after.
Specific to the Rockets, they have several young post players that could really benefit from his tutelage. Jordan Hill, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Williams and Hasheem Thabeet are all raw offensive players that could stand to pick something up from McHale. Even an already solid offensive player like Luis Scola would be helped by having McHale in Houston.
So settle down Rockets fans. Kevin McHale wouldn't be a disastrous hire. He has the experience, knowledge and communication skills to be a great coach in this league.