Posted Jun 2 2011 7:15PM
MIAMI -- Kevin McHale was headed to Texas anyway, given his work for NBA TV and The Finals' shift to Dallas for Games 3, 4 and 5. But now McHale really is headed to Texas.
McHale, the Boston Celtics' Hall of Famer and longtime basketball boss of the Minnesota Timberwolves, agreed to terms with the Houston Rockets Monday night to become the team's next head coach. He will sign a three-year contract with a team option for the fourth season, and expects to be introduced Friday at a news conference in Houston.
The deal to return to the NBA sidelines after a two-year absence -- McHale went 20-43 over the final 4 ½ months of the 2008-09 season after replacing Randy Wittman -- had been reported for several days. Even Rockets guard Kevin Martin was quoted, essentially confirming that McHale had been chosen for the job over Dallas assistant Dwane Casey and Boston assistant Lawrence Frank.
But McHale, 53, said those reports were premature, since the terms weren't finalized until late Monday evening. "It would have been hard for [Martin] to [confirm], since I didn't even know until last night," McHale told NBA.com.
Similar reports about his coaching staff -- Memphis assistant Dave Joerger and Chris Finch of Rio Grande in the NBA Development League have been mentioned -- are early, too. McHale said he is in discussions about assistants but could have to wait until some coaches' contracts end July 1.
As for McHale, a former star player who only coached reluctantly in partial seasons after firing men he hired -- first Flip Saunders in 2004-05 (McHale 19-12), then Wittman -- this desire to try again may have surprised even himself. He had settled into a role as a game and studio analyst for TNT and NBA TV.
"Doing the TV has been fantastic; the Turner people have been great," McHale said. "But this was a chance. It came up, I talked to them. I was a little uncertain whether I was going to jump in with both feet -- I wanted it to be the right situation -- but after spending time with them, I felt this is a good situation to get involved in."
"Kevin's experiences as a player, coach and general manager, coupled with his tremendous knowledge of the game and players, made him a terrific analyst for NBA TV and TNT," said Turner Sports president David Levy. "Our audience will miss his diverse perspective and terrific sense of humor. We wish Kevin the best of luck in his new role as head coach of the Houston Rockets."
One of McHale's TV peers, Charles Barkley, cautioned him repeatedly to stick with TV, believing that McHale eventually would land with a more desirable organization. He and Barkley apparently will agree to disagree.
"That's the great thing about Chuck, he always tells you what he thinks," McHale said. "I guess, in the end, it's a very personal decision. There are only 30 coaching jobs in the league. You can wait, but sooner or later you either have to do it or not do it."
For everything that McHale disliked about coaching compared to his role as Timberwolves' vice president of basketball operations from 1995 to 2008 -- the travel, the grind, the losing -- he found other elements he missed.
"I had really wanted to coach again," he said. "You miss the competition when you're away from it. That's what I missed the last couple of years. I've done it my whole life.
"From a coaching standpoint, you have a lot more [impact] on the outcome of the game than when you're GM-ing. My last stint with the guys in Minnesota, I really enjoyed myself with them. It was a younger team and I had a lot of fun doing it."
McHale said he got a similar fun, upbeat vibe when talking with Rockets owner Les Alexander and GM Daryl Morey. He and Morey have similar philosophies, McHale said, and Alexander impressed McHale as being committed to working toward a championship.
Morey is known as a devotee of modern statistical analysis, something McHale admitted he didn't embrace a few years back. "I was really old-school about a lot of that stuff," he said. "But the more you start doing it, statistical analysis is another tool to use.
"It's very useful to put in your toolbox when you're formulating a lot of your strategies for the offensive and defensive ends. ... It's percentages, it's trends. It just simplifies a lot of things."
The Rockets' building blocks also appealed to McHale. "The big part of it was, you're inheriting a team that won 43 games last year," he said. "Coach Adelman did a great job with that team. Sometimes you inherit a team that won 19 games -- that's a lot harder."
Houston has averaged 49 victories the past five seasons and reached the playoffs in five of seven years before 2011. The teams that McHale took over in Minnesota were 25-26 and 4-15, with only a day or so of practice before facing their next games. "When you step in the middle of it, there's no training camp," he said. "It's just hard. The feeling that you never have enough time to get everything done, that's always tough.
"This time, I've got years to do it. I'll have a training camp. Be able to spend 28 days working on stuff instead of a day and a half."
McHale said he likes the Rockets' nucleus and their mix of young and old players. He said he was excited about the opportunity to work with Martin, Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry and the rest, and help a big man such as Hasheem Thabeet develop. "You've got enough young guys who really have got to improve and you can help them," he said.
McHale had that at the end in Minnesota -- players he had rounded up such as Kevin Love, Al Jefferson and Corey Brewer -- but the team never recovered from some poor drafts decisions and the 2007 trade of Kevin Garnett. Not long after McHale took over in 2008-09, Jefferson -- putting up All-Star stats (23.1 ppg, 11.0) as a low-post power forward with whom McHale could bond -- blew out a knee.
The situation unraveled from there. McHale, who had shed his executive role when he resumed coaching, was not rehired by new Wolves president David Kahn. Jefferson and Brewer were traded, and no players from McHale's tenure remain on the Minnesota team that went 15-67 and 17-65 in his absence.
"I think McHale's a great coach," said Brewer, a reserve for the Dallas Mavericks in The Finals. "He did a good job for us my second year. It would have been a better season but Al tore his ACL. I was surprised they didn't bring Mac back actually, my third year."
McHale called it a "major blessing" Tuesday that he wasn't retained by the Wolves. He would have lost players he preferred, had to coach others he did not choose ... and might not have been in position now to land the Houston job.
The timing and city are right for this move: The parents and three brothers of McHale's wife Lynn live in Houston. Also, the youngest of the McHales' five children, Tommy, will be a senior in high school next fall. The others are out of the house. He said the family would keep its lake home in upper Minnesota -- "That's my sanctuary," said McHale, who grew up in Hibbing in the state's Iron Range region -- but otherwise would relocate for this chance for him to coach again.
"I missed it a lot more than I thought I would," McHale said.
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