By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Posted Dec 19 2011 11:06AM
From Moses Malone to Hakeem Olajuwon to Yao Ming, down through the years the Rockets have made a habit of leaning on All-Star big men for strength in the low post.
The difference in turning this time to Kevin McHale is that the Hall of Famer is nearly two decades past playing his last NBA game and will have to display his moves from the bench as the team's new head coach.
"Some things don't change and protecting the paint is one of those things that can't change," McHale said. "On the offensive end, you have to be able to get the ball in the paint and collapse the defense. When the ball gets in the paint, it changes everything."
McHale arrives in Houston at a time when virtually everything has and must continue to change if the Rockets are going to experience a long-sought resurrection out of mediocrity. The glory days of back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995 are from a different millennium and different era and the franchise has managed to win only one playoff series since 1997.
Gone are recent All-Star bellwether performers Tracy McGrady and Yao and in their place a roster filled with youth, hustle and journeymen that will need to be forged into and identity that can compete and thrive in the rugged Western Conference.
On some levels then, McHale would seem a curious choice for the job to succeed veterans Jeff Van Gundy and Rick Adelman with a coaching resume that consists of two brief stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves and a career record of 39-55. But his former Boston teammate and current Celtics executive vice president Danny Ainge believes that McHale has the chops.
"I'd put Kevin's intelligence level about basketball up there with anybody's," Ainge said. "I think that Kevin, though he lacks front-line coaching experience, has watched as many games and as much tape as anyone, and has learned about basketball from some of the great minds."
Of course, McHale played alongside some of the great basketball minds in Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson and Robert Parish, fellow Hall of Famers, in Boston and brings a direct knowledge of what it takes to win and a supreme confidence to the job. He'll need that confidence to lead a Rockets team that does not have an All-Star on the roster and whose leading scorer, Kevin Martin, is hardly a marquee name. In addition, they are going into a season without even the hope of Yao in the middle, and the paint manned by the unproven pair of Jordan Hill and Hasheem Thabeet. The Rockets even don't even have their undersized 6-foot-6 stalwart Chuck Hayes to rely on, since he bolted to Sacramento as a free agent.
The Rockets though they had taken steps to reload in the middle with Pau Gasol, but had those hopes dashed when the three-way trade between Houston, New Orleans and the Lakers was vetoed by commissioner David Stern.
McHale will have to draw on the success he had during his first stint as the Timberwolves coach, when he guided the team to a 19-12 finish and earned praise from his players.
"Look, I've got news for you. When you come out of the GM spot to take over coaching, you're not taking over a team that's on a 10-game winning streak," McHale said. "Normally you're taking over a team that's taking on a lot of water and your first 10 days to two weeks is just spent pretty much pumping the water out. You're trying to get the guys above the water line, get them playing again, getting their motors going and get them re-energized. You can't underestimate the work that goes into doing that, trying to get a team thinking good about themselves again. You barely have time to think. That's why this is nice to start from scratch. You can gather your staff, listen to all the different ideas, find your common grounds and decide your priorities. You can make plans."
The plan is for many of the details of practice and preparation to be handled by his assistant coaches while McHale works on player-development and focuses on the bigger overall picture. He won't be a screamer, he said, though he might be a bit more vocal early in the season. He won't be seen chewing out his players during timeouts, because he believes practices are his time to correct mistakes and get his points across.
"There are certain things I believe in about how the game should be played," he said. "I've believed those since about my second or third year in the NBA. If you control the paint, you still give yourself a chance to win.
"What has changed is the paint is no longer, post, pick, come across. It's guys attacking the paint off the dribble. But you've still got to control the paint. There's only three ways to get the ball in there -- dribbling, passing the ball and rebounding and you better be winning two of those three.
"For me, an ideal team would be a couple of 7-footers that can block shots, rebound and consistently get the ball into the basket from the paint. Let me know when you find those guys, so I can put them in the paint."
In the meantime, it will be McHale standing the middle of the building process.
1. The Rockets must continue former coach Rick Adelman's share-the-ball philosophy under new coach Kevin McHale.
2. Get big. Either Jordan Hill or Hasheem Thabeet must transform dramatically or the Yao-less Rockets need to deal for a big man.
3. Run to glory. The undersized Rockets will have to push the ball and the tempo and wear opponents down with their hustle.
1. While Kevin Martin was last season's leading scorer at 23.5 ppg, he still must grow from a co-star into the role of leading man.
2. The last time the Rockets were without a so-called "franchise player" was the 1982-83 season that preceded Ralph Sampson.
3. The only player on the roster older than 28 is power forward Luis Scola (31).
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LAST YEAR: 43-39, 5th in Southwest
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2010-11 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2010-11 Stats|
KYLE LOWRY, POINT GUARD
13.5 PPG | 4.1 RPG | 6.7 APG
The Rockets and handed the starting job to Lowry at midseason and he played well. With Kevin Martin, he forms an solid combo that hit a combined 305 3s.
KEVIN MARTIN, SHOOTING GUARD
23.4 PPG | 3.2 RPG | 2.5 APG
Finally healthy, Martin played in his most games since 2006-07. One of the NBA's most efficient scorers, he will be tasked with using his acumen to revive Houston's playoff hopes.
CHASE BUDINGER, SMALL FORWARD
9.8 PPG | 3.6 RPG | 1.6 APG
A high-flying athlete, Budinger grew as an overall player last season and started 22 of Houston's final 23 games. The third-year pro could shoulder more of the load this season.
LUIS SCOLA, POWER FORWARD
18.3 PPG | 8.2 RPG | 2.5 APG
Although he has very little hops (but lots of low-post footwork), Scola was Houston's No. 2 scorer. He'll be asked to provide more leadership with Yao Ming's retirement.
HASHEEM THABEET, C
1.2 PPG | 1.6 RPG | .436 FG%
The former No. 2 pick of Memphis is viewed as a bust. Still, coach Kevin McHale likes size and shotblocking, which Thabeet (in theory) can provide.
|Goran Dragic||6-3||190||G||Quicker than you think and an explosive streak shooter for a backup point guard.|
|Courtney Lee||6-5||200||G||A slasher from the wing, who can also stick the 3-pointer and play solidly on defense.|
|Jordan Hill||6-10||235||C-F||Raw-but-developing big man was No. 2 on team in blocks (52).|
ADDED: F Marcus Morris, F Nikola Mirotic, F Chandler Parsons, G Jeremy Lin, G Jonny Flynn
LOST: F-C Chuck Hayes
DARYL MOREY, GENERAL MANAGER
The general manager has watched his club wither from two All-Stars in Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady to a collection of non-marquee types who excite nobody and will have the fight of their lives to reach .500. The stat king thought he'd hit a HR in landing Gasol and maybe Nene and then was forced to scramble desperately for a Plan B.
|Open Court: Coaches|
The panel talks about the difference between a good coach and a great coach.
|Open Court: Rebounds|
Grant Hill talks about why he always wanted to hit the boards.
|Open Court: Assist|
Isiah Thomas breaks down when you should shoot and when you should pass.
|Open Court: Nice Shot|
The panel debates who shoots the prettiest shot.
|Open Court: Imitation|
The Open Court panel talks about who they imitated when they were growing up.