Ready To Roll
Daryl Morey and Kevin McHale discuss the club's plans going forward
HOUSTON -Wednesday afternoon, Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey and Head Coach Kevin McHale took some time to meet up with the Houston media in order to discuss the club's plans for the present and future. What follows is the transcript from their interview session.
DM: Its like the first day of school. Were very excited to get back. Weve been working hard with the coaching staff and Kevin to be ready for this day. Were ready, were excited about this team. Were one of the youngest teams in the league and to perform how it did (last year) we feel like we can build on that and have a very exciting season.
Can you outline what the gameplan is before the season starts?
DM: I cant talk about specific names but my job is always to make the team as good as I can for coach McHale. Were going to use every tool at our disposal. There will be a few free agents we pursue. As anyone who knows our philosophy, thats generally not the way we like to build a team; we like to build through the draft, we like to build it through trades, but if there are some free agents that make sense were going to try and get them.
Were going to upgrade the team as much as we can but I think coach McHale can address some things. I think hes excited with the pieces we have. I think we have more players signed than almost any team in the league so going into the year we already have a pretty complete team.
Have you reached out already to some people?
DM: Yeah, were allowed to talk to agents starting this morning so I made a couple first agent calls just to be ready. At this point were not allowed to talk to the players yet, so I think until that happens nothing with free agency will really get going.
Positions of need?
DM: I think were focused on just general upgrades. Obviously the teams in a different mode now with Yao Ming being retired. That puts us in a different state of the franchise. My job is to get us back to being a championship contender and center is obviously something we need to address. But maybe something to be a championship contender we cant address directly we might need to take two moves to get us back to where we want to be.
Is having more players signed potentially advantageous going into this season?
DM: Its hard to know it does feel like weve got young legs and a lot of quality players that with the triple back-to-backs we might get a slight edge with that. I think, if it is an edge, its probably slight though. I dont know if its a big edge.
Kevin, youve never had these players in your system on the court is that a disadvantage for you?
KM: Nah. You want excuses? You want me to start with excuses in the NBA? There are no excuses. Youve got to go play. Its about hard work. Basketball is not complicated. I know some people have tried to make it seem (that way). Youve got to reduce the space on defense, youve got to increase the space on offense and youve got to attack on both sides of the ball, defensively and offensively. Its a simple game. Weve got to go out there and play. Were going to put in some stuff thats basic hopefully to help and recover its basic basketball stuff that theyve done their entire lives so its not like youre putting in a system thats just going to confuse them.
You can make excuses up: its a 66-game season; back-to-back-to-back all kinds of stuff. But youve got to go out and play. You have to go out and compete. You know what every single night you step on the floor youve got to go out there and youve got to fight for the win.
Whats your first order of business?
KM: Weve got to get better defensively. I believe we have ot get better rebounding and have to have better spacing and ball movement.
Being a big mans coach, how much do you expect that to help?
KM: It helps to work with the big guys but you can work with some big guys a long, long time and not get much improvement, then you can go with other big guys a short period of time and theyll improve. But were going to get better. I want to punch the ball in the post. I believe the ball has to get in the paint offensively whether its off the dribble or whether its from a post move or whether its from offensive rebounding youve got to win that paint. If you win the paint youve got a good chance to win the game.
So we have different ways of getting the ball in there and the guys talent and their proficiency will dictate where the ball goes. I mean, Im not going to throw it to a guy who cant score in there. But if a guy can score in there and hes our 1-man then well have the best posting-up 1-man in the league, if he can score down there. I want the ball in the paint, though.
Are you concerned at all about basket protection?
KM: Nah, theres two ways of basket protecting. Ive seen some very, very good teams that didnt have big guys; they basket protected by getting bodies in the way, taking charges and coming over. Its always easier if you have 7-footers because you can come late, protect late, everybody can stay home more and if you have two 7-foot guys that can protect the basket then its simpler. But to say you cant do it without that is absolutely not true. You just have to work a little harder at it.
Daryl, does the acquisition of free agents change not being able to talk to players for the next 9 days?
DM: I dont know if thats going to be the case. I think that theres speculation that December 9th will be the day that were allowed to talk to the players, but I dont know if thats definitely the case. I do know that there will be a period where, as you say, we can just talk to agents, and whether that will change the dynamics I dont know. I think we always prefer to first talk to the players before we get into contracts that will be our preference. The agents can try to pressure it some other way but so far they havent.
Would you want Kevin to be part of the recruitment process?
DM: I think coach McHale would be great to be able to sit down with the free agent and explain to him how hell fit in the system I think thats always a great benefit and I think, obviously, coach McHale might be better at that than anybody out there. So I think, yeah, if he can join me on these free agent trips that would be something a player always wants to hear from the head coach. I agree, though, if they do make it so the first day you can talk to them is the first day of training camp, then obviously coach McHale will have to be here. Maybe we can get him to make a site visit more often than not, that helps.
How much does the compressed situation change your strategy with regards to recruiting and negotiating?
DM: I honestly dont think it changes anything. People talk about it being easier over the summer; actually it made the preparation harder. Usually you get some time to react, like Hey were not going to get that guy so were going to get this guy. So weve had to plan, along with the coaching staff, for every sort of contingency for different guys that we might get and react rapidly. But weve done all that planning so right no wit doesnt fell any different; its just a shorter number of days.
What about the possibility of trades?
DM: I think we believe in this team. I think, that said, my job is to upgrade however I can. But I think, going in, we believe in this team and if theres a trade that makes sense that can upgrade the team well do it. But I think going in were saying were a very young team that won a lot of games for how young they were and were going to build on that, and weve got good rookies coming in so were excited.
How far away are you from being a playoff contender?
KM: We should make the playoffs this year. Thats our goal is to make the playoffs this year. I dont know how many games its going to take to get in the playoffs but however many it is thats the number weve got to get.
We have to go out there and compete every single night. Wins and losses take care of themselves. If you go out there and take care of your business, if you work hard every single night and you get after it, you compete, well win our share of games. Our goal is to make the playoffs.
So youre not looking for a major upgrade?
KM: Well for Christmas I had a lot of wishes and stuff like that. A lot of times in the home of a miner, I didnt get it. So you know what when I got my stocking, I looked in it and said, Ok. So, yeah, I like what weve got. If we go to war with these guys Im perfectly ready to go out there and play with these guys. I love our guys, I think they play hard, Ive watched a ton of film. Im looking forward to being with the guys and improving but, you know, theres always a wish list. Im sure I could name five players right now I wish were on this team. But I like the guys we have. I think we have a good blend of guys, weve got some good young guys.
Every team in the league, except maybe two, are saying, Id like to upgrade our bigs and would like to get more big 7-footers that can really play. When you find those guys let me know and Ill tell Daryl and then Daryl will look for them, too. But its just hard to do. Our goal is to make the playoffs. We have one goal this year and thats to make the playoffs and I think Memphis proved last year that once you make it, anything can happen.
Is that your goal now, too, Daryl?
DM: Our goal for the team is to make the playoffs. My goal is to position ourselves to be championship contenders. Coach McHales job is lets get this team in the playoffs. My job is to position the team so that were upgrading where were considered one of those teams thats most likely to win the title.
For these next 9 days then, do you want to land something or youll see how things go and then decide later what you want to do?
DM: I will land anything that upgrades the team and gets us closer to being a championship contender.
Is there something out there that fits that description?
DM: Yeah, I think there is. I think there is both via trade and free agency that could be a significant upgrade. Will that happen? That will be to be found out.
Has your confidence in making that happen changed after your calls this morning?
DM: No, the calls were very preliminary this morning. The calls were like, Hey, how are you doing? We have interest in your guy. If we want to meet with your player at some point where are they at? That kind of thing. So, no, none of my agent calls changed my outlook.
Do you think its realistic that without anything significant and with a new coach with roughly the same team that you will have a better season than a year ago?
DM: Yeah, I think we have the ability to have a better season than last year, yes. We were one of the best teams after the trade deadline last year. If you take our team and how they played after (the trade deadline), it maps very well toward a team that has a shot at making the playoffs. Now thats easier said than done in the West in the hardest division but I think, Coach and I have talked about it, the playoffs is the right goal for this team, barring any major changes and if we have major changes then maybe well think about different goals but thats our goal for this season right now.
Coach, are there specific lessons learned from the past that you think a team needs to do or not do to help in a compressed schedule?
KM: The guys are going to come in and Im sure theyre going to be in good shape. They want to play. The last lockout, there were a few interesting casualties of weight gain I dont think were going to have that. Look, everybody is going to have a shortened camp and everybody is going to come in. Again, were playing basketball. These guys have played basketball their entire lives. They love to play basketball and theyre excited to get after it.
Again, its simple areas. We have to get better defensively, we have to get better rebounding, we have to get better spacing and playing side to side. Believe me, thats not that difficult. If I had a seventh or eighth grade coach right here hed probably be saying, Im trying to get my team to do the same things. So its basic basketball. I love basketball, its fun, the guys should have fun, were going to work really, really hard, were going to get after it every single night. My job is to get these guys going out there and playing really hard and getting after it.
If you play the Houston Rockets, if you win, youll be bruised when you leave, and thats the mentality you have to have.
So theres no trick to getting a team ready in two weeks for a season?
KM: I tell you what if a guy hasnt run or touched a ball, theres not a trick in the world that will get him ready in two weeks. I assume theyve done more than that. Conditioning takes place over time. You dont get in shape (Thursday for Fridays game) you get in shape for Friday eight Thursdays ago. So if theyre not in good shape that will be on them. I assume they assumed that we were going to play at some point. They are professionals. So if theyre not in good shape I have no sympathy for them. Theyre going to do everything until they fall down and pass out because this is your job.
Do you have a different schedule for a compressed season in terms of evaluation versus getting ready to play?
KM: Were going to get better defensively, were going to get better rebounding, were going to get better spacing and moving the ball. No matter who is here. If after the first day of camp everybody is in bad shape and everybody pulls their hamstrings Im going to have Daryl out there getting better at spacing, defense and rebounding.
Again, looking at a lot of film, sitting down, analyzing it, meeting with our coaches, there are areas we want (to improve upon). I could sit here and go over 50 areas with you guys that we want to improve on and wed be average in 50 areas. Human beings dont improve at 50 things, they improve in one or two things. We narrowed it down to those areas and thats what were going to do. So when our team takes the floor, you have to put your body on people in this league.
If this paint Im standing close to, if you get in this paint, you have to hit somebody because he wants to be in here, too. Were going to have to start with that, were going to have to start with being more physical, were going to have to start with keeping people in front of you. And then when the ball is shot, we may not be the biggest team if youre not taller, you better be tougher; if youre not taller you better get into somebody and put him on his backside and get him off the paint, get him off your back, create space for you to rebound.
Again, its just simple. Its not complex.
The guys who play the best are going to play. My (evaluation) will be every day of practice well have a game, then well look at the film, then well come up with two or three things to work on the next day and the guys that improved the most in those areas will play the next game thats the way basketball is. You have to earn your stripes every single day theres nothing given to you here. If they gave away championships 30 teams full of guys would be wearing rings. You have to earn those championships and its hard.
Because you have roster stability, does that help you implement all the things youre talking about?
KM: Yeah, but youd try to implement them even if you had two guys or 15 news guys. I will tell you that, being in the business, you could tell me anybody on anybody elses team and I could probably give you a thumbnail sketch on what his strengths and weaknesses are.
I told our coaches our guys will be better at things that will be things that surprise us and theyll be worse at things. When you get your hands on them and do it, players are all unique, so does it give you a bit of an advantage yes, in the fact that I watched 25 games of them playing from the trade deadline on last year, but no in the fact that were going to come out here and still find out new things about our guys. But the thing I want to find out the most is whos going to compete and who has what it takes to be able to play in June? Ill tell you what, playing in June sounds like fun, but its a long way to get to June, so those are the guys you want to find.
How is physicality important for a team?
KM: Of course (its important). Youre going to get tired of my (answers) because its about being physical. If a guy wants to get in the paint and you dont want him to get in there, at some point bodies are going to clash and you have to keep him out of there.
What have you been able to do with the assistant coaches so far?
KM: Weve spent a lot of time together. Thats the one thing I will say about having extended period of time matter of fact, we all said we need to get out of here and get away from each other (laughs). I can only get those guys on this floor so much because you know what theyre not nearly as good as our players, so when you start looking at stuff you go, You know what Im tired of looking at you guys run through our drills.
Weve had a chance to spend a lot of time together but its going to be a bit of a work in progress. I think theyre getting to know me. When you start coaching and youre on the floor, things changes. Theres always going to be things that come up. Were going to work really hard and I hope our players challenge me at least show me theyve got some spunk. If they start pissing and moaning, good. Theyll find out what its like when that happens. I hope they do because I think anybody whos got some spirit eventually is going to buck up. Were going to work hard. So all those areas of whats going to happen when guys start grousing and stuff like that, were all kind of figuring that out, but Ive never had a problem with that.
Instead of being able to work through those things in the preseason, youll now be forced to work through them in the regular season. Is that going to be a problem?
KM: You still have to go play them and you still have to go win them. I think where were standing, if we had 15 exhibition games, Id tell our guys I think its important to win every one of them. Were a young team and we need to learn how to win in this league. So having two (preseason games), we just dont have as much time. But no one else is getting more time than us so its all fair.
What about the process of working together with the new assistant coaches?
KM: I think well evolve and roles will be more defined. Players will automatically be drawn to different coaches and stuff like that, well all start working with different guys its an evolution.
The relationship between coaches and players evolves its not static. Ive spent a lot of time with the guys, Ive talked to them a lot, weve watched a lot of film together. I think if youre going to be coaching them as hard as you want to coach them, you better get to know them because when you jump their tails they better know its professional and not personal. The only way you can do that is youve got to get to know them so Ive spent a lot of time with the guys.
Whats the best way you can win fans back?
KM: Win. Talking doesnt win games. If talking won games wed draft debaters. Right now (Daryl) would be at the Harvard Debate School watching those guys. Talking means nothing. I could tell you guys all kinds of stuff. I could tell you guys we have an unbelievable zone defense weve been working on for eight months. Come on. You know what talking doesnt win basketball games. You play hard, you get after it, you compete every single night, you be a team that your city and your fans can be proud of, you go out and knock some people on their backsides if they like that theyll come watch.