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Wednesday November 30, 2011 3:44 PM

Ready To Roll

Daryl Morey and Kevin McHale discuss the club's plans going forward

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




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.

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DM: It’s like the first day of school. We’re very excited to get back. We’ve been working hard with the coaching staff and Kevin to be ready for this day. We’re ready, we’re excited about this team. We’re 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 can’t talk about specific names but my job is always to make the team as good as I can for coach McHale. We’re going to use every tool at our disposal. There will be a few free agents we pursue. As anyone who knows our philosophy, that’s 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 we’re going to try and get them.

We’re going to upgrade the team as much as we can but I think coach McHale can address some things. I think he’s 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, we’re allowed to talk to agents starting this morning so I made a couple first agent calls just to be ready. At this point we’re 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 we’re focused on just general upgrades. Obviously the team’s 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 can’t 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: It’s hard to know … it does feel like we’ve 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, it’s probably slight though. I don’t know if it’s a big edge.

Kevin, you’ve 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. You’ve got to go play. It’s about hard work. Basketball is not complicated. I know some people have tried to make it seem (that way). You’ve got to reduce the space on defense, you’ve got to increase the space on offense and you’ve got to attack on both sides of the ball, defensively and offensively. It’s a simple game. We’ve got to go out there and play. We’re going to put in some stuff that’s basic – hopefully to help and recover – it’s basic basketball stuff that they’ve done their entire lives so it’s not like you’re putting in a system that’s just going to confuse them.

You can make excuses up: it’s a 66-game season; back-to-back-to-back – all kinds of stuff. But you’ve got to go out and play. You have to go out and compete. You know what – every single night you step on the floor you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to fight for the win.

What’s your first order of business?

KM: We’ve 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 man’s 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 they’ll improve. But we’re 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 it’s off the dribble or whether it’s from a post move or whether it’s from offensive rebounding – you’ve got to win that paint. If you win the paint you’ve 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, I’m not going to throw it to a guy who can’t score in there. But if a guy can score in there and he’s our 1-man then we’ll 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, there’s two ways of basket protecting. I’ve seen some very, very good teams that didn’t have big guys; they basket protected by getting bodies in the way, taking charges and coming over. It’s 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 it’s simpler. But to say you can’t 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 don’t know if that’s going to be the case. I think that there’s speculation that December 9th will be the day that we’re allowed to talk to the players, but I don’t know if that’s 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 don’t 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 haven’t.

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 he’ll fit in the system – I think that’s 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 don’t 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 we’re not going to get that guy so we’re going to get this guy. So we’ve had to plan, along with the coaching staff, for every sort of contingency for different guys that we might get and react rapidly. But we’ve done all that planning so right no wit doesn’t fell any different; it’s 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 there’s a trade that makes sense that can upgrade the team we’ll do it. But I think going in we’re saying we’re a very young team that won a lot of games for how young they were and we’re going to build on that, and we’ve got good rookies coming in so we’re excited.

How far away are you from being a playoff contender?

KM: We should make the playoffs this year. That’s our goal is to make the playoffs this year. I don’t know how many games it’s going to take to get in the playoffs but however many it is that’s the number we’ve 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, we’ll win our share of games. Our goal is to make the playoffs.

So you’re 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 didn’t get it. So you know what – when I got my stocking, I looked in it and said, “Ok.” So, yeah, I like what we’ve got. If we go to war with these guys I’m perfectly ready to go out there and play with these guys. I love our guys, I think they play hard, I’ve watched a ton of film. I’m looking forward to being with the guys and improving but, you know, there’s always a wish list. I’m 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, we’ve got some good young guys.

Every team in the league, except maybe two, are saying, “I’d 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 I’ll tell Daryl and then Daryl will look for them, too. But it’s just hard to do. Our goal is to make the playoffs. We have one goal this year and that’s 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 McHale’s job is let’s get this team in the playoffs. My job is to position the team so that we’re upgrading where we’re considered one of those teams that’s most likely to win the title.

For these next 9 days then, do you want to land something or you’ll 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 it’s 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 that’s 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 we’ll think about different goals but that’s 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 I’m sure they’re going to be in good shape. They want to play. The last lockout, there were a few interesting casualties of weight gain – I don’t think we’re going to have that. Look, everybody is going to have a shortened camp and everybody is going to come in. Again, we’re playing basketball. These guys have played basketball their entire lives. They love to play basketball and they’re excited to get after it.

Again, it’s 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, that’s not that difficult. If I had a seventh or eighth grade coach right here he’d probably be saying, “I’m trying to get my team to do the same things.” So it’s basic basketball. I love basketball, it’s fun, the guys should have fun, we’re going to work really, really hard, we’re 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, you’ll be bruised when you leave, and that’s the mentality you have to have.

So there’s no trick to getting a team ready in two weeks for a season?

KM: I tell you what – if a guy hasn’t run or touched a ball, there’s not a trick in the world that will get him ready in two weeks. I assume they’ve done more than that. Conditioning takes place over time. You don’t get in shape (Thursday for Friday’s game) – you get in shape for Friday eight Thursdays ago. So if they’re 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 they’re not in good shape I have no sympathy for them. They’re 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: We’re going to get better defensively, we’re going to get better rebounding, we’re 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 I’m 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 we’d be average in 50 areas. Human beings don’t improve at 50 things, they improve in one or two things. We narrowed it down to those areas and that’s what we’re going to do. So when our team takes the floor, you have to put your body on people in this league.

If this paint I’m standing close to, if you get in this paint, you have to hit somebody because he wants to be in here, too. We’re going to have to start with that, we’re going to have to start with being more physical, we’re 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 you’re not taller, you better be tougher; if you’re 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, it’s just simple. It’s not complex.

The guys who play the best are going to play. My (evaluation) will be every day of practice we’ll have a game, then we’ll look at the film, then we’ll 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 – that’s the way basketball is. You have to earn your stripes every single day – there’s 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 it’s hard.

Because you have roster stability, does that help you implement all the things you’re talking about?

KM: Yeah, but you’d 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 else’s 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 they’ll 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 we’re 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 who’s going to compete and who has what it takes to be able to play in June? I’ll tell you what, playing in June sounds like fun, but it’s 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 (it’s important). You’re going to get tired of my (answers) because it’s about being physical. If a guy wants to get in the paint and you don’t 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: We’ve spent a lot of time together. That’s 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 – they’re not nearly as good as our players, so when you start looking at stuff you go, “You know what – I’m tired of looking at you guys run through our drills.”

We’ve had a chance to spend a lot of time together but it’s going to be a bit of a work in progress. I think they’re getting to know me. When you start coaching and you’re on the floor, things changes. There’s always going to be things that come up. We’re going to work really hard and I hope our players challenge me – at least show me they’ve got some spunk. If they start pissing and moaning, good. They’ll find out what it’s like when that happens. I hope they do because I think anybody who’s got some spirit eventually is going to buck up. We’re going to work hard. So all those areas of what’s going to happen when guys start grousing and stuff like that, we’re all kind of figuring that out, but I’ve never had a problem with that.

Instead of being able to work through those things in the preseason, you’ll 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 we’re standing, if we had 15 exhibition games, I’d tell our guys I think it’s important to win every one of them. We’re a young team and we need to learn how to win in this league. So having two (preseason games), we just don’t have as much time. But no one else is getting more time than us so it’s all fair.

What about the process of working together with the new assistant coaches?

KM: I think we’ll evolve and roles will be more defined. Players will automatically be drawn to different coaches and stuff like that, we’ll all start working with different guys – it’s an evolution.

The relationship between coaches and players evolves – it’s not static. I’ve spent a lot of time with the guys, I’ve talked to them a lot, we’ve watched a lot of film together. I think if you’re 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 it’s professional and not personal. The only way you can do that is you’ve got to get to know them so I’ve spent a lot of time with the guys.

What’s the best way you can win fans back?

KM: Win. Talking doesn’t win games. If talking won games we’d 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 we’ve been working on for eight months. Come on. You know what – talking doesn’t 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 they’ll come watch.

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