Kevin McHale Meets The Media
Rockets' new head coach joins Leslie Alexander and Daryl Morey for introductory press conference
HOUSTON - Friday morning at Toyota Center the Houston Rockets introduced their new head coach, Kevin McHale, to the Houston media. McHale was joined on stage by Rockets owner Leslie Alexander and General Manager Daryl Morey. What follows is a transcript of the press conference in its entirety.
LA: This is a new era for the Rockets. I’ve been fortunate in my 18 years running the team I’ve had three great coaches. This time around, we think things have to be done a little differently in the NBA. We think Kevin McHale is the perfect fit for this team at this time.
The league has gotten so much better in how they prepare for each game. There’s 82 games before you get to the playoffs and you have to have somebody who’s a great leader and a great communicator and understands how to use his staff and the players at all times, and will take input and will work with people to make us a great team. Kevin the perfect person for that job. Obviously he’s been a great player in this league, top-50, Hall of Fame, and understands the game perfectly. He’s a very smart guy which we always require in this organization.
KM: I’d like to thank the Houston Rockets for giving me a great opportunity. I’m really excited. I can’t wait to get going. I’ve talked to most of the players; a few of the players are in parts unknown of the world and I can’t get a hold of them, but I’ve talked to most of the guys and they’re really ready to go.
It’s fun. I was away from the game for a few years doing television and I really missed it. I really wanted a chance to take a young team like this, a good team with a good nucleus, and take them and see what we can do over a period of years. Like I said, I couldn’t be more excited and I’m looking forward to it. I think everybody has the same goals: that is to make the playoffs and make a playoff run. So, again, I couldn’t be more excited and I’m looking forward to the challenges.
How are you better prepared this time around to take on this responsibility?
KM: I think when you do it, you get better as you do it. The last time I coached I really enjoyed it. It was a younger team and we really got it rolling for awhile and started playing very well, then we got some injuries that set us back. But I think, as you do it and as you prepare and as you spend time talking to everybody, being away from it for a couple of years you really start to formulate exactly how I would do it from start to finish if I had another chance.
When I was taking over in the middle of the year I was always very frustrated because you never felt like you had enough time to implement what you really wanted to do. You were always trying to kind of make do with what the other coach had and try to modify it – it was just very, very different and I always said, you know what, I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to start off at training camp, be with the guys, have a chance to know them, get a chance to grow, and a chance to implement things I feel are very important. It takes time to be able to implement how I feel the game should be played. That’s the best thing about the NBA, there are millions of ways to play it, but you have to have conviction in the way you feel it needs to be played and I have a lot of conviction on how the game should be played: up-tempo, but you’ve got to defend. You’ve got to be able to play fast but you have to be able to defend. You see in the playoffs now, defense kind of reigns supreme.
You mentioned you get better as you do it - how then do you make up for a lack of bench time when you begin the job?
KM: I’ve been on the bench long enough and I’ve been around the game my whole life. When we played back in the old days, there was a lot of input – players had a lot of influence. We went over everything and I’ve just always been a basketball person. I’ve been in the NBA over 30 years. I was one of those guys who was drawing up plays at the end of games. We drew up plays, we’d sit around after games and draw up plays, I was very interactive with the coaches. The first coach we had in Minnesota when I was there was Flip Saunders, my old college roommate, and we’d go over plays, go over play calls, go over end of games. I was very involved with that and that’s why, when I took over, both times it wasn’t a huge jump, a huge stretch; what it was for me was just not being able to put my system in that I like.
When you assess this roster how close is this team to contention in your estimation and what assurances have you received from management that they’ll spend what’s needed to fill those holes?
KM: One of the reason I took the job is it’s a very well-coached, very good offensive team. They get up and down the floor. I love a lot of stuff that Rick Adelman did offensively with these guys. They scored up a storm. I think that they have pieces in place, very good pieces, that can be part of a championship type team. Our goal is to make the playoffs next year. That’s what it is and that’s going to fall on me to do it and if it doesn’t get done it will be on me. But we should make the playoffs – that’s what I feel. And once you get in anything can happen – ask Memphis.
So I’m excited about it. I see a lot of players here who can really play at a high level on the offensive end. I don’t think there’s any doubt we’ve got to get better defensively and, again, that falls on me and my staff to demand defense. You get better at what you work at – that’s with everything in life.
What did you learn from (former Celtics and Rockets head coach) Bill Fitch that will help you here in Houston?
KM: I learned not to curse the players out as much as Bill did (laughs). No, I love Bill. Bill’s a tough guy. Let me tell you something, coming out of college I had never been around a coach that talked the way Bill did to you, but he really pushed you hard and I thought Bill did a great job. What I learned from Bill Fitch was (the importance of) repetition, repetition, repetition – you get better at what you work at. And I tell you what, we dummied our offense, we ran our offense, we did stuff to the point where you literally wanted to cry. But I found out that a lot of teams didn’t do that. It’s a lot of drill work and a lot of repetition, but whatever you’re going to do on the floor, you’ve got to be prepared and you have to do it in practice all the time and I think that was what I learned from Bill. Bill was a fantastic coach and he still lives in the Houston area so I’m sure I’ll run into Coach Fitch.
(To Mr. Alexander): Compared to the other two coaches you’ve hired, why the difference in the type of coach you’re hiring this time?
LA: As I said before, we think the game has evolved tremendously and that the coach has to be someone who will evolve with the game. One person, I don’t think, can do it all anymore. I just think the game has become too complex. We play back-to-backs and we play four in five nights and it’s an impossible thing for one person, so he’s got to be a leader of men who can work with them and who’s smart enough to know whose input to take and whose input not to take, and how to use the input. And Kevin knows the game so well he’ll be ideal for that.
(To Mr. Alexander): When looking at the finalists for the Rockets’ head coaching job and their overall record, all were under .500. How does that mesh with stated goals of being a championship contending team?
LA: That’s an interesting question, seriously. I think a real smart guy who knows the game, when he starts out and doesn’t have great success, it’s a benefit to him because he will now say, “OK, why wasn’t I unbelievably successful right now?” And he’ll think about it and implement the things he needs. If he was unbelievably successful the first 30 games let’s say, he wouldn’t change because he’d say, “I’m successful.” But now, Kevin has seen what it takes and how it takes and what he needs to be a great success in this league. He’s the kind of guy I think will do that.
DM: I would add to that. When you’re looking at a coaching record you’ve got to look (at other things, too). We’re all evaluated on wins and losses and that’s how it should be, but when you look at a coaching record you’ve got to look deeper. You’ve got to look at how when Kevin took over for those teams how they did better with him than the person he took over from. You’ve got to look at the players that are on that roster and who got better. And you’ve got to look at things like we do which is the quality of the shots that they got when Kevin was the coach, the quality of the shots they gave up being worse for the other team – you have to look deeper when you look at coaching record.
Every good coach in this league, I challenge you to find one, has been an sub-.500 coach at one point or another.
You had other former players when you interviewed other candidates – why Kevin?
DM: As Mr. Alexander said, we were looking for a leader, we were looking for someone who is smart and a smart basketball mind. We were looking for someone who everyday he’s trying to be a better coach than yesterday. We were looking for someone who can make our roster better. We’ve got young players who need to continue to improve if we want to make the playoffs which is our goal, and we want to get to that next step which is to be a championship caliber team again. We’re looking for someone who can do that and make our players better and a guy who can take what was strong with our team, which was offense last year, and add defense on top of it.
Kevin, would you have fouled last night at the end of the (Miami-Dallas) game?
KM: When Miami had a foul to give, you mean? Yeah, of course you would tell the guys that but I would be shocked if ( Miami) Coach Spoelstra didn’t tell them that there was a foul to give. You know what? Sometimes there’s a disconnect between what the coach says and what the players do. I was a player and sometimes I disconnected, too.
In a perfect world everything lays out, but basketball is an imperfect game. You’re asking guys to make judgments and stuff like that. But, yeah, if there’s a foul to give I’d (tell the players).
One of the things I grew up believing was if you’re up 3 late in the game you foul. I’ve lost games watching guys make one-legged runners for 3 to tie the game and you lose in overtime. I’d rather foul and make them make the first free throw and miss the second, secure the second, then score, than making the one-legged, running three. Great players make great shots in our league.
But most of how I feel about coaching is how I felt when I played. I think we did the same things in Boston that were very successful and we fouled late and did a lot of stuff that I feel very strongly about.
Have you put your coaching staff together yet?
KM: No, not yet. I signed this morning so I it will be a little bit of time before you get that all taken care of. We’ve talked to a few people and stuff like that. It will be much, much sooner than later as far as that aspect of it, but I have nothing to report today.
Would you have any problem with hiring some former Rockets who applied for the job and adding them as assistants?
KM: Again, I’m going to try to have the best staff that I can to help me. I agree with Mr. Alexander, if you sit there and say, hey, I have all the answers, my way is the only way, I just think that’s silly. I think you have to have a lot of people who are very, very good. We all have a lot of conviction with how we play, but I think the more input, the better people you have around you, the more people you have challenging you, the more you’ve got to stand up for your opinions – I want people who are going to very interactive who are very good basketball people, so I’m going to try to take the best people that I can possibly get. So I’m not going to sit here and say I’m eliminating anybody who’s ever worked here or done anything like that – that’s not the case at all.
How do you feel about going from a long stretch where you were the decision maker regarding personnel and now you’ll have less input on that?
KM: Good (laughs).
LA: He’s going to have input. He’s going to have a lot of input. He was a great player who understands what the game is about. He and Daryl are going to work very closely. It’s not going to be like Daryl is over here and he’s over there.
KM: Look, we’ll talk. You’re always evaluating your players: where you’re at, where you want to get better, the areas you want to improve and stuff like that. So that’s stuff is always going on. But I do know from having done it from Daryl’s standpoint that when coaches coach all year and they haven’t seen the players and then they say all of a sudden, “I really like this guy” – I always take that with a grain of salt. We have a great staff and we’re always going to be evaluating players.
I think what it is, is that you sit down with Daryl and say we have a need for a shooting guard, or we have a need for a big, or we have a need for a shot blocker. And then I think that the staff will decide things. But they see every game too and they’re going to try to go out and fill those needs as best they can. Believe me, everybody wants Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Ask everybody in the league what they need and they’ll say, “We need a great center.” Well, us and probably everybody else in the NBA, too. Those are hard to come by.
You inherited a team that doesn’t have a lot of star power on it, what are the challenges that come with that and do you even need one to achieve your ultimate goals?
KM: Well, I think it’s always easier when you have a guy you can say at the end of games, we’re going to close by running this play for a guy, he’ll get it and break people down and create and everything like that. That’s always easier. But I think you can win without that, I really do.
Look at Denver this year after everybody said boy, they traded Carmelo, they’re going to hit the skids and not really be able to do anything. Everybody came together and played really well and I think that style of play works. You’re always looking to get a superstar, you’re always looking to trade for a guy like that, but to say, oh, we don’t have that guy we can’t win – I don’t believe that. I believe we’ll go out there and we’ll win as a unit. This team can score. This team got up and down the floor last year, they put points on the board, I just think that from watching them and evaluating them we’ve got to get better defensively. So am I going to turn down a star? No, I’ll tell you what we all like them. But I think you can win without them.
Leslie, how far do you think you are from championship contention? How do you go about measuring that?
LA: The wins tell you how far away you really are, right? We had 43 wins. I mean, we could have won a few more games but obviously we’re not a 60-win team or a 58-win team which I think you need to be to be a championship team. We’re going to add players this year to the team and I think we’ll get much better.
Kevin, it was reported that Charles Barkley tried to saw you to wait for a more desirable job comes available. What convinced you that the Rockets were the right job?
KM: I’ve never been unsure that I wanted to coach again. From the last stint I had, I knew I wanted to coach again I was just waiting for the right situation to come. Again, I think I get a chance to take over a team that can score. I like that they can put points on the board. They win 43 games last year.
Teams that are winning 55 to 60, as Mr. Alexander talked about a championship team, those jobs just aren’t out there. If someone offered me a couple of the other jobs I might have taken them (laughs). But I thought this was a really good job and I liked Daryl – I talked to Daryl a lot among the years. I just think it’s a team that’s got a lot of nice players from different age groups and you have a nice, young nucleus of guys that you can build and take over.
To the point you talk about records and all that stuff, when you take over a team like I did the last two times, when you take over a team in the middle of the season, believe me, the submarine has taken on water – you’re not taking over the team because they’re playing great. You’ve got a lot of water. You’ve got to bail that out and get that thing going and I was very proud of the fact I was able to take both teams and turn them around. We were winning and unfortunately, like I said earlier, we had a couple injuries; Al Jefferson got hurt and we had some injuries that really hurt us. But turning a team around getting it going in the right direction in the middle of the season is a very hard thing to do and I was able to do that both times, so I wanted to try top start fresh without a bunch of water in the submarine going in the wrong direction.
DM: Kevin is modest. He was Coach of the Month the second time around.
Did you discuss how you would handle Yao’s situation during the interview process?
KM: We’d all be really happy if Yao comes back and plays and I hope he can. He’ll give it his best shot but, again, his body is going to dictate if he can come back and play. Unfortunately, he’s had some injuries. That’s all going to be played out in the future. But who wouldn’t like Yao Ming as a big guy? He can make shots and is just a huge force in the middle but that’s out of my control – we’ll see how that goes.
Have you had much of a chance to check out the draft eligible players?
KM: No, I really haven’t. I still have to fulfill my commitment to NBA-TV and Turner. I have to go up there (to Dallas) and analyze game 3 and do that. Really, this is probably one of the years I’ve watched the least amount of college ball. I like basketball, I’m a basketball junkie, so I watch games all the time. But, no, as far as that type of preparation, I haven’t done any of that.
Do you know how you want to structure your staff?
KM: Yeah, I think it’s important to have people who are specialists on your staff, so a guy that’s really into defense and a guy that’s going to look at the offense. Everybody has to be able to do a little of something. But you really can assign a guy to monitor the offense and a guy that monitors the defense, and I think that’s really important because sometimes you’re monitoring playing time, personalities – you have a million different things going on and that’s very important. Look, one of the most important things you can do as a coach is get your guys ready to play – that’s my job. They have to play hard. If they’re not playing hard, that’s on me. This stuff of, it’s up to the players to play hard – look, I believe it’s the coaches job to get them to play the way you want them to play.
So you’re going to have a lot of different things pulling at you. You need guys who are specifically saying, “Hey, when I went home last night, I looked at every defensive possession and this is what we need to work on.” I think compartmentalizing the game into different compartments helps a great deal. Then those guys take a lot of pride in it and all of sudden you’re giving them a lot of authority to really use that. All that work they do, you give them that authority to really use it in practice, pre-game and everything else. I just think that’s the way to do it. For me that’s the way to go.
Do you have guys now in your mind you want?
KM: Yeah. I do, but again, throwing out names right now, I’m not going to do that. But I do have (names). I’ve reached out to a few people but I would say that a lot of people I want to talk to, I’m going to have to wait to talk to a little bit later. I just signed the contract a half hour ago, so the assistant coaching thing isn’t tied up yet but I have some ideas.
How much fun will it will to compete against Larry Bird and Danny Ainge again?
KM: That’s the thing I missed was the competition. You do it and I was in the NBA for so long at a competitive level and I loved my time with Turner and they’re great people at TNT. But there’s nothing like being in the fight. There’s just something about being in the game that is really fun and I really enjoy that.
But look, I enjoyed competing against everybody, not just Larry and Danny. I was one of those guys where if you have another colored jersey than the one I have on, I don’t really like you very much that night and I want to beat you and that’s the fun thing about basketball is that you want to step out there with that feeling of a bunch of guys together – that’s the thing you can’t replicate in anything else you do in life and I’m looking forward to having that feeling again.
Daryl, as far as (RGV head Coach) Chris Finch goes, is his role on this staff yet to be determined?
DM: We’re working together on the staff. None of the roles have been finalized on the staff. All we did was suggest that a couple guys we think are high quality guys for Kevin to consider. Kevin’s got a bunch of guys that he really thinks he wants on the staff and we’re going to work through that.
KM: Yeah, look it’s just like the players: until you’ve coached them and are around them all the time it’s very hard to evaluate them. All outside evaluation is different. You don’t truly know a guy until you coach them or have been around them day after day after day. With any of the coaches, if I don’t know them that well when they come on board, I would give them as much responsibility as they can handle. But it’s just like a player: you come in and you earn that responsibility by all working together, sharing things and that’s how we’re going to do it.