After leading the Houston Rockets to the Western Conference Finals last year, Kevin McHale was fired after a sluggish 4-7 start to the season.
Did anybody see this coming?
“Not at all,” Houston Chronicle sports columnist Jerome Solomon said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “Nobody saw it coming. It came out of the blue. The Rockets’ owner (Leslie Alexander) and general manager (Daryl Morey) were trying to convince me it wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction, but it is. There’s no other way to put it. Not long ago at the end of the season, they were dogging anybody who didn’t vote for McHale as Coach of the Year. Last December on Christmas eve, they signed him to a three-year contract extension when he only had a few months left on his deal. So for them to come out 11 games into the season and axe him is totally out of the blue. It’s just a weird move. Their explanation made some sense, but their actions before this don’t make it sound logical.”
Scott Ferrall wondered how a team this talented could be playing so poorly. You’ve got James Harden, you’ve got Dwight Howard, you’ve got Trevor Ariza, you’ve got Corey Brewer, you’ve got Ty Lawson, and you’ve got a capable, physical bench.
What was the issue?
“Well, it’s a small sample, but James Harden came back overweight,” Solomon said. “He came back out of shape. He’s been shooting the worst from the field and from three-point range of his entire career. So when your best player isn’t showing up and not playing defense and not scoring, your team isn’t going to be as good. Trevor Ariza has joined in on the brick-throwing contest with Harden. He’s shooting some of the worst ball he’s shot.”
Harden is shooting 37.3 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent from three – far and away the worst percentages of his career. Throw in some injuries, and you’ve got a recipe for a slow start in a deep and talented Western Conference.
“Dwight Howard is dominant,” Solomon said. “He’s been playing extremely well when he’s been out there. He can’t play back-to-back games because the doctors haven’t cleared him. They’ve had a lot of injuries. They were muddled throughout the entire preseason of guys who didn’t practice, didn’t play in games. So it was going to take them awhile to get up to speed.”
The Rockets won their first game without McHale, beating Portland, 108-103, on Wednesday to improve to 5-7. Harden was in MVP form, finishing with 45 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and five steals.
Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, the son of longtime NBA coach Bernie Bickerstaff, made one tweak to the lineup: He started Jason Terry over Ty Lawson, who hadn’t looked good with the starters this year.
“It’s been a combination of them trying to figure things out – and 11 games in, they hadn’t figured it out,” Solomon said. “They looked a little closer to figuring it out tonight, but they would have played the same way, I think, if McHale were still there. You just never know.”