Was Kevin McHale the problem? Was the poor start to Houston’s season his fault? Or, this being a team that comprise of different personalities, might Dwight Howard’s ego colliding with teammates James Harden and Ty Lawson have something to do with McHale’s sudden departure? Seems McHale’s relationship with the Rockets had fluctuated, but it’s unfair to totally place all the blame on him.
And to think a year ago, he signed a three-year, $12 million extension, following a 27-7 start to the season. A year later, after dropping four straight games early in the season, the Rockets on Wednesday morning fire the winningest coach, by percentage, in franchise history just 11 games into the season. McHale, being the coach that he was, got a raw deal.
The move is so stunning and disconcerting, that McHale’s dismissal left the basketball world in a state of shock, but unfortunately NBA coaches take 90 percent of the blame if a team built to contend underachieves. In a surprise move, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose vision of analytics transformed the business, decided that the players weren’t responding to McHale and wasted no time to part ways with him — all that after a horrid 4-7 start. This change won’t solve all the immediate problems — a change that will only reveal the lack of chemistry between Harden and his teammates. This is more than just about one man. This is about a locker room where Rockets players are seemingly bumping heads and look completely lost.
It is impossible to ignore the utter mess for the Rockets on the court, the notion that this team is wallowing in confusion and turmoil. Whether we can say McHale lost the locker room of a team six months after he led Houston to the NBA’s Western Conference finals, of course, for one, it’s an atmosphere of turbulence and mutual distrust. Harden, for another, is a Hey-Look-At-Me guy who thinks the game revolves around him and no one else. He’s all about himself. He’s not a team player. He’s arrogant, cocky and moody. Rather than move forward and play hard this season, he’s still mad and reiterated that he should have been the league’s Most Valuable Player, not Stephen Curry, and thinks he’s Mr. Badass and better than everybody else when in reality he’s having a terrible season.
Now why doesn’t he get over it, change his attitude and show he’s a leader of men? This is exactly why Coach McHale lost his coaching job. This is exactly why Harden won’t ever be a team leader. That much became obvious in McHale’s firing, and now that he’s been relieved of his duties, we’ll be able to tell whether or not McHale was blameful for the Rockets’ three-game losing streak, followed by a four-game skid. Almost obviously, that’s why there’s so much happening right now to the Rockets, who haven’t been themselves early in the regular season — which isn’t only troubling but also seems beyond repair, unless Harden adjusts his ego and personality to earn respect from his unhappy teammates.
Already, with Harden doing little or nothing to turn it around before it’s too late, the Rockets are sloppy handling the ball, the offense is executing poorly and they have played lousy defense. You figured McHale, out of a coaching job and guilty by association even after doing everything virtually possible to fix the slumping Rockets, simply would’ve met with Harden, since he’s supposed to take on a leadership role, to inspire him to play more efficiently and aggressively on both ends of the floor. But McHale tried to rectify the weaknesses and build on strength. And his way of doing so was with switching to a smaller lineup, trying different defensive strategies and making every kind of adjustment for the Rockets, who’ve played a lackluster brand of basketball.
This will be a chance for Harden and Howard as co-leaders to shoulder a burden of responsibility and also step up their level of play. Right now, Harden is not cooking. Not at all. Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse have chased Chef Harden out of the kitchen. He’s igniting a blaze in Houston, unable to see that he’s burning bridges. Blind as a bat, even Stevie Wonder knows Harden lights the fire inside a dysfunctional locker room. Harden, at the moment, is not his normal self, regressing back to his usual brand of suffocating defense. Soft as always Howard doesn’t play with enough aggression and mental toughness underneath the basket, getting done dirty by smaller opposing players. There’s the addition to new point guard Lawson but he’s still getting acclimated, and perhaps, he’s unfit to run the backcourt with Harden, who both may have it hard compromising since they both like the ball in their hands.
As gradually as the Rockets are falling out of contention in the Western Conference, Houston is feeling humiliated as it has become a trend to get annihilated by everyone, giving up on the season as if these men have nothing worth playing for after winning 56 games last season without losing more than two consecutive games. This season, ever so remarkably, the Rockets are balling as if they don’t care and have fallen apart quickly — hearing boos from the disgruntled fans at Toyota Center, where Houston is 2-5.
Even when McHale as a coach was expected to keep it together in such a demanding role, he couldn’t suit up and step onto the floor for his players. It’s not a matter of who is to blame for the Rockets’ woes. It’s a matter of a collective roster turning over the ball on a lazy pass, or the fact that one player is flapping his gums at another player. There’s plenty of blame to go around in Houston for the team’s deficiencies.
For now, the fingers point only at McHale, even though he did everything he could to change it for the Rockets, who undoubtedly didn’t care about each other or their head coach who took the fall because of his players’ apathy and indifference.