In what would have been classified as a fairly startling upset at the beginning of the search process, the Houston Rockets have chosen former Boston Celtic great/Minnesota Timberwolves coach and general manager Kevin McHale as the next head coach of their franchise.
In a process that started with Rockets general manager Daryl Morey seemingly interviewing anyone who had played a game of pick-up basketball, the Rockets eventually whittled the list down to three finalists -- current Celtics assistant and former Nets head coach Lawrence Frank, Mavericks assistant coach Dwayne Casey, and McHale.
At any given time, it felt like each of the three finalists was winning the race.
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander reportedly loved Lawrence Frank for his Van Gundy-like qualities and experience, yet the endless delay in hiring a coach seemed to, in a way, favor Casey, who was still fulfilling duties on the Mavericks sideline.
But McHale kept hanging around and hanging around, and kind of like one of those early round underdogs in the NCAA tournament, the longer you let him hang around, the more he felt like he could win. When it was reported this week that Alexander and McHale were scheduled to meet in Miami (where McHale was fulfilling his duties as an on-air analyst for TNT), that's when you felt like the job was McHale's to lose.
It was an interview, and say what you will about McHale's less than stellar won-loss record as a coach and his sketchy history as a general manager, the one part of this process you knew he would ace would be an interview. McHale is a charmer, and I don't mean that in a negative way. To a man, virtually everyone he's coached and worked with enjoys being on his team.
McHale's profile immediately brings some level of relevance to a Rocket team that has sorely lacked in star power of any kind sans Yao Ming and post-Tracy McGrady. As a media member, for that I'm actually excited about the hire.
Because honestly, until the Rockets upgrade the roster, Frank, Casey and McHale are all the same guy -- capable coaches hamstrung by a roster whose title for "Best Player" is a three-way dance with Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry.
Put differently, when Mike Brown was hired as head coach of the Lakers earlier this week, one of the first questions he was asked was whether or not he had spoken to Kobe Bryant. That's a normal question in today's NBA where the relationship between superstar player and head coach is as important to the shelf life of said coach as the won-loss record. (Case in point: Brown himself was fired after back-to-back 60-win seasons in Cleveland, in large part to entice LeBron James to sign a long-term extension with the Cavs. "Sixty wins, shmixty wins...LeBron, we fired him for you!")
Here's the thing. Practically every team in the league has "that guy" -- the player who the new coach knows "I need to call this guy right away so he knows I love him." Even Minnesota has Kevin Love, even the Clippers have Blake Griffin, even the Wizards have John Wall.
Who's that guy on the Rockets? Keep thinking...keep thinking...exactly.
Nobody, that's who.
And that's indicative of the much bigger issue than the hire of a head coach (and in turn, the staff the head coach puts together). The most important hire for Daryl Morey is one he has yet to make. It's one we've been waiting for, at the very least since each time we get news about Yao Ming's feet collapsing. Daryl Morey's most important hire will be a player who is better (significantly better) than Martin or Scola or Lowry.
None of these head coaching candidates turn the Rockets as currently assembled from a 43-win team into a 50-win team. Conversely, none of them make you so bad you wind up with a top three pick (which in a weird way wouldn't be so bad -- nice system, NBA).
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McHale, Frank, Casey...I'd have been fine with any of them. So I go with the old rule -- tie goes to the guy who's been in a Cheers episode before!
Great hire, Daryl!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.