The Rockets have a new coach, and it's one of the boldest moves they've made in the past few years. Will it work out?
Kevin McHale had just two partial seasons of NBA head coaching experience. He's never run a training camp, but the Rockets have entrusted him to oversee their team for the next three years.
With the roots in television analysis as well as in the front office, the natural Houston comparison to his hiring would probably be Larry Dierker. McHale hasn't embraced statistics quite like Dierker had, but like Larry he was an extreme long shot for the job. When mentally pooling the candidates together in my mind, McHale definitely belonged more with the Mario Elie-Sam Cassell portion of the group than he did with Dwane Casey and Lawrence Frank.
I don't think McHale is a bad hire, but his hiring reeks of the Rockets front office expanding their control onto the court. For one thing, the front office was given complete control of his assistant coaches, a rarity in this day, where coaches usually pack their staffs with people they are comfortable with. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets already are likely to move Rio Grande Valley Vipers coach Chris Finch onto the staff, and rumors came out late on Friday that they were also planning to lure Memphis assistant Dave Joerger into the fold as well.
As a stat dork of the highest order, I swear upon my Prospectus' of various kinds that I am a fan of Daryl Morey's work as general manager. One of the tenets of being an outsider is that conventional wisdom is there to be pushed and prodded, not accepted at face value. In this case, I think it's fair to say that Morey traded the best coach available in Casey for control of the entire staff. Finch and Joerger (should he take the job) will likely jockey for the spot of top assistant, and they'll be the ones disseminating the advanced statistical analysis to the players while McHale focuses on the in-game management.
I've read some opinions expressing that McHale is the "safe choice" because the Morey regime can survive another fall, and I don't think that's entirely accurate. There's definitely a chance that Morey could outlast a second coach in Houston, but he has gambled a lot on this move. McHale was an unconventional choice that clearly bypassed coaches with better credentials. If anything, taking the risky choice would seem to be the move that could come back and bite Morey.
Instead, with the departure of Rick Adelman and the addition of his own assistants, Morey and the front office have turned the coaching of basketball into the same sort of think tank that the front office has been. The staff will be a science experiment first and foremost, with McHale around to be a respected coach to bounce ideas off of. It could very well be a stroke of genius, or it could be what happens when you mix acids and bases. Like Chris Watkins pointed out this weekend, the success of the Rockets will most likely have more to do with who Morey can acquire than who is holding the coaching reins, but Houston will still continue to tinker with the staff to see if they can find some more wins in it without alienating McHale. To imply that there is no risk here is being disingenuous.
In some ways, this is the ultimate double down move. The Rockets are gambling on their front office's expansion into the coaching game helping them win more than a head coach with better credentials would. If that's not challenging the traditional, I don't know what is.