The Houston Rockets agreed to hire Kevin McHale as their new head coach, choosing the former Minnesota Timberwolves GM and current TNT analyst over Dwane Casey and Lawrence Frank, two of the league's most well respected assistant coaches. McHale has coaching experience, having stepped down from the front office twice in Minnesota, but the teams he coached were so different that it's tough to figure what sort of success he might have in Houston. Let's look at his history.
The Timberwolves fired Flip Saunders after a 25-26 start to the 2004/05 campaign. McHale took over and engineered an impressive turnaround, guiding the Timberwolves to a 19-12 (.613) finish. Good, but not good enough to qualify for the postseason; the Memphis Grizzlies, with one more victory, nabbed the West's final playoff spot. McHale's first Timberwolves team had decent talent, with Kevin Garnett (22.2 points, 13.5 rebounds, 5.7 assists) posting MVP-caliber numbers and Wally Szczerbiak (15.5 points, 50.6 percent shooting) contributing as well.
In contrast, the second time McHale took over for a fired coach, the team he inherited had hardly any talent. In 2008/09, Minnesota started the season 4-15 (.211) under Randy Wittman's stewardship. The team's record improved under McHale--he went 20-43 (.465)--but that may be a product of the Wolves not possibly being able to play any worse than they did under Wittman. Al Jefferson and a rookie Kevin Love were the only two good players that team had. Mike Miller, Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes, and Sebastian Telfair each logged 2000-plus minutes. It's no wonder the team stank.
And while it's true that McHale, as the GM, brought that team together, it's also true that he won't have the same responsibility in Houston. McHale, whom everyone acknowledges is among the greatest players of all-time, doesn't get much respect for his GM work. Nor should he. With that said, his coaching resume isn't a disaster; a fair grade would be an incomplete, given his limited experience and the wildly different talent levels of the teams he did coach. Maybe the Rockets could have done better than to hire McHale, but that doesn't mean they did poorly.