It only took 11 games for the Houston Rockets to go from championship contenders to Western Conference also-rans. After a 4-7 start, head coach Kevin McHale was fired. Never mind the four-year contract extension he received last season, or the fact that he had the highest winning percentage in franchise history. The Houston Rockets lost their first three games by an average of 20 points.
The day before McHale was sent packing, the team held a players-only meeting.
While the players said publicly the coaching staff wasn’t discussed in the meeting, the timing of McHale’s exit is certainly interesting. It may be a bit premature to completely write off the Rockets as a playoff contender. However, they need to fix several issues quickly.
The players-only meeting was not called by James Harden or Dwight Howard, but Ty Lawson. That’s right… the same Ty Lawson the Rockets acquired over the summer in a deal with the Denver Nuggets, who gave up on him following his two DUI arrests and subsequent rehab.
Lawson has failed to live up to his $11 million contract, and he’s been coming off the bench behind 38-year-old Jason Terry at point guard. Harden and Howard should be the ones pulling the troops together, not a newcomer who is part of the problem and became a distraction to his previous team.
Lack of Chemistry
Harden and Howard may be the nucleus the Rockets hope to build their championship hopes on, but they also appear to be heading in different directions. Howard is 29, but has spent much of his career fighting minor ailments and major injuries. He played in just 41 games last season, while the 26-year-old Harden was on his way to finishing second to Stephen Curry in the NBA Most Valuable Player voting.
Howard has played well, but the Rockets are limiting his minutes to make sure he’s completely healed from last season’s knee injury. Harden is putting up good numbers, but he hasn’t played with the consistency of last season’s standards. The less time he and Howard spend on the court together, the longer it will take to become the dynamic duo the Rockets have been looking for.
Poor Court Discipline
The whole team often looks asleep in transition defense, and they tend to live and die by the 3-point shot. Some of these problems surfaced last season, but were overcome by competitive hustle. The Houston Rockets now look like a team that went to sleep during the offseason and forgot to set the alarm.
B.J. Bickerstaff has been given the task of turning the Rockets around. Bickerstaff, a Rockets assistant since 2011, was named interim head coach to replace McHale. The son of longtime NBA head coach Bernie Bickerstaff has been in charge of defense. He helped make the Houston Rockets’ defense one of the best last season, but has failed to do that in this season’s early stages.
Tom Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy have been mentioned as possible candidates. Both have previous coaching ties to the team. Bickerstaff has been assured he’ll be given the rest of the season to right the ship, but if the losing continues, look for names like Thibodeau and Van Gundy to pop up again before too long.