DALLAS, TX — J.B. Bickerstaff has been the Houston Rockets’ interim head coach for just under three weeks, but already the son of former longtime NBA head coach Bernie Bickerstaff has made his mark.
Houston is 4-4 under Bickerstaff, who took over on Nov. 18 after the Rockets relieved now-former head coach Kevin McHale of his duties.
Rockets guard Jason Terry has spent nearly two decades in the league and almost immediately, he noticed Bickerstaff had several core concepts at the heart of how he does things.
“His main thing is holding guys accountable, giving structure and putting in discipline. That was something that we kind of took for granted with Coach McHale because he was so laid back,” Terry said. “It’s defense first. It’s discipline, it’s accountability and then it’s play together as a team offensively. That’s his philosophy.”
Now 8-11, Houston remains fourth in the Southwest Division, ahead of only the New Orleans Pelicans, who are 4-15.
And even though the Rockets dug themselves quite the hole with a 4-7 start, Bickerstaff knows there’s still time to climb out of that pit, but his team must start doing the little things to ensure that happens.
“We got to be prepared to play at the beginning of games. Too often we find ourselves down in a hole. I think the last three first quarters, teams are shooting over 50 percent versus us, so that’s on the starters,” Bickerstaff said. “That’s their responsibility, to come out, set the tone for the 48 minutes.”
The Rockets’ recent trend of starting games slowly mirrors how things have gone so far this season — a rough start led to their coach being let go, but Houston has been playing better recently.
“We have to be better in the first quarter so we’re not always digging our way out. It’s hard when you always have to dig out of a hole. It’s difficult because you run out and exert so much energy trying to get back that a lot of times at the end, you don’t have anything left, so we got to be better and more consistent for the total 48,” Bickerstaff said.
In order to ensure that accountability continues, Bickerstaff needs his veterans like Trevor Ariza and Terry, part of an NBA championship team in 2011 with the Dallas Mavericks, to buy in, something they have done to his liking.
“I think it makes everybody else’s job easier because now the leaders on the floor, they do a lot of the policing themselves,” Bickerstaff said. “We continue to make it a priority to them. Now they can handle it themselves and the coaches can kind of step out of the way, so we just let them know how important it is to us, that we believe in being on time, that we believe in whatever your responsibility is, you do that and then you give them the power. Now those guys have the power to protect and police themselves.”
Rockets guard Patrick Beverley wouldn’t name any specific ways in which Bickerstaff was holding his players more accountable, but said it’s definitely been a priority since he received the interim tag.
“Just as far as small things, nothing really major, nothing I’m going to point out and say Coach McHale didn’t do this and Coach J.B. does. It’s been fun with Bickerstaff. It’s been good. We’re real fortunate to have a coaching staff like this and a head coach like Coach Bickerstaff,” Beverley said.
Houston is a pretty young team and for several of their players, this transition has been tough since McHale is the only coach they’ve known as professionals.
Beverley definitely falls into that category.
“Ultimate respect for Coach McHale, first of all, he’s the only coach in the NBA who gave me a chance to be myself, and he’s the first coach that ever started me in a game, ultimate respect goes for him. Definitely an honor to play under him and definitely an honor to be coached by him,” Beverley said.
However, it’s not like he and Bickerstaff didn’t already know each other pretty well by the time he was named interim several weeks back.
“When I first got here, I worked with J.B. (during the) summertime, so we have a different relationship. I’m happy for him to get the chance to be a head coach. That’s what he’s dreamed about. It’s been great. Lately we’ve been winning some games. He comes from a real good family in coaching, so you know he’s been around, you know he knows the game,” Beverley said.
This might be Bickerstaff’s first swim through the Association as a head coach, but he’s been in the profession long enough to know that the bottom line is that as long as both he and the Rockets continue improving that everything else will take care of itself.
“Yeah, obviously there’s kind of learning on the fly. There’s some things, some decisions, some rotations, guys’ minutes, things like that, that I’m learning and getting better at. I’m continuing to get better the more opportunities I have to be in those situations. Until you’re there, you never really know. So now I’m there. I’m learning. I’m making those decisions so I’m comfortable with where I’m at and the improvement I’ve seen,” Bickerstaff said.