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Reviewing Potential Replacement Coaches for Kevin McHale

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After an atrocious start to the season, Kevin McHale has been fired as the head coach of the Houston Rockets. It’s a somewhat surprising move considering the team’s trip to the Western Conference Finals last year, in spite of having a plethora of injuries. However, it’s not entirely undeserved, either. McHale was having trouble fitting the newly acquired Ty Lawson into the offense. And if his dismissal a day after the Rockets held a team meeting is any indication, he may have lost the locker room as well.

This has Twitter running rampant discussing who the next coach might be. Some of the ideas are good. Some are bad. These are some thoughts on some of the most bandied names:

For now, the man is J.B. Bickerstaff. More than many fans know, he was an instrumental part in the Rockets turning their defense around last season. The heavy switching, baseline pushing schemes work well in the pace-and-space version of the NBA, indicating Bickerstaff has a good understanding of the current trends in the league. These are trends which general manager Daryl Morey is on the cutting edge of.

And he has the team’s ears:

That said, we don’t know what kind of offensive schemes he runs, and he has limited coaching experience. He’ll at least get a chance to prove himself:

Coach Nick from BBallBreakdown is right; D’Antoni would be a great fit. His seven-seconds-or-less brand of basketball is what paved the way for the current rendition of the Golden State Warriors, and frankly his Phoenix Suns weren’t as bad on defense as advertised. With the right personnel and defensive assistant, he could work.

But he and Dwight Howard have some history going back to the Los Angeles Lakers, and it’s not good history. So, Coach is right about that too. Unless Howard gives his unexpected consent, it’s hard to see this happening. But if it did, it would work:

Tom Thibodeau’s divorce from the Chicago Bulls was very different than the way McHale is leaving the Rockets. Thibodeau’s was likened to a long, drawn-out battle, aired out in the press over three years. McHale thought everything was fine, came home one day, and saw all his stuff on the lawn.

Thibodeau is probably the best coach available, but that doesn’t mean he’s the best coach for the Rockets. In fact, if you were to generate the old school-to-new school scale, the measures would be Thibodeau and Morey, as in “On a scale of Thibodeau to Morey, how is so-and-so’s thinking.” If the Bulls wore thin on Thibodeau, how long would he last with Morey?

Things like overplaying players on minutes restrictions and insistence on pounding the rock into the paint in a resolute commitment to 2000s basketball doomed Thibodeau in Chicago.

Thibs wouldn’t finish putting his suitcases in the house before Morey started chucking them out the window. And Howard may or may not survive even that limited spell. Throw other old-school coaches like Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy into the same category:

There’s a lot of the Scott Brooks will bring Kevin Durant talk. But let’s be honest here. If Durant was hanging his hat on that peg, wouldn’t Brooks still be coaching in Oklahoma City? And apart from that, is there any real reason to go for Brooks, whose offense rode Durant and/or Russell Westbrook? Would that be all that different from what McHale was doing?:

Clifford would work great. He took over the worst team in the history of the NBA and turned them into a playoff team. He learned his defense from Thibodeau but isn’t stubborn on offense, as the Hornets are running a very modern looking offense this year. But why would Charlotte even consider letting Houston talk to him? He’s a free agent this summer, and maybe the Rockets hold off that long on making a decision, but I don’t think so. Ergo, I don’t see this going anywhere.

We frequently rush to think of the names we know and can quickly identify when it comes to these hirings, but it’s not always someone you’ve heard of. For example, the Rockets have been famous for using their D-League affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers to experiment and develop players. Maybe they think of promoting Matt Brase or former coach, Nevada Smith, who’ve helped establish the offensive philosophies?

For the time being, just bear in mind that virtually everything is speculation. The Rockets will be exploring options before they make a decision, and Bickerstaff will have a chance to prove himself while they do so.

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