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Q&A with Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale
May 02, 2012 6:01 PM
McALLEN — Basketball Hall of Famer Kevin McHale has just completed his first season as Houston Rockets head coach. The Rockets finished 34-32 and missed qualifying for the playoffs by two games. McHale spent Wednesday in the Valley to discuss training camp with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers’ front office staff. Next season, the Rockets will spend a portion of their training camp in the Valley and it includes an exhibition against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 10 at State Farm Arena.
McHale sat with The Monitor on Wednesday to talk about the Rockets, former Vipers coach Chris Finch (now an assistant with the Rockets), Rockets player Greg Smith (who spent a majority of the season with the Vipers) and his brilliant acting debut on Cheers in 1990.
Q: What were your overall impressions of how the season went?
A: It was such a disjointed season. There was no training camp to speak of, but that was for every team in the league. I think the teams that had continuity really had a huge advantage. It was a compressed season. There wasn’t as much practice time as you would like. We were getting to know each other on the fly. … It seemed like we’d catch a little flow and then lose a little flow. Our margin of error wasn’t huge. It wasn’t like we were one of the top five most talented teams in the league to where we could step out there. We had to have a lot of breaks go our way. It was kind of a funky year.
Q: Do you think the compressed schedule prevented you from implementing some philosophy or schemes that you wanted?
A: We got pretty much what we wanted to in. We just didn’t have a chance to work on it. There’s a big difference between getting things in and perfecting things. Also, there’s a natural progression for first year coaches and a team that makes a lot of changes. You watch a lot of film, and you spend a lot of time preparing. You think this offense will fit in and then three weeks in, you say ‘That looked really good on paper, but it doesn’t work very good on the floor.’ It took some time for us to find the things that we liked and fit our personnel on the floor.
Q: Were you disappointed by the way anything turned out?
A: I told the guys the first day our goal was to make the playoffs, and it would probably take 38 wins to do that. We were four games short of that. I was disappointed by the way we finished. I thought we put ourselves in great position, and we didn’t finish. As I told the guys, that falls on me as a coach and falls on us as a team to make ourselves better when we get in those situations. You’ve got to finish off a run, finish off a game, finish off quarters and you’ve got to finish out a season. We were 32-25 and in great position to win, and then teams really ratcheted up against us. I think some of our young guys were taken back by some of the flat-out intensity by some of the teams that were behind us in the standings, most notably Utah and Phoenix. They really took it to us. I told the guys, ‘You got something they want.’
Q: What are some of the key personnel issues you need to address in the offseason?
A: We have to get more playmakers on the perimeter. Too much playmaking was left to Goran (Dragic) or Kyle (Lowry). We have to get more athletic up front. We have to get some more guys who can play above the rim, block shots and be able to run and move with some of the more athletic teams. … We need to play more of an up and down game, which at times, hurt us. We’ve got to get the guys we have better. That’s the least sexy of ways of getting better, but it’s the most sure. In free agency, there’s no assurance you are going to get the guys you want and the draft is such an inexact science, it’s ridiculous.
Q: What were your overall impressions of Chris Finch?
A: I like Chris. I thought he did a good job this year. The NBA is different league. I think Chris was getting used to the NBA and used to a new coach and new coaching style. I hope it was a good experience for him. I enjoyed having him on the bench.
Q: Any thoughts on what his future might be in the NBA?
A: I think Chris has a bright future, but again, a lot of it is opportunity and where you are going to go. I know that Chris enjoys it. He’s a hard worker, likes basketball and has been around it so it was fun having him on the bench.
Q: What do you think about Greg Smith?
A: I think Greg can be a good NBA role player where it comes in setting screens, rolling hard, rebounding, running the floor. He’s got good hands. He’s got good instincts. When he was with us, he had good instincts. It’s hard to teach instincts. You can teach a lot of other stuff, but it’s hard to teach instincts. …He’s just young. He’s got a lot of work to do. He has a whole other level of conditioning he’s got to reach into, and a whole other level of effort he needs to reach down into.
Q: Who do you think the favorite in the playoffs is this year?
A: I think the Spurs have a great chance. But you look at how fast everything changes. I mean the Bulls get (Derrick) Rose back and thinking they are going to make a playoff run, and then he hurts his knee and they’re done. The Spurs have a tremendous chance. Their window is definitely closing as far as a franchise with this group. Tim Duncan is playing better than I’ve seen him playing in a couple of years. Mano (Ginobili) is coming back after a shaky season with some injuries. I thought (Tony) Parker had one of his best seasons he’s had in awhile. But, the bottom line is that if any one of those guys get dinged up or goes through bad spell, they are not going to beat team. I’d say it the Heat coming out of the East and the Spurs coming out of the West. But, like I said, Mano Ginobili gets a charley horse, and the Lakers or Oklahoma City can come out of the West.
Q: How would you assess the job Gregg Popovich did with the Spurs?
A: Pops has done a great job for years. He’s as good a coach as there is in the NBA. He’s had this team for a long time. They have a culture of work and the expectation level of winning. I think there’s a sense of urgency amongst the players. They know they are not going to play forever, and I think he did a good job with those guys and those guys are in a great spot, mentally and physically.
Q: Do you regret not pursuing acting instead of coaching?
A: Oh my word, no. I didn’t want to do that. My wife agreed to do it for me. I turned it down, but somehow I ended up doing it. I had fun. … I remember how loose those guys were and how unserious they were. They had fun, and it came across to people watching it, they were having fun, and they were. The scripting was loose. The writing was really good, and the guys just ran with it. It was like you were running into a fraternity house where everybody knew each other, and they just made you feel comfortable. They were like ‘just go with it and have some fun.’ It was a good time.