Kevin McHale was fired as head coach of the Houston Rockets extremely early in the 2014-15 season, the first real indicator that something was deeply wrong with the team. After they staggered to the eighth seed, they ditched interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff and hired Mike D’Antoni, whose first major decision as coach was to move James Harden to point guard. McHale is not so sure how that’s going to work out, though.
“James is a scorer, and at the end of the day, you do fall back on what you are. James is a scorer at heart. Can you change that? … Can you be something that you’re really not for an entire 82-game season? He’s a great facilitator, great passer, and he has great vision — he really is a scorer as a basketball player.”
Relying on a player who habitually pounds the ball to set up isolated shots for himself to be the point guard in not just any offense, but a Mike D’Antoni offense, is a gamble to be sure. Early returns have been good — Harden is averaging 23 points and 12 assists in three preseason games, all wins — but when the chips are down and Harden really feels like the team needs a bucket, will he trust the system or bog down in the offense so he can get his own shot off? It’s a legitimate question.
Then again, McHale could easily have his own reasons for doubting the Rockets’ ability to change Harden. After all, McHale was the last full-time coach in Houston, and if a system change produces better results than he could, it makes his tenure look less successful in retrospect. McHale will be a TNT commentator this season, but it would shock no one if he wanted to be back on the sideline as a head coach somewhere. If the Rockets implode again, this time under D’Antoni, all of a sudden the discontent in Houston looks even less like McHale’s fault and his coaching resume — getting that team to the Conference finals — smells like roses.
For what it’s worth, Grant Hill also expressed doubts in a conference call that Harden could pull off the transition. McHale can both be right and have ulterior motives; it’s just important to remember where he’s coming from.