After interviewing seemingly everyone who has ever spent time on an NBA coaching staff, the Houston Rockets have whittled their list to three names to replace Rick Adelman, who was fired last month: Lawrence Frank, Dwane Casey, and Kevin McHale. This will be the third coach hired in the Les Alexander era, and regardless of who the Rockets elect to hire, this coach will not have the track record of the previous two (Jeff Van Gundy and Adelman) who had coached their previous team’s to the NBA Finals. Of the three finalists, only one has taken his team to the second round, the other two have never made the playoffs. A decision could be made any day, and I thought I’d take a closer look at the men who could become the next Rockets coach.
Frank is the safest choice of the three, which makes me think he won’t be the guy. After Adelman was let go, Adrian Wojnarowski from Yahoo! said the Rockets wanted to unearth the next NBA coaching star, making it sound like they didn’t want a known entity, which Frank is, with over 450 games as a head coach under his belt. He took over the Nets in the middle of the 03-04 season when Byron Scott was pushed out by Jason Kidd (allegedly) after taking the Nets to the NBA Finals two straight seasons. The Nets finished third in the East, losing a 7-game series to Detroit, who won the championship. Jersey went out in the first round in 05, and reached the second round the next two seasons. His last three seasons with the Nets were bad, as the team ended the Jason Kidd and Vince Carter eras. He lost 16 straight to begin last season and was fired. Frank was a manager at Indiana under Bob Knight, and is thought of highly around the league. His New Jersey teams seemingly played to their potential. He was never upset in the playoffs, and he pulled one upset, as the six seed in ’06 beating Toronto in 6 games.
The Hall of Famer is the ultimate wild card in this mix. He has never coached a full season in the NBA. He has never been an assistant in the NBA. He spent close to 15 years running the Timberwolves basketball operations. He did some good things in that span, and some bad things, but for about a decade, the Wolves were always competitive, and he did draft Kevin Garnett in 1995, when drafting high school kids was not in style. McHale has been an NBA head coach for 94 games. He finished the 05 season 19-12 after firing Flip Saunders a season after the TWolves finished with the best record in the West. He was not interested in being a full-time coach after that because of the grind, and actually hired Dwayne Casey as his replacement. McHale’s second coaching stint came in December of 2008 after Randy Whitman was fired. He stepped down as VP of Basketball Operations and became the full-time head coach. He took over a team that was 4-15, and lost his first eight games, but followed that up by winning 12-of-16, and it looked like the Wolves might have been on the right track, but Al Jefferson blew out his knee, and Minnesota ended the season 8-31, and Wolves owner Glen Taylor surprisingly let McHale go, even though he made it clear that he wanted to remain Minnesota’s coach. McHale has never started the season as a head coach, so Morey and company would be taking an enormous gamble to handa the reins to him.
When he was an assistant at Kentucky in the late 80’s Casey was caught mailing $1,000 dollars to Chris Mills. That discovery, along with many others, led to the resignation of Eddie Sutton at UK, and it put the Wildcats on probation, which allowed Rick Pitino to swoop into the Lexington. Casey wound up coaching in Japan, until the mid 90’s when he joined George Karl’s staff in Seattle, where he would remain an assistant for ten years under Karl and Nate McMillan before being hired by McHale in 2005. He inherited a terrible team and won just 33 games in his first season, and was fired after somehow managing to split 40 games the next season. Ricky Davis was his second best player. Since he was fired the Wolves have gone 90-280, so its safe to say his teams didn’t under achieve. He is now an assistant for the Mavericks, who could very well be the best-coached team in the entire league. I don’t know how much of that is because of him, but the Mavs are in the middle of a deep playoff run, and the last assistant to get a head coach job during a deep playoff run was Tom Thibodeau, and he was the coach of the year this season. Although the year before Kurt Rambis got head coach job, so never mind.
I have no idea what the direction the Rockets will go, or how much longer they will wait, but what I do know is that whoever they bring in will not have near the credentials that the last two coaches brought in by Les Alexander have had, and that concerns me.