Kevin McHale is reportedly the frontrunner for the Houston Rockets' head coach job. The team had narrowed the field to three finalists: Dwane Casey, considered one of the top assistants in the league and someone whose brief stint as a head coach was neutered prematurely and unfairly; Lawrence Frank, the brainy Xs and Os coach who led the New Jersey Nets to some success; and McHale, a legendary power forward, atrocious GM and almost mythical coach with fewer than 100 games under his belt.
If this were any other team, McHale as a finalist would make complete sense. But this is the Rockets, led by Daryl Morey, the face of basketball analytics (for better or worse). This is the data-driven NBA team. Rick Adelman, who by all accounts overachieved as Rockets coach, was reportedly let go in part because he didn't buy in to Morey's analytic focus.
And we're expecting McHale to buy in?
This is the bet by Morey and the Rockets should McHale get the job: that hiring a basketball warrior will either work in perfect concert with Morey's numbers-based personnel decisions, or that hiring a basketball warrior will deflect enough criticism to save Morey's job if Houston continues to struggle.
Consider the alternative. Consider Frank, who has proven himself as an NBA coach but who has a reputation more in fitting with Morey than most options. The brainy type, not the brawny type. If Morey hired Frank and the Rockets struggled, it's not just Frank at risk. It's Morey. If the GM stays inside of his wheelhouse, that wheelhouse is going to begin to be questioned.
McHale, who drew the adoration of players he briefly coached at the end of the 2008-09 season (Kevin Love among them), would be outside Morey's wheelhouse; if it didn't work, conceivably, McHale could be blamed. He's such a risky choice to begin with that the idea he's just not a good coach is believable. He's a total question mark. Failure by a McHale-led Rockets team would be an indictment of McHale first, the organization second. Failure by a Frank-led team? You'd have more difficulty separating Frank's fault from that of Morey.
That's why, should Houston choose McHale, it'd be both brilliant and terrifying. (It'd also be completely depressing from the perspective of Casey, who lost his job as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Casey had the Wolves at 20-20. McHale, the GM, said he believed he had assembled a "better-than-.500" roster. Casey's replacement Randy Wittman closed the season 12-30. Casey hasn't been a head coach since. He deserves a job.)