Welcome to a brand new (hopefully) weekly post at DCIAB called The Stretch Four. Longtime friend of the blog Nik Valdiserri has joined me to offer our NBA expertise in a variety of fun fashions every Friday. There are four regular segments to the post, along with other optional segments we’ll integrate as they become relevant.

Regular features of the post will include a short column on a league trend or event, some of our power rankings, the best NBA video we watched this week, and the Friday Spotlight, a picks competition for Friday night games with a similar structure to DCIAPC. Enjoy!

The Rockets and Kevin McHale

It has become a recurring theme in the NBA. The trigger is pulled quickly on coaches, whether or not there was success in the past. It’s a players’ league. It’s not hard to understand that.

The margin for error in a coach’s job is non-existent. They get all the blame or all the glory. Over the last decade, we’ve seen countless of examples from teams across the league who shuffle through coaches as if they were picking a name from a hat. Every owner and general manager wants to find its Gregg Popovich.

But just like a coach’s job, greatness has no margin for error. Winning championships is hard enough, but relationships with the front office, the city and the players all come to a very rare selection of coaches. Out of the 318 coaches that have had a shot at coaching an NBA team, only 31 have tasted the champagne. That is a 9.7 percent success rate in the 68 years of the NBA.

Of course, not all coaches are fired because they didn’t win a championship, but it’s certainly not an afterthought. Just over the past five years we have seen some unexpected coaching casualties.

George Karl was fired from the Denver Nuggets after the 2012-13 season when he won coach of the year and continued to keep the Nuggets relevant. After weeks of discussing contracts and extensions, the Nuggets decided to relieve Karl of coaching duties and head in another direction. Additionally, the Nuggets had been frustrated with Karl for not playing JaVale McGee, who had signed a four-year, $44 million extension in the offseason. Wow.

Lionel Hollins was fired from the Memphis Grizzlies following the 2012-13 season as well, after his team made a franchise-best run in the playoffs. The Grizzlies took down a 60-win Oklahoma City team en-route to the Western Conference Finals where the team was eventually swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Hollins was fired for his inability to agree with the front office. While Memphis was extremely unprofessional, Hollins was too.

Michael Malone was fired early last year from the Sacramento Kings after a hot 5-1 start led to a 11-13 mark. The Kings wanted to play at a faster pace and the management didn’t see it happening with Malone.

Tom Thibodeau was fired from the Chicago Bulls for his well-documented altercations with Chicago’s front office and his strenuous player management style, despite the team being at the top of the Eastern Conference every year.

And now, Kevin McHale. The minute I heard of McHale’s dismissal, I was confused. Even more confused than from what I had seen from his team in its first 11 games. The Rockets made a mistake, showing what just three bad weeks can do to you in the NBA.

It’s no secret the Rockets are off to a poor start, but it had very little to do with McHale’s coaching. There was no effort, no fire and no sense of urgency from this team coming out of the gates. It’s not an NBA coach’s job to fully motivate his players. These players are adults; superstars even. Coaches are supposed to put them in right places at the right times, not pound their chest for them.

While watching the Rockets’ first 11 games, it was pretty evident what was lacking: James Harden. Not even a year ago, many people, including myself, had Harden as the MVP of the league over Steph Curry. The Rockets made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals where they could not hang with the eventual NBA Champions, Golden State Warriors. However, an extremely successful season left the organization and its fans with confidence: the Rockets were ready to take the next step.

Yet, nothing has worked. No one has played defense, James Harden looks like he barely picked up a basketball all summer, and now Ty Lawson may face jail time due to an earlier DUI occurrence after a terrible start to the season. Not exactly the start everyone was hoping for, and firing McHale was Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s answer. The wrong answer.

Kevin McHale will without a doubt get another opportunity to be a head coach if he wants to. He was one of the first coaches to dive into analytics and always had a good relationship with Houston’s front office. After McHale signed a three-year extension last year, the Rockets were looking to take the next step forward in pursuing their championship goals. However, it only took a 4-7 start to sink that ship. Too early and too many distractions. A change had to be made, but not as coward of a one that took place. It’s easy to understand that every team except the 76ers want to win now, but with Lawson’s ongoing trial, Harden’s poor play and all the injuries, you give it a shot at trying to coach this team.

Disagree? Let’s take a look at some statistics and some fun photos:

First off: Defense. None of it has been played. Not in the half-court, not in transition. Lackluster effort on defense is going get you beat on any given night, no matter how good your offense may be.

IMG_1975

I think these examples are pretty self-explanatory, and do a perfect job of transitioning to my frustration with James Harden. What in the world is happening? Luckily, we saw a monstrous 44 point, 11 assist performance two  nights ago from Harden, but it’s been well documented that his teammates were upset with his play thus far.

People may argue McHale should have put his foot down and taken full charge of the team, but I couldn’t disagree more. That is without question James Harden’s job. If you want to be a superstar in this league, you have to prove it night in and night out. What separates the good from the great is consistency.

Any player can go out and score thirty one night and give every thing he has, but the great ones do it every night. Sure, bad shooting nights and games filled with turnovers happen, but the effort is ALWAYS there. Just look back at the NBA Finals a year ago. Steph Curry didn’t play his best basketball; he turned the ball over and took bad shots at times, but his effort never lacked and he ended up making huge plays down the stretch of games where the Warriors won.

We know the talent is there for Harden, but we’ll really get to know who he is as a teammate and star of this league while the Rockets dig themselves out a large (and McHale-less) hole.

For the Rockets as a team, limiting turnovers, better three point shooting, and more effort on defense will give this team a chance to get back in the playoff race in a loaded Western Conference. But can the Rockets be dangerous again without McHale? Only time will tell.

– Nik

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

This is unfair.

– Matt

POWER RANKINGS

A weekly update on the teams we believe are at the top of the ranks in the NBA. Two things: First off, instead of giving you all 30 teams at once, we list a weekly top 10 and conclude each month with the full 30. Secondly, instead of a list from each of us, we average our rankings to compile one list.

Week 3

1. Golden State Warriors (14-0) | PD: +14.5 | LW: 1

2. San Antonio Spurs (9-3) | PD: +8.8 | LW: T-3

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (9-3) | PD: +6.8 | LW: 2

4. Dallas Mavericks (9-4) | PD: +2.2 | LW: NR

5. Chicago Bulls (8-4) | PD: +1.1 | LW: T-8

6. Miami Heat (7-4) | PD: +4.7 | LW: 6

7. Atlanta Hawks (9-5) | PD: +2.4 | LW: T-3

8. Boston Celtics (7-5) | PD: +7.2 | LW: NR

9. Oklahoma City Thunder (7-6) | PD: +4.6 | LW: 7

10. Indiana Pacers (7-5) | PD: +2.5| LW: NR

 

We’re already late getting this up, so no stock up, stock down this week. Just know– the Dallas Mavericks have looked incredibly good over the last weeks, as have the Boston Celtics, who now boast the league’s best defense.

– Matt

FRIDAY SPOTLIGHT

Here were last week’s games:

  • Boston manhandled Atlanta on the offensive boards and began a streak of three consecutive double digit victories over projected playoff teams.
  • Cleveland (-6) and New York (+6) pushed, so that was a thing that happened. Yep.
  • Portland (+7) covered behind a fantastic 26-point performance by CJ McCollum, but lost by one point after a Zach Randolph game winner.

After three weeks, I’ve got a slight lead:

Season Last Week
Matt 3-5-1 2-0-1
Nik 2-6-1 0-2-1

And here’s the peanut gallery. We posted our article really late on Friday last week, so it’s understandable that y’all were mostly unable to send in picks.

Winning Percentage Season Record Last Week
Andrew Kelley 1.000 3-0
Creed Tucker .600 5-3-1 2-0-1
Osgood .500 3-3
Sheen aka Sean .333 1-2
Harry Kroll .333 1-2

If you pick on a relatively consistent basis, we will keep track of your scores week to week and include your record in a separate compilation from our own. Frequent contributors will be lauded or ripped to pieces pending performance, so enter at your own risk (please do though, it’s fun).

LEAVE YOUR PICKS FOR THESE THREE GAMES EITHER IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW OR ON FACEBOOK. As it shall always be, game times are eastern and this week they take place on Saturday night, since we were late to posting this due to travel.

9-5 Atlanta Hawks @ 9-3 Cleveland Cavaliers (-5.5), 7:35

The two top teams in last year’s Eastern Conference meet up in Cleveland tonight. Atlanta is still trying to figure out how to fill the former role of DeMarre Carroll, while Cleveland has thrived even without point guard Kyrie Irving.

Nik: Atlanta really doesn’t play well when I watch them, and do play well when I do watch them. So I’m sorry once again Atlanta because I’ll definitely be watching this one. Cleveland -5.5

Matt: Gonna have to disagree with Nik here. I think the Hawks will be up to the test. LeBron will have a great game, but the Hawks should have the power to deal with Cleveland’s bigs this season. Atlanta covers, and wins! Atlanta +5.5

5-4 Washington Wizards @ 7-5 Detroit Pistons (-3), 7:35

Andre Drummond has quickly developed into one of the best centers in the league. He’ll take on the Wizards, with their newfound fast offense and a defense that has improved little by little. 

Nik: Washington has quietly only been playing every three or four days for the past two weeks. No one is complaining though because it has given time for Bradley Beal to heal. I like the very well rested Wizards to beat a road-trip-hungover Detroit. Washington +3

Matt: Great observation by Nik to point out the rest factor for each team. I agree with his analysis but I’d also point out that Drummond is built to feast on a team in Washington that has rebounded pretty poorly this season.  Still, I’ll take the Wizards to continue getting back on track against okay-not-great East teams. Washington +3

7-6 New York Knicks @ 5-8 Houston Rockets (-5), 8:05

This’ll be the Rockets third game after firing coach Kevin McHale. They followed up a surprise comeback win over Portland with a tough loss to Memphis, and now face the Knicks, who are… better than those two teams?

Nik: New York is once again on our weekly spotlight of games. I see them ending the one game winning streak of the Rockets and stealing another one on the road from Jerian Grant’s triple double performance ofof 11-40-12 (points-assists-rebounds). New York +5

Matt: Nik keeps picking the Knicks for our weekly spotlight because he just can’t get enough of Jerian Grant. #BIAS Houston -5

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