Rockets tab McHale as coach

By Jonathan Feigen

HOUSTON — There were better matches, at least in terms of style and strengths. There were far greater coaching résumés and more tested coaches. Kevin McHale, however, became the Rockets choice to succeed Rick Adelman as coach because of a quality they could not resist.

“I’d put Kevin’s intelligence level about basketball up there with anybody’s,” said Danny Ainge, the Celtics executive vice president and McHale’s friend since the two helped the Celtics defeat the Rockets in the NBA Finals 25 years ago.

“I think that Kevin, though he lacks front-line coaching experience, has watched as many games and as much tape as anyone, and has learned about basketball from some of the great minds.”

The Rockets and McHale quickly agreed on Friday to a four-year contract, the final season the team’s option. McHale, who went 39-55 during two coaching stints with Minnesota while working as the Timberwolves’ vice president from 1995-2009, expressed reluctance at one time in becoming a career coach. But after a second stint in which he earned good reviews from his players, he reversed that position.

A key to the choice of McHale will be the selection of a strong lead assistant to run the defense and handle many of the finer points of preparation and practice, with McHale being more big-picture and player-development oriented.

Minnesota assistant Kelvin Sampson, Memphis’ Dave Joerger and New Orleans’ Michael Malone, who were early head coaching candidates in the Rockets’ wide-open search, are among the team’s top choices for the position, according to a person familiar with the process. Sampson and Malone could still be head coaching candidates, and Malone might join Mike Brown’s staff with the Lakers. Though Joerger is not officially a lead assistant, the Grizzlies likely will try to keep him.

Chris Finch, the coach of the club’s Development League Rio Grande Valley Vipers, will be promoted in part because he spent the past two seasons running the offense that worked well for the Rockets under Adelman.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander and general manager Daryl Morey chose McHale over finalists Dwane Casey and Lawrence Frank on Thursday after several conversations with McHale, mostly about the structure of the coaching staff. McHale had been interviewed twice by Morey before he became the third candidate to meet with Alexander.

Twice the NBA Sixth Man of the Year winner, McHale averaged 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds and became part of one of the greatest frontcourt in league history with Larry Bird and Robert Parish.

“I view him on the level of my favorite great coach, Adelman,” Rockets guard Kevin Martin said. “We just found a big piece to our puzzle. Now I can go back to my summer workouts and rest peacefully at night knowing we have a great coach that will elevate everyone’s game.”

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