Rockets fire Kevin McHale, owner says Bickerstaff will coach rest of season

The Rockets have fired head coach Kevin McHale. J.B. Bickerstaff will take over as head coach for the remainder of the season.
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The Houston Rockets have fired head coach Kevin McHale, the team announced.

After a 4–7 start to the season, the Rockets made a surprising coaching change, dismissing McHale, who led the team to the Western Conference finals last season. Assistant J.B. Bickerstaff has been named interim head coach.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander told ESPN that Bickerstaff, 36, will remain head coach until the end of the season, at which point his job status will be re-evaluated. He said Bickerstaff can win the job “if the team responds to him and we win.” Bickerstaff is the son of longtime NBA coach Bernie Bickerstaff and has interviewed for head coaching jobs in Detroit and Phoenix.

GOLLIVER: While surprising, Rockets’ quick firing of McHale was justified

McHale, 57, had been at the helm in Houston since 2011, and led the Rockets to three straight playoff appearances. He was given a three-year, $12 million extension last year. McHale held a record of 193–130 in more than four seasons with Houston and a career record of 229–181 with the Rockets and Timberwolves.

The Rockets are currently in fourth place in the Southwest division and reportedly held a players-only meeting this week to clear the air in the locker room. Houston opened the season 0–3, won four straight games, and has now dropped four in a row, failing to score 100 points in each loss.

James Harden, an MVP candidate last season, has struggled heavily shooting the ball, and Dwight Howard has been in and out of the lineup with recurring back problems. The Rockets have also been beset with injuries, with point guard Patrick Beverley and power forward Donatas Motiejunas currently out and forward Terrence Jones having missed five games already.

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USA Today reported that players have been frustrated with Harden’s “play and aloofness” and that practices were not producing in-game results.

“We’re not in a good place,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told reporters. “We are losing to teams we should beat by double digits.”

MAHONEY: Effort issues led to Rockets’ dismissal of McHale after 11 games

Alexander explained why he felt a change was needed to ESPN’s Calvin Watkins on Wednesday.

“I’m watching the games, I’m watching us lose by huge amounts and not playing hard. Then I watched the Boston game, and before the game starts, I know we’re going to lose. I knew I was going to lose to Dallas, and I thought we’d lose the game before that. Then we played Boston, and I was 100% sure we’d lose even when we were up, I knew we were going to lose. So, I’m watching the games, I know we’re not playing hard or good defense, not moving the ball well, it doesn’t look like a good team, we look very ragged and then when they got up on us in the fourth quarter when we were up by 15 or so—I didn’t watch the fourth quarter. First time I never watched a quarter of my team’s play, I knew we were going to lose. I don’t like to watch losing. It’s no fun losing. At that point, a decision needs to be made here.”

- Kayla Lombardo and Jeremy Woo