If you're like me, you woke up to the news Wednesday morning that the Houston Rockets have fired they're head coach, Kevin McHale, just one year removed from a trip to the Western Conference Finals. McHale's Rockets had sputtered to a 4-7 start after having as high of expectations as just about any other team in the league. In the mean time, Houston will look to former assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff to be their interim head coach.
Coach Bickerstaff could very well win that job long term. He is seen as the figure at the head of Houston's elite defense last season and could be the one to turn around their defensive woes this year. If he isn't, however, then the team could look elsewhere. In that same Yahoo! report, Adrian Wojnarowski dropped in the little nugget that current Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford could be a target for the Rockets after this season is over. "Another strong candidate with Houston ties, Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, could be a free agent this summer," says Woj in his report.
Woj was also the one who wrote the column about Clifford's uncertain future just before the season started, "Some top executives are watching his contract status closely, they’ve told Yahoo Sports, curious about Clifford’s availability should a contract extension fail to materialize with Charlotte." Woj said back in October.
This is just another wrinkle in the quietly intriguing saga between Coach Clifford and the Charlotte front office. From the tone of the article that Wojnarowski wrote opening night, it seems that every team in the league has respect and admiration for Coach Clifford. Despite being a team with expectations to make the playoffs this season, coach Clifford leaving in the summer is surprisingly on the table.
Expectations had to have played a huge part as to why coach McHale was fired on Wednesday. The Rockets were one of six western conference teams with goals to go to the Finals. The west in recent years has been a blood bath at the top, meaning that a few of those teams with high expectations were destined to be heart broken. With the poor start to the season, the Rockets became one of those teams and coach McHale was the scapegoat.
The same could happen for the Hornets this season. They've been playing well as of late but, as we've seen so far this season, the middle class of the Eastern Conference is crowded. Making the playoffs in the East is going to be much harder than it has been in previous years. The Hornets might miss out on the playoffs and if they do, Coach Clifford may find himself without a job.