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After struggling to a 4-7 start to the season, the Houston Rockets parted ways with coach Kevin McHale on Wednesday morning, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff will take over as the interim head coach, with assistant Chris Finch ascending to associate head coach, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
McHale delivered the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals a year ago, but four straight blowout losses and a roster struggling to respond with effort pushed the organization to make a move to salvage what had been expected to be a season of championship contention.
Only 11 games into the season, the move reflects owner Leslie Alexander's seriousness about winning within the present window with James Harden and Dwight Howard. Alexander and management, including executives Daryl Morey and Gersson Rosas, made the decision on Tuesday to replace McHale, league sources said.
McHale signed a three-year contract extension a year ago and is owed approximately $12 million. He went 193-130 in four-plus seasons with the Rockets and is the winningest coach, by percentage, in franchise history.
Bickerstaff was promoted to transform the league's second-worst defensive team. Houston lost 111-95 to Boston on Monday night, and as much as anything, the Rockets have failed to get new point guard Ty Lawson playing well for them.
Bickerstaff is a rising star in the coaching profession and the son of longtime NBA head coach Bernie Bickerstaff. He oversaw a Rockets defense that moved into the NBA’s elite a year ago. General managers around the league, including in Houston, believed it was just a matter of time until Bickerstaff was a successful head coach in the league.
There are no assurances long-term for Bickerstaff in Houston, but he has the opportunity to earn the job on a full-time basis. The organization has faith in a Bickerstaff-Finch partnership for now, and decided to make the move to find a different voice to lead the locker room.
Houston has reached a softer spot in the schedule with its next 11 games against teams with a combined 48-77 record, and Bickerstaff will have a chance to stabilize the Rockets.
Nevertheless, the Rockets are pushing for results now, and several elite coaches with Rockets ties in the past – including Jeff Van Gundy and Tom Thibodeau – could lurk as future candidates. Another strong candidate with Houston ties, Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, could be a free agent this summer.
For now, though, the job and opportunity belong to Bickerstaff, who’ll have every chance to make it his own.
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