What ensues beneath the jump is Michael's first contribution to Red94:
At basketball's most elite level of competition it's rare for a player to turn lingering weakness into strategic advantage in strict response to his head coach's instruction. Physical repetition is needed, and even then the phrase practice makes perfect doesn’t quite give birth to the mental flickering of a light bulb—Malcolm Gladwell wrote 10,000 hours of practice should launch a person into excellence at whatever it is they’re busy toiling away on. In basketball a player will improve, sure, but by the time they’re in the NBA and have most likely amassed the necessary rehearsal time, how much further can they go?
Barring maybe LeBron James, everyone in the league has a ceiling; there are certain things each player will never have the fortune of experiencing. (No matter how many hours he puts into developing his low post arsenal, Dwight Howard will never possess Hakeem's elusive agility).
Optimistic fans might see the hiring of Kevin McHale as a blessing for Hasheem Thabeet, an offensively barren string bean born with many physical attributes one might find in a franchise altering big man. Unfortunately, the mental rigors of the league combined with an almost unfair lack of fundamental repetition have turned out, at the age of 24, to be Thabeet’s undoing. Where we stand right now he will never meet the exaggerated expectations placed upon his head the night he was drafted second overall. That's a fact: His bad (bricks for hands, complete absence of basketball intuition) far outweighs his good (being tall).
A good head coach takes responsibility for drawing as much energy and focus from all members of his team as possible, instead of serving as a mentor when it comes to the younger, rawer talents. Not that they wouldn’t like to help, but lack of time and patience is an issue—this isn't summer camp, it's a multi-billion dollar business. In one of his first conversations with Paul Pierce after being hired as head coach of the Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers asked his star if he was a great shooter. Without hesitating Pierce said yes. Rivers looked at him a moment then asked another question: If this were the case, why did he shoot just 40 percent from the floor last season?
Not every head coach is willing to dangle himself on a window ledge and risk fracturing an integral working relationship before it even begins, but Rivers did, and that’s why he’s a great coach. (Pierce’s shooting percentage jumped from 40 to 47 percent in two year’s time. Today he’s one of the game’s most accurate spot up three-point shooters.) Obviously this goes both ways, with Pierce needing to buy in in order for actual improvement to occur, but in this situation the head coach did his part.
Another positive effect a coach can have—especially one who used to play in the league—on his team comes through a well established player. A hungry veteran who knows his way around, but has never been complacent or content about his career and what he’s capable of doing to help a team win more games. It's here Kevin McHale's wide range of basketball knowledge can lend a hand towards fine tuning a strength which already exists. The number one candidate on Houston’s roster to take advantage of the Hall of Famer’s advice is Luis Scola. Imagine the post move related tips coach could give player after shoot around or before practice. Scola's already one of the craftiest players in the game—a bag of effective tricks always at his disposal—and the addition of McHale could be the ultimate convenience; like leaving the keys in an unlocked vehicle, parked outside a Car Jacker’s Anonymous meeting.
Another reason this relationship is so important is Scola's sole existence as the team's de facto veteran influence. With Brad Miller, Yao Ming, and Shane Battier all gone, it's Luis Scola, the 31-year-old Argentinean, who assumes more of a leadership role on a team loaded with young, sometimes overlapping puzzle pieces. Close to perfect as can be for McHale, Scola's also the team's second best overall player (some might say the first) and a vital contributor should the team make an eventual push for the Western Conference’s eighth seed.
When a new coach comes into any situation, the least favorable attribute—so I've read—is youth. It means inexperience, which, when combined with unhappy times, mutates into immaturity, which leads to overreactions and, ultimately, embarrassing losses. When young teams fall in a hole, they're more likely to dig themselves deeper than scurry on out. Winning teams always have that stable veteran presence who's willing to poke his head above ground, make sure the coast is clear, and lead his teammates into the sunlight.
Over the past five years, Kevin McHale has been the substitute teacher of the league. He comes in, replacing whoever was the original full-timer, and leads groups of men whose names he probably hasn’t memorized. This will be his first go around as a newly hired fresh face, with his own actors to direct from day one of production. It’s important that as McHale begins this adventure, Luis Scola serves as his sherpa, helping the new head coach whenever he sees fit with on the court adjustments and locker room administration. Scola plays mean (in a good way); he's nose-to-the-grindstone intense with style to compliment any team, in any league, in any era—he was undoubtedly one of the three best players at the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
The consequences of Scola and McHale’s relationship are minor compared to Kevin Martin’s health or Kyle Lowry’s and Jonny Flynn’s development, but as soon as the lockout ends, these two will need to warm to each other as quick as possible. The head coach and his most critical player. The teacher and his willing student. It’s vital they do so, and in nobody’s better interest than their own.