Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander and general manager Daryl Morey sat down with ESPN.com after the team fired coach Kevin McHale. Alexander, who has owned the team since 1993, has won two NBA titles and posted 15 winning seasons since taking over. Here’s a Q&A with the Rockets’ power brokers.
ESPN: How hard was this decision?
Alexander: It was [hard]. I really like Kevin, I got a great relationship with him. The person I had a great relationship with before that was Rudy [Tomjanovich], so it was tough. And he did a great job last year in getting us to the Western Conference Finals, missing two starters; it looked like he was going to be around a long time. This was so shocking and quick.
At what point did you realize a change was needed?
Alexander: 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 percent 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.
How much of this is on the players?
Alexander: Well, the players weren’t playing hard so, whatever that means, I can’t be in their heads, whatever that means.
What does it say when Kevin talks about lack of effort and the players saying they need to communicate better?
Alexander: We need change. Change needed to be made.
What do you like about J.B. Bickerstaff?
Alexander: We spoke to him, and we think he’s a good young coach with a lot of experience. He is on the defensive end, which we really need a lot of help on. We have a good offensive coordinator [Chris Finch], so at the same time we have both. J.B. has a good relationship with the players, which I think is very important. If they didn't know him, it would be tough in the adjustment process. Now it’s much quicker.
Can J.B. win this job?
Alexander: Of course he can. If the team responds to him and we win, of course he can.
He’s here until the end of the season, and then you’re going to re-evaluate him. That correct?
Alexander: 100 percent.
How hard has it been to watch James Harden's play? Slow start, then he picked things up.
Alexander: It’s hard to watch him when he struggles, but almost all great players struggle sometime in their career. And as a great player, he’ll be out of that quickly.
How long before Dwight Howard starts playing every game and stops missing back-to-backs?
Alexander: I’d like to get that started quickly where he plays every game.
Morey: Doctors say that’s close, the doctors got to give us the clearance on that, so far they haven’t. His body has been responding well, so I think we might be close on that.
Ty Lawson was the big move in the offseason. How would you evaluate him?
Morey: I would say Ty can help us. He’s a part of how we’re going to get out of this. You can’t point out one thing when you’re losing by 10 to 20 [points] to bad teams at home, you can’t point out one thing. I would say yeah, Ty is not playing well, but so is a large majority of our roster, unfortunately.
You kept the roster basically together, so now I’m going to second-guess you -- was it the best thing to do, now that you see the record?
Morey: If we turned it around, it would be the right decision. But if we don’t, then it would have been not as good a decision.
You OK with it?
Too late to catch Golden State?
Alexander: Not at that point to think about that. All that we’re thinking about is turning this around so we can start to win.
Morey: I will say the West is very tough, it’s one reason why there was no time to turn it around. We can’t keep losing games or we’re going to get out of the race -- let alone compete with Golden State that’s playing at a high level. We do feel like we can compete with them.
How personal is this for you to get this thing turned around?
Alexander: I hate to lose. I enjoy watching my team play, and I can’t watch my team play now. I want to win real fast.
You don’t believe it’s too late?
Alexander: No. There’s time. We’re three games under .500, and that’s not hard to overcome.