"The team was not responding to Kevin," general manager Daryl Morey said. "There is no time in the West."
The Rockets were 4-7 this season heading into Wednesday's game, including a four-game losing streak that prompted a players-only meeting Tuesday morning at the Toyota Center. The Rockets failed to reach 100 points during the losing streak -- the team's longest since 2013 -- and were averaging 20 fewer points in their losses overall this season. They snapped the skid with a 108-103 overtime win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.
"We were starting to address some of the issues that were the reason I was let go," McHale told the Houston Chronicle after news broke of his firing. "We just weren't playing with any juice, with any rhythm. We haven't been able to get the problems solved. We probably had more meetings in last six weeks than in my previous four years here.
"It wasn't working."
McHale, in his fifth season with the team, was in the first year of a three-year extension worth more than $12 million that he signed in December. He was coming off an 56-26 season in which the Rockets reached the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1997. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last returning NBA head coach to lead his team to the conference finals and then not make it through the following season was Stan Van Gundy of the Heat. Van Gundy resigned 21 games into the 2005-06 season, and then Pat Riley took over and led that team to a championship.
McHale was hired by the Rockets before the 2011-12 season. He was 193-130 overall with the team, including three straight trips to the playoffs. The Rockets had improved every season under his tenure going into this season.
Reaction started to come in quickly after the news broke, including from Chandler Parsons, who left the Rockets to sign with the Mavericks in 2014.
What a shame about Coach Mac. He really helped me throughout my career and one of my favorites coaches and people of all time. Smh.— Chandler Parsons (@ChandlerParsons) November 18, 2015
Hall of Famer Magic Johnson also posted a pair of strongly worded tweets.
If it's true the Houston Rockets fired Coach McHale they made a big mistake.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) November 18, 2015
The Rockets have great individual players but they don't have great team players.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) November 18, 2015
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich questioned the Rockets' decision.
"You always hate to see a colleague get fired, especially somebody who took a team to the Western Conference finals last year, and won more games than I think they've won in a long time or ever last year, I'm not sure," Popovich said. "So obviously at this short beginning of a season, you hate to see something like that happen. As we all sort of say: It's a volatile business, and sometimes it doesn't make sense ... like Kevin McHale getting fired."
Boston general manager Danny Ainge said the former Celtics great would be a welcome addition in Boston.
"I told Kevin that today," Ainge said, according to the Boston Herald. "We've got a spot for him. I know we could figure something out for him in some capacity, but I think he's just in a wait-and-see mode.
"He appreciated me reaching out to him, but I think he's just going to lay low."
League sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that the Dallas Mavericks also would have interest in hiring McHale if he was prepared to switch teams immediately. McHale also is expected to have ample opportunity to return to broadcasting should he prefer that.
The Mavericks have employed McHale as a consultant before, bringing him to training camp in 2009 before McHale's hiring in Houston. Mavs owner Mark Cuban is known to be a McHale admirer, and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is one of McHale's closest friends.
During Houston's 2015 playoff run, the Rockets raved about how McHale was a player's coach. Star James Harden said he was comfortable with him from the moment they met.
"I felt like I was talking to an actual player,'' Harden said in May. "Obviously he's won championships so he knows what he's talking about. So my ears are just locked in and focused in on what he's saying.''
Harden, the Rockets' best player, has gotten off to a bumpy start. Entering Wednesday's games, Harden had maintained his scoring average (27.3 points per game) from a year ago when he finished second in MVP voting (27.4 ppg), but he had required 2.2 more field goal attempts a game to do it, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Twenty-nine players were averaging at least 15 field goal attempts per game this season, ESPN Stats & Information said, and among them, only Kobe Bryant (33.6) had a worse field goal percentage than Harden (37.2).
Information from ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins, Michael C. Wright and Marc Stein, and The Associated Press was used in this report.