HOUSTON - Unforeseen circumstances prevented what should have been the most intriguing aspect of the first day of Rockets camp from being precisely that: First-year coach Kevin McHale finally got his players on the court.
Of course, instead of answering questions about his initial session with the Rockets' youthful roster, McHale was peppered with queries seeking answers on how he managed the mess NBA commissioner David Stern left him by vetoing the trade that would have sent guards Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic and forward Luis Scola to the New Orleans Hornets.
Eventually the conversation steered to what unfolded on the court, and given the hastened arrival of training camp and the compressed window of time the Rockets have to prepare for their opener in Orlando against the Magic on Dec. 26, McHale witnessed exactly what he anticipated.
"Not good," McHale said when asked to evaluate practice. "Put in too much stuff, they got confused, and just a typical first day. They worked hard. We made a big effort on the defensive end. We're going to get better in three areas: defense, rebounding and spacing the ball and moving the ball from side to side. If we can do that, the wins and losses will take care of themselves."
There wasn't so much haste that McHale missed the minutiae. Martin and forward Chase Budinger produced great team defense. Swingman Terrence Williams arrived in exceptional shape. Scola showed that he could help defensively, which runs contrary to his reputation. Kyle Lowry and Jonny Flynn displayed impressive quickness at point guard. McHale was abreast of player nicknames, always vital to assimilation.
Under normal circumstances, these early days of camp would amount to a period of familiarization. To an extent, that process was in play Friday.
"He's more vocal than what I thought he would be," Rockets guard Courtney Lee said of McHale. "He's a communicator. He's a player's coach. He played the game so I'm expecting good things from him."
Said Lowry: "He (McHale) worked with us before the lockout. Today was just a learning process. Step one, day one - you keep building."
Some of those steps were ragged. McHale joked that after he introduced new offensive sets, players ran into one another. Then again, maybe he wasn't kidding. His expertise as a Hall of Fame player will come in handy as different players grasp the nuances of the new offense at different paces. His inexperience as a coach means everyone just might grow in unison.
Following two stints as an interim coach with the Timberwolves, this is McHale's first training camp in charge. He clearly has a lot to contemplate and plenty to accomplish in just more than two weeks. He didn't want to make excuses for expected hiccups in the process, but there must be some acknowledgement that development won't come linearly.
"I'd rather do two things really well than 15 things poorly," McHale said. "So we'll see if we get two in really well, and if we get two then we'll go for three. If we get three then we'll go for four. They've got to learn what we're doing. They're going to dictate how fast we go, not me.
"Today was an odd day. With all the stuff that happened (Thursday) night it was just an odd day. The guys really wanted to play and they gave a great effort but they got tired. We ran a little scrimmage and they got tired and got so undisciplined it was unreal. They were running around and I'm thinking, Oh man, this is terrible.' But we'll get better."
Entering Friday, McHale had a laundry list of items he wanted to cover, but he remained realistic. The lockout and truncated training camp schedule has made for a disjointed run-up to the 66-game regular season. The process of acclimation will take some time, even if the Rockets don't have ample amounts of it. There were familiar faces on the court, and that helps. But the newness elsewhere will require reps to wear off.
"It (roster continuity) benefits us a little bit but we've still got younger guys, we've still got rookies, we've still got new people that we've got to put into the mix and jell," Lowry said. "We've got a new offense, a new coach, a new coaching staff everything is a little bit different.
"Those guys (the coaches) have a certain amount of time to get our stuff right, and we've got a certain amount of time to get our stuff right."
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