McHale’s goal: Get Howard back to ‘attack mode’

McHale’s goal: Get Howard back to ‘attack mode’
July 14, 2013, 4:30 pm
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Kevin McHale excited to work with Howard

On Monday, the press conference will be long gone.

Most of the folks that flooded Polk and La Branch Streets on Saturday afternoon for the team’s massive pep rally will be back to work.

The fanfare and spectacle of introductions will have vanished. On Monday, it will be time to get to work.

It’ll be the first time Dwight Howard will get a chance to work on the court with his newest coach and Hall of Fame big man Kevin McHale. It’ll be the first step in what the team and city hopes will be a long march toward a championship season.  

“Our goal is to win a championship and that’s what we’re going to strive for every day,” Howard said. “And we know that it takes a lot to win a championship; it doesn’t just happen just because you have guys come together. We’re just willing to get out there and give it our all and I just can’t wait to get out there with these guys.”

Among the fantastic former NBA big men in attendance on Saturday – Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson, Elvin Hayes, Clyde Drexler and Yao Ming – McHale held his ground. The former Celtic had a 13-year career in Boston that landed him in the Hall of Fame in 1999.

Now, he’ll get the chance to coach and mold the best center in the NBA in Howard. And he already has a plan on how to do it.

“He’s got a great combination of quickness and strengths,” McHale said. “Getting him, getting back being quick with the ball, making quick moves, being really decisive and attack, attack, attack. When he’s attacking, he can change direction, he can elevate. When he’s on attack mode, he’s way better than when he’s trying to plod in there.”

Howard, in a down year with Los Angeles in 2012-13, still averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. He’s one of two players in the history of the NBA to average at least 18, 12 and two for his career.

In his nine years in the NBA, Howard has been to the All-Star Game seven times and has been the Defensive Player of the Year three times. Basically, Howard is good. Really good. But how good will he be in Houston?

“Dwight is a great player,” Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said. “I don’t think people realize how great he is. He’s going to show that in Houston.”

Much of the talk from Saturday was about getting Howard back to having fun on the court. That had been the way he played basketball from the time he was a youngster until his early days in the NBA. But an ugly breakup with the Magic and an awkward season with the Lakers dampened his youthful spirit.

Howard said he’s used the last several years to develop thicker skin. Howard’s been the most dominant big man in the league for a good portion of his career – McHale made sure to point that out several times on Saturday.

Howard has all the physical tools. But he admitted the mental aspect is what he needs to make sure he improves.

“I think it’s mental. It’s all mental for me,” Howard said. “Making sure that I’m ready every night. But I’m also going to make sure to keep a level head. I know a lot of guys are going to attack me to try to get me off my game. But in order to lead these guys, I have to make sure I stay level and I stay centered in myself. I think that’s the biggest thing. All the other stuff will come.”

And the team hopes it will all start to come this week when teammates begin working out together with instruction from some coaches. McHale didn’t get into specifics about what kinds of things he’ll try to teach Howard but he too admitted it all starts with getting the new big man in a better state of mind.

“I’m just looking forward to it,” McHale said. “He’s going to create opportunities for other people on the floor to look better. And it’s about how good we can become as a team. And he’s a first-team All Pro; he’s done a lot of great things. He needs to get back to that level of enjoying himself and playing, dominating the league.

“But us as a team, there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for us to really grow as a group of guys. Our goal is we want to have one of the best records in the Western Conference and we want to make a long playoff run. That’s got to start on Monday.”