Not long after the Houston Rockets suffered another disappointing exit in the playoffs and already, the team has already started ushering the new era in the franchise. This came in the form of the team parting ways with long-term head coach Mike D’Antoni, who made quite an impact for the Rockets in his four seasons with the squad.
Well, technically, it was D’Antoni who opted not to renew his contract with Houston, choosing to enter the free agency market. Then again, it could be argued that following that embarrassing second-round exit at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers, maybe the Rockets brass never wanted to offer him that extension in the first place.
Whatever the case may be, that’s all water under the bridge now. The Rockets will need to act fast in finding D’Antoni’s successor — after all this offseason is going to be extremely short. They will not be short of candidates, however, and here are five that are expected to be given serious consideration.
Currently serving as an assistant coach to Doc Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers, Lue has emerged as one of the hottest names available in the market right now. He was a front-runner for the Brooklyn Nets head coaching position before the Nets decided to shock the basketball world with their appointment of Steven Nash, which might just work out in the favor of the Rockets.
Among all the candidates on our list here today, only Lue bring an NBA championship to the table. The 43-year-old has also worked with the biggest of superstars on his team in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love during his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers, so he should be able to manage James Harden and Russell Westbrook in Houston. That is, of course, if the Rockets choose to retain the Harden-Westbrook partnership moving forward.
It remains a mystery why Mark Jackson still hasn’t secure a job as a head coach in the NBA up until this point. It’s now been six years since we last saw Jackson at the helm of the Golden State Warriors, and while he did not exactly have a stellar record with the Dubs, he is widely credited for laying down the foundations of what became a Warriors dynasty as soon as he was replaced by Steve Kerr as the team’s new head coach.
Jackson won 52.6 percent of his games in three seasons in Golden State — his only experience in coaching in the NBA — and this was prior to the Splash Brothers establishing themselves as arguably the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history. He will potentially have another tremendous hardcourt pairing in Houston with Harden and Westbrook, and it will be interesting to see what he can do with such a potent offensive force.
Another name that has been linked to the Rockets is former Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson. The Nets parted ways with Atkinson a few months ago, following reports that he lost control of the locker room in Brooklyn. Nonetheless, his analytical approach to coaching makes him a good fit in Houston, and so does his ability to find success in playing a fast-paced style.
While Atkinson has more coaching experience than both Lue and Jackson, the 53-year-old has yet to prove himself as a winning head coach. He has a 38.3 percent win-loss record in four years with the Nets, but the fact that he oversee the rebuilding phase in Brooklyn certainly had an adverse effect on his record. He did play a huge role in turning around the Nets franchise, and he certainly deserves some of the credit for building a winning culture in Brooklyn.
If there’s anyone who has paid his dues in the industry of coaching then it’s Sam Cassell, who has 11 years of assistant coaching experience under his belt. He currently shares the same position as Lue as an assistant of Rivers with the Clippers, but many believe that his time as a head coach has finally come.
This is exactly the opportunity the Rockets present, but the question is, will the Houston front office be willing to take a huge risk with Cassell? He was an All-Star point guard during his playing days, and the fact that he’s relatively young (50) should help him build a good rapport with Harden, Westbrook, and the rest of the squad. Houston should at the very least do their due diligence on Cassell.
Jeff Van Gundy
It’s been over a decade since Jeff Van Gundy has coached an NBA team, and incidentally, the last team he sat at the helm at was none other than the Rockets. He parted ways with Houston after four season, which was concluded with an impressive 52-30 record in his final season with the squad.
According to reports, Van Gundy still has a good working relationship with Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, which certainly works in his favor. Van Gundy also still resides in Houston, so you would think he’s a perfect fit for the current opening.
During his time as a head coach, Van Gundy placed a high regard in his team’s defensive schemes. This is something the Rockets need at the moment, with this side’s mediocrity on the defensive end completely exposed in the playoffs. They already have one of the most potent offenses in the league right now, so might as well work on that D, right?