However, the godfather coach of small ball lineups just walked out the door.
Mike D’Antoni is gone in Houston, and he is leaving behind some serious challenges in Houston. The next coach is going to have to deal with Harden as he nears free agency (2022), getting Russell Westbrook to play within his skill set, and a roster that needs more perimeter defenders if they are going without much rim protection.
Who is in line for the Rockets’ job? Here are five coaches whose names have some buzz in league circles as the owner Tilman Fertitta and Morey start the coaching search.
1) Jeff Van Gundy
He was being mentioned as a potential replacement for D’Antoni back while the coronavirus had the season on hiatus, then his name was the first to come up when it was learned the job was open. Van Gundy was the Rockets’ coach when Morey first arrived in Houston, and he has long been a guy who praised Harden. Van Gundy is seen as a defensive coach, which Houston needs, but his offenses were slow and deliberate, not exactly fitting the current small-ball roster. Also, is Fertitta going to back up the Brinks truck to get Van Gundy out of the broadcast booth?
2) Sam Cassell
Another name that came up not long after the job became vacant. The Clippers’ assistant coach under Doc Rivers is a former Rockets player (he won two rings there) and someone who has been near the front of the line of assistant coaches deserving a top job for a while. Current Rocket Austin Rivers played under Cassell in Los Angeles and has praised him as a skills development. He has never been a head coach before, do the Rockets want to take that risk with Harden in his prime?
3) Tyronn Lue
His name comes up in every job search, but for good reason — he relates to players and he’s coached a team to a title. When Lue was available as an assistant last year (before choosing Doc Rivers and the Clippers, where he and Cassell both are) Morey and the Rockets reportedly recruited him for D’Antoni’s staff. The questions are money, and can they get him. Lue has been tied to the Philadelphia 76ers job as a frontrunner, but New Orleans and others are interested as well. If Houston is going to land Lue they will have to pay top dollar and give him some power in the organization.
4) Kenny Atkinson
The Brooklyn Nets coach is a name that comes up as the Rockets look to develop players around Harden, Westbrook, and Eric Gordon (the three of them eat up the majority of the salary cap space for the next three years). Atkinson did a fantastic job as a player development guy, but star players chaffed under his leadership style — and Houston is all about its stars. Atkinson also is linked to Chicago and other job openings around the NBA, he will be in demand.
5) Stephen Silas
The current Mavericks’ assistant coach came close to getting the Houston job four years ago when D’Antoni was hired. He is working with a Dallas team that had the best offense in the NBA this season, which fits the Rockets’ style. Also, Pelicans’ assistant Chris Finch could be in this mix of assistants getting the first chance, but only if the Rockets go that direction.