As the Houston Rockets begin their search for a new head coach, Jeff Van Gundy sits atop their list.
With the Houston Rockets slow and painful demise finally coming to a close Wednesday night against Golden State, it’s time for the organization to hire Jeff Van Gundy as their new head coach.
As someone who has never been a fan of the Kevin McHale coaching staff, it has long been my desire for Rockets management to hire a new head coach. To be more precise, I have long awaited the return of Rockets former head coach Jeff Van Gundy.
So much so, in fact, that in a Reddit AMA a couple of years ago, I asked Rockets general manager Daryl Morey if he would ever consider rehiring Jeff Van Gundy. Morey never answered; perhaps he will in the next couple of weeks.
In my opinion, Jeff Van Gundy fits all of the head coach criteria I layed out in my article last Friday. To see how those criteria apply to Van Gundy more specifically, let’s take a closer look.
At this point, it’s no secret that the Rockets’ defense during the team’s 2015-2016 campaign was abysmal. Ranking as a top ten team in defensive efficiency a season prior, the Rockets’ 20015-2016 defense ranked in the lower third of the league in terms of efficiency.
The Rockets’ defensive struggles could be solved with the hiring of Van Gundy. During his 4-year tenure with the Rockets, Van Gundy’s teams ranked within the top five in defensive efficiency, with the exception of one injury plagued season, in which the Rockets ranked seventh in defensive efficiency.
Much of Van Gundy’s success on the defensive side of the ball can be attributed to his depth of basketball knowledge. “After 14 years I didn’t know I could keep learning. Coming in here is like being in the classroom” former defensive player of the year Dikembe Mutumbo said of Van Gundy to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
After 14 years I didn’t know I could keep learning. Coming in here is like being in the classroom.
As a defensive specialist, Van Gundy will not only encourage effort on the defensive end, but he will also be able to teach Rockets players defensive skills they have yet to learn. With the Rockets being terrible on defense, and with their best player being known as a defensive lightweight, it is important that the Rockets hire a coach who is capable of being the team’s defensive leader.
That brings me to the second criteria- leadership. Of course, the nature of being a head coach requires that that individual who is coaching be a leader. For the Rockets future head coach, however, leadership will need to take on a specific dimension. Whoever the Rockets choose to be their next head coach will need to be capable of being bold in front of his players.
For better or for worse, the Rockets need a coach who is able to tell James Harden as it is. Not because Harden has an inherent problem, but because the only way to become a better leader is to have another leader teach you how to become a better leader.
Maybe I’m off base with this, but from what I’ve gathered of Van Gundy’s personality as an analyst as well as a former head coach, it seems like Van Gundy would do good for the Rockets in challenging Harden and company by telling them the blunt truth. Again, not for the sake of breaking down, but for the sake of building up.
That being said, the Rockets wouldn’t be able to bring in just anyone to start offering constructive criticism to the players. Management will have to make sure to hire a head coach with a proven track record. Again, Van Gundy fits that criteria.
During his time spent as head coach of the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, Van Gundy only missed the playoffs once. In addition to making the postseason nearly every season he coached, Van Gundy also led the New York Knicks to the 1999 NBA finals where they lost to the San Antonio Spurs.
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With Van Gundy’s success as a head coach, the Rockets players are more likely to put trust in him despite some of the difficult things he will have to tell them. Because the Rockets new coach will have to be a forward leader, it’s important that his instruction can be backed up by experience.
So far, Van Gundy has matched all of the criteria I believe the Rockets will need to consider when hiring a new head coach. The last remaining criteria is the only criteria Van Gundy perhaps falls short in– offensive strategy.
One needs to look no further than Van Gundy’s own self analysis for proof that Van Gundy will have to be better on the offensive end. “I’d have to be a lot better offensively” Van Gundy told Adrian Wojnarowski in an episode of The Vertical podcast. “Not only would I have to get better, I think I would make sure that I surrounded myself with good people who had the most up to date ideas with where the trends in offensive basketball are going”.
Van Gundy’s words are telling of two things. First, I believe Van Gundy would make sure to find ways to improve his team’s chances on offense by making any necessary changes and by surrounding himself with assistant coaches who know the offensive side of the ball better than himself. Secondly, I think Van Gundy’s ability to spot out where he needs to make changes, and then having a willingness to make those changes is another sign of a great leader.
All things considered, even if Van Gundy were unable to find the same success on offense that he has found on defense, his level of offensive strategy would still be higher than the level of offensive strategy the Rockets employed under the Kevin McHale coaching staff.
One more Rockets note: Sources say Jeff Van Gundy would indeed be highly interested in a return to Houston if that job opens up as expected.
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 20, 2016
For me, Van Gundy is the best candidate for the Rockets head coach position for a variety of reasons, but mostly because he is a skilled defensive specialist and a strong leader. With the Rockets lacking consistency in those two areas, it would go a long way if the Rockets were to hire a coach who could teach the Rockets how to be successful in both.
Fresh off an elimination from the playoffs, the Rockets are set to have a long summer. Hopefully, they will start it off by hiring the right Head Coach.
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