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4 Coaches the Rockets could hire as D’Antoni’s successor

By Anthony Duckett
Mike D'Antoni Houston Rockets (Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images)
Mike D'Antoni Houston Rockets (Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Mike D’Antoni Houston Rockets (Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images)
Mike D’Antoni Houston Rockets (Photo by Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images)

With Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni not returning next season, let’s take a look at four potential coaches the Rockets could have their sights set on.

Shortly after the Houston Rockets were eliminated from the 2020 NBA playoffs, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni announced that he wouldn’t be returning for the 2020-21 season. This news isn’t surprising, for a number of reasons.

For starters, it was announced that the Rockets weren’t going to be bringing D’Antoni back to the fold unless he led the Rockets to their third championship in NBA history, and the expectations were high this season, due to the demise of the superteam Golden State Warriors. We had also heard that the Rockets and D’Antoni knew they would be parting ways, and both sides were simply trying to make the most of their time together.

In addition, D’Antoni’s contract had already expired, so unless the parties were able to come to terms on an agreement, he would’ve remained a free agent anyways. The Rockets also made it known that they weren’t exactly interested in D’Antoni as a long-term option, as we had heard that they were offering a band-aid of an extension prior to the 2019-20 season, as he was given a contract offer that he and his agent deemed to be less than his annual value.

D’Antoni and the Rockets broke off negotiations and never resumed talks throughout the season, so there was doubt that he was going to be back anyways, despite him having the highest winning percentage in franchise history and being one of the few Rockets coaches to have won the Coach of the Year award.

The Rockets have many quality options on the coaching market to choose from, so let’s take a look at several of those options!

Let’s get started!

Next: No. 4

Jeff Van Gundy Houston Rockets (Photo by Robert Seale/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)
Jeff Van Gundy Houston Rockets (Photo by Robert Seale/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

4. Jeff Van Gundy

Jeff Van Gundy previously coached the Houston Rockets from 2003-2007 and posted a record of 182-146, which is good for a 55.5 percent winning record. The Rockets made the playoffs in three of the four years in which JVG was at the helm, which is impressive considering the fact that the Rockets weren’t nearly as talented as the current team. Unfortunately for JVG, current general manager Daryl Morey arrived after was no longer coaching the Houston Rockets.

On top of that, the Rockets had consistent injuries to Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady as they missed 111 total games combined over the course of JVG’s tenure. During the last two years of JVG’s reign in Houston, the Houston Rockets star duo missed 105 games, which also makes it even more impressive that the Rockets were still able to make the playoffs. During Van Gundy’s time at the helm, the Rockets were consistently one of the league’s better defensive teams, as they never finished worse than sixth in the league in defensive rating.

JVG’s defensive prowess is certainly something the current team could use, as they’ve had significant struggles this year, which isn’t surprising considering MDA’s weaknesses on that end of the floor.  Although JVG hasn’t coached in the NBA since the 2006-07 season, he’s been coaching the USA Basketball Men’s World Cup qualifying teams. JVG agreed to take the position in part to allow San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to focus on coaching the Spurs during the early rounds of World Cup play.

Most recently JVG posted a 10-2 record and led the team to a spot in this past summer’s World Cup. All in all Van Gundy has coached in the NBA for 18 years, including his seven years as an assistant coach. Aside from coaching the USA Men’s Basketball team, JVG has remained involved with the NBA in his current role as a color commentator on ESPN’s broadcasts.

Next: No. 3

Head coach Alvin Gentry of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Head coach Alvin Gentry of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

3. Alvin Gentry

Alvin Gentry has been coaching since 1988, and won a title during the 2014-15 season with the Golden State Warriors, albeit as an assistant under Warriors coach Steve Kerr. Gentry subsequently became the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, where he coached for the last five seasons.

During Gentry’s tenure in New Orleans, he coached star players such as Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Jrue Holiday, and Zion Williamson, while also leading the Pelicans to the postseason during the 2017-18 season. The Pelicans posted a 48-34 record, which landed them the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

Gentry’s Pelicans were matched up against the Portland Trail Blazers, who held the third seed that season, and the Pelicans pulled off the improbable sweep of the Blazers. The Pelicans were later eliminated by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors, although they managed to steal a game during the series.

Gentry experienced earlier success as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns, who he led to the Western Conference Finals during the 2009-10, as they went 54-28. Gentry’s coaching style would also endear Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, as his teams have launched an avalanche of 3-pointers, as outlined below:

  • 6th in 3-point attempts-2009-10
  • 3rd in 3-point attempts-2010-11
  • 13th in 3-point attempts-2016-17
  • 7th in 3-point attempts-2019-20

The Pelicans decided against bringing Gentry back after the 2019-20 season, which was bound to happen when they hired David Griffin as their president of basketball operations. Griffin surely wanted to bring in his own coach, and since he wasn’t the one that hired Gentry, a change was inevitable.

At 65 years of age, Gentry wasn’t exactly a fit for the young, upstart Pelicans, but would make for a better candidate for an older roster like the Rockets.

Next: No. 2

Golden State Warriors Mark Jackson (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
Golden State Warriors Mark Jackson (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

2. Mark Jackson

Mark Jackson became the head coach of the Golden State Warriors prior to the start of the 2011-12 season and faced a tough challenge leading a Warriors team that only made the postseason once during the previous 18 years leading up to his arrival.

But it didn’t take Jackson long to get the Dubs into contender status, as they made the playoffs during each of his final two years at the helm. Jackson had a winning record during his time as the Warriors coach, as he went 121-109 but the Warriors never reached the Western Conference Finals, which likely led to the shocking decision to fire Jackson.

Jackson’s Warriors finished inside of the top ten in 3-point attempts during two of his three seasons in Oakland, and the Dubs were consistently one of the most efficient teams from downtown during each of Jackson’s three years. The Warriors shot 38.8 percent, 40.3 percent and 38 percent from downtown during Jackson’s tenure, which was second, first and fourth-best in the league.

Jackson transitioned the Warriors from the laughing stock of the NBA to a team that made five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals following his departure. Many people feel like the championships Steve Kerr led the Warriors to should have been credited to Jackson because essentially it was Jackson’s team.

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Not only that, Jackson developed a great relationship with superstars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, which bodes well for his ability to work with superstars Russell Westbrook and James Harden. On top of that, Jackson played the point guard position for 17 years and can certainly relate to Westbrook.

Jackson’s previous experience with a superstar backcourt is something that should also bode well for the former Houston Rockets guard and should warrant consideration for the current Rockets team. As it pertains to Jackson, the Houston Rockets may very well miss out as the New York Knicks currently have a vacancy and they could possibly turn to the former Knicks point guard.

Hopefully that doesn’t happen, for the sake of Jackson, because the Houston Rockets are a much better team than the Knicks and are certainly a better organization.

Next: No. 1

Cleveland Cavaliers Tyronn Lue (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Cleveland Cavaliers Tyronn Lue (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

1. Tyronn Lue

Tyronn Lue is the only coach on this list who has multiple championship on his resume, as he won two championships during his 14 year playing career in addition to winning a title as the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What’s really impressive about Lue’s championship he guided the Cavs to is the manner in which he accomplished that. During the 2015-16 season the Cleveland Cavaliers got off to a 30-11 start through the team’s first 41 games, but reports of friction between then head coach David Blatt and future Hall of Famer LeBron James forced the Cavs to fire Blatt midway through the year and to promote Lue to the head coach, which was a bit of a dice roll.

Normally when a team makes a coaching change during the season it doesn’t end well, as the new coach needs time to adjust and get acclimated. On top of that, you never know how the players will respond to the new person in charge. In Lue’s case, LeBron endorsed the coaching change which is surely why the Cavs did it. Lue got off to a somewhat rocky start as the Cavs went 27-14 during the final half of the season, which was worse than Blatt’s record through the first half of the year. But the Cavs were able to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference and plowed through the playoffs.

The Cavs swept each of their opponents in the first two rounds of the playoffs before defeating the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals within six games. During the NBA Finals, the Cavs faced the Golden State Warriors, who had won 73 games that season, which is an NBA record. After the Cavs found themselves down 3-1 in the Finals, Lue was able to rally the troops and lead the Cavs to victories in each of the final three games and ultimately win the first championship in Cavaliers history.

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Lue’s Cavaliers team played similar to the Rockets, as they averaged at least 32 3-pointers during each of his full seasons at the helm and finished with the second and fifth-most 3-point attempts during both seasons.

On top of that, Lue has a proven history of being able to coach star players and manage personalities, which has gone largely unnoticed.

Take the Kyrie Irving and LeBron James relationship, for example. Kyrie reportedly wanted his own team and didn’t like playing in the shadow of LeBron yet Lue was able to lead them to a championship against the greatest team ever assembled by record.

In addition, the fact that Lue had the backing of a superstar like LeBron James is also encouraging, as it shows that he’s a players’ coach. As if Lue’s championship season wasn’t enough, he was also able to lead the Cavs to another appearance in the NBA Finals despite the Cavaliers trading away Irving prior to the start of the 2017-18 season.

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LeBron was so impressed with Lue that he wanted the Los Angeles Lakers to hire him as their head coach prior to the 2019-20 season, but the contract negotiations ultimately fell apart. The Houston Rockets would be wise to hire the three-time NBA champion and the fact that his offensive gameplan resembles the Rockets’ current style of play should warrant serious consideration, considering the current Rockets’ roster.

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