The Houston Rockets are still officially on the lookout for their next head coach after J. B. Bickerstaff fulfilled his interim duties last season following Kevin McHale's early season firing.
The Texas-based franchise only snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season before succumbing to the reigning NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors, in the first round 4-1.
Much more had been expected of a franchise in possession of talents like James Harden and Dwight Howard. Speculation ran riot all-season long about tension between the two, despite their public pleas to the contrary.
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Now, with Howard almost certain to opt-out of his Rockets deal and enter free agency this summer, Houston are bound to have a chance to rebuild around Harden and come back stronger next term.
But, under whose guidance? One man who had been heavily linked with the post, but now said to be out of the running, is Jeff Van Gundy.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, former L.A. Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni has emerged as the frontrunner for the head coach position and ESPN colour commentator JVG won't even get the chance to interview for the spot he once held. The report states:
"Van Gundy had serious interest in the Rockets’ coaching opening, but the process ended Tuesday without the two sides ever sitting down to talk, league sources told The Vertical.
"Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Mike D’Antoni has emerged as a frontrunner in the process, and the Rockets have been gauging possible top assistant coaches for D’Antoni’s potential coaching staff, league sources said."
The report goes on to suggest that general manager Daryl Morey didn't want to waste Van Gundy's time with the process if the organisation ultimately already knew the direction they wanted to pursue.
Although Van Gundy, 54, had two 50 plus winning seasons at the Toyota Center, it is thought the Rockets' owner was the one who nipped his return in a bud.
"Rockets gm Daryl Morey didn’t want to drag Van Gundy through an extended process that included interviews with multiple candidates, and ultimately decided that the organisation wanted a different kind of a coach, sources said.
"There had been significant support within the Rockets’ front office for a reunion with Van Gundy, but it became apparent that owner Leslie Alexander was uncertain about restoring the partnership, league sources said."
It's interesting that the Rockets are looking to explore a new style with their next coach. D'Antoni, 65, was wildly successful in Europe as a coach and is probably remembered best for his stint in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns.
The 'Seven Seconds or Less' style he employed with the likes of Steve Nash, Joe Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire drove the Suns to a record of 62-20 in the 2004-05 season and was one of the most exciting brands of basketball the league has ever seen.
Could D'Antoni bring that approach to Houston?