clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Next Rockets Head Coach Contenders: Van Gundy, Jackson, Bickerstaff, Thibodeau

With the recent firing of coach Kevin McHale, the Rockets have to fill the role of head coach at the end of the season.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

**UPDATE** Reports indicate J.B. Bickerstaff will carry the title of interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Read more here.

After Ty Lawson organized a players only meeting yesterday, the Houston Rockets fired coach Kevin McHale just 11 games into the season. The WojBomb on Wednesday morning confirmed the management change.

The Rockets are the first team in the NBA to fire their coach this season as an abysmal 4-7 start spurred panic within the front office. It seems obvious to Rockets observers that the front office lost faith in McHale, while McHale completely lost the locker room.

More: Breaking News: Rockets Fire Kevin McHale

J.B. Bickerstaff has been an NBA assistant coach for three teams since 2004 and will be tasked with resurrecting the culture as interim head coach. Bickerstaff has been crucial in the defensive scheming for Houston since his arrival in 2011 and is tasked with restoring a once-elite defense.

Daryl Morey and the rest of the Rockets' front office will weigh the options of coaching candidates, including J.B. Bickerstaff. There are many jobless NBA coaches who are licking their lips at the sight of an empty coaching spot for the Rockets, who have one of the most talented rosters in the league.

As soon as the news broke, a few coaching names rushed to the front of the pack by default. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets are interested in Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy, and possibly Steve Clifford. Daryl Morey's job is to sift through the candidates and decipher which ones are contenders and which are pretenders.

Here's The Dream Shake's list of contenders and pretenders:


J.B. Bickerstaff

Bickerstaff is definitely a viable option. He's spent a decade as an assistant coach and has built bonds with the Rockets players and front office. The in-house candidate is the lowest profile contender, but he is a solid combination of experience and institutional knowledge. His audition starts right now.

Jeff Van Gundy

JVG is living the life right now as an ESPN broadcaster. However, he recently said on a podcast with Zach Lowe that he is open to returning to the NBA. Is it a coincidence that he expressed interest in a coaching job a week before one opens?

Van Gundy coached the Rockets from 2003 to 2007 and has 430-318 (58%) record in 11 seasons as an NBA coach. It would be a shame to lose a good broadcaster, but JVG could easily the best option for the Rockets.

Mark Jackson

Another ESPN broadcaster who probably enjoys the easier lifestyle of calling games over coaching them. Jackson is the consummate players coach. James Harden and Dwight Howard likely want a players coach who listens and allows them to have a level of control over the on-court product. Jackson wasn't panned for the product he put on the count in Golden State, it just turns out there was an extra gear on that team he couldn't find.

Steve Clifford

Reports say the Rockets are interested in the current head coach of the Charlotte Hornets. Clifford is from the Jeff Van Gundy coaching tree and has done an admirable job on Hornets sideline the team's front office has installed to slope uphill. He's led the team to the playoffs once and is a free agent at the end of this season.

Tom Thibodeau

Thibs could be exactly what the Rockets need on the sideline: a fiery, defensive-oriented leader. Thibodeau would undoubtedly light a much-needed fire under the asses of the brats pretending to play basketball. Thibodeau can come in, immediately install a new culture of Houston Rockets basketball, and lead an elite defense.

However, signing Thibs is probably the ballsiest move because of how different he is from McHale. They are practically polar opposites and that could bring a culture-shock to the team. McHale, a player's coach, catered to his players and apparently held easy, player-friendly practices. Thibodeau? Not so much.

The only thing to worry about Thibodeau is if McHale can lose a locker room, how fast will he lose it? He has a history of running stars into the ground and conducting excruciatingly hard practices. That might behoove the young stars on the Rockets, but the injury-prone Howard and lazy Harden might not like it so much.

Plus, he has a track record of playing his stars unsustainable minutes and running them out of town. Even with these shortcomings, the Rockets would be remiss if they consider him seriously.


Avery Johnson

Johnson impressed during his tenure with the Dallas Mavericks taking the team to an NBA Finals. He disappointed as head coach of the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets. Johnson showed a healthy mix of coaching chops and locker room buy in. He'd be in this conversation immediately if he didn't just sign on as head coach at the University of Alabama.

Scott Brooks

Brooks won an NBA title on the 1993 - 1994 Houston Rockets before being dealt at the 1995 trade deadline, cruelly denying him a second title. NBA observers have widely panned Brooks for not taking the Oklahoma City Thunder to an NBA title, failing to produce cohesive rotations and making simple sideline mistakes. None of those observers have a .620 career win-loss percentage as Brooks does. Brooks has shied away from coaching interviews since being fired and the cloud hanging over his departure from OKC leaves serious doubts about his future as an NBA head coach.

Mike D'Antoni

The last playoff team he coached was the 2007-08 Suns. His run-n-gun style could possibly fit some of the Rockets lineups (the ones without Dwight), but his lack of defensive savvy is a deal breaker and he's fallen on hard times after his failures in New York and Los Angeles.

Luke Walton

He is undefeated as a head coach in the 2015 - 2016 NBA season. Undefeated, like he hasn't lost a game. In reality there's more credit to be handed to the organization, the players and the team's foundation than Walton. But it's pretty clear Walton is on the path to be a head coach at some point in the future.

Tyronn Lue

Former Houston Rocket Ty Lue is the current associate head coach of the Cleveland Cavilers. He was poised to become the head coach when turmoil and strife rocked the Cavs in the dog-days of the NBA schedule last year. The team recovered however and went to the NBA finals, cementing Lue to his current role. It's all but certain Lue will become an NBA head coach. Right now the question is if it's in Cleveland in the long-term or if he seeks out the opportunity sooner rather than later.

Sam Cassell

The former Houston Rocket guard is biding his time under the tutelage of Doc Rivers with the L.A. Clippers. Cassell spent five seasons as an assistant coach with a listless Wizards team who succumbed to the flaws of Gilbert Arenas and an organizational collapse. It's yet to be seen if Cassell has the coaching chops to match his player-first mentality and the court smarts that turned it from a backup point guard to a one-time all star.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Ollie, Jay Larranaga, Ettore Messina, Phil Jackson (just kidding)