When Adrian Wojnarowski reported yesterday that Jeff Van Gundy was at the top of the Rockets' head coaching candidates list, I was mildly surprised. Not because he's on the list, but rather his position at the pole.
The last time JVG coached in the league was in Houston a decade ago, and those of us who are old enough to remember know his tenure didn't exactly end on good terms. The fact that there are able-bodied people out there who know how to coach in the NBA in 2016, like Patrick Ewing, Luke Walton, Ettore Messina and even Scott Brooks make the laser-focus on Van Gundy a little disconcerting.
Then, on the afternoon of 420, some sobering news for the "not JVG" camp.
ESPN sources say Washington is actively intensifying its Scotty Brooks pursuit in hopes of sealing a Brooks deal before Houston's job opens.— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 20, 2016
As ESPN reported earlier today, Rockets officials are hopeful Scotty Brooks will hold off and still be on the market when their job opens— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) April 20, 2016
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
Sources: Washington GM Ernie Grunfeld is meeting with Scott Brooks in California now, pushing to close on a coaching deal.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) April 20, 2016
The Rockets' job won't be open until Sunday at the earliest—almost definitely Sunday, though—so if cross-country trips are happening on Wednesday, unless Brooks decides it's Rockets or bust, JVG becomes the lone man atop the Rockets' coaching wish list. And if there's mutual interest once J.B. Bickerstaff is kicked to the curb, the deal might not take long to come together.
And there are a few things worth mentioning here beyond the recent coaching experience:
- Van Gundy has been the most outspoken defender of the job J.B. Bickerstaff is doing, which literally anyone with a brain watching the team can see is the wrong opinion to have. JVG has publicly admitted that he will never, ever bash a coach, but that doesn't mean he has to be so over-the-top with his praise. Maybe it's all grandstanding to position himself better for the Houston job, but it's still annoying as hell to listen to.
- JVG's coaching track record in, again, a very different NBA is good, not great. He never led Houston out of the first round, and he led the Knicks to the NBA Finals once, in a bizarre lockout season. His teams were always stout defensively, but they never had to guard against teams jacking up 30 three-pointers a game on a nightly basis.
- The Rockets haven't hit a home run on a coaching hire since Rudy Tomjanovich. Rick Adelman was good for a while, then he was really bad. Kevin McHale always seemed to be a general non-factor, save for being good for a postgame conference chuckle. On a related note: every single coaching hire the Rockets have made (not counting interim guys) has been a retread of a longtime head coach. None of them have worked out! What's the definition of insanity again?
- Maybe JVG could be great for the Rockets. But be honest with yourself: what are the actual odds that JVG is the difference-maker for a team to become a championship contender. 20:1? 50:1? I just don't see a scenario in which he moves the needle.
A lot can change in the NBA coaching carousel. The Knicks were setting up their introductory press conference for new head coach Steve Kerr when he bolted to Oakland and got himself a ring, leaving MSG in a pile of crumbling Zen ash. Phil Jackson had no backup plan, and still has no good plan for who to coach the team. So even though a gambling man would bet on a JVG return to the sidelines in the Toyota Center, it's far from a sure thing.
Assuming Brooks is Washington-bound and the Rockets don't hire Van Gundy, where do the Rockets turn to? Paul Flannery and Tom Ziller rate the Rockets job as the best on the market, now that Tom Thibodeau is off to Minnesota. They would have their pick of who's left.
We've gone over the Rockets' choices before. Names from those lists that still intrigue me: Blazers assistant Nate Tibbetts, Luke Walton (so, so doubtful), Mike D'Antoni (the highest-risk, highest-reward possibility of the bunch) and sleeper candidates Sam Cassell, Ettore Messina and Becky Hammon. Another retreads that seems like a possibility is Monty Williams.
There are coaches around the league in the non-Pop/Kerr/Carlisle category I would so desperately want to see on the Rockets: Steve Clifford, Brad Stevens, Terry Stotts among them. But if the Rockets really do tear this thing down, I vote for an assistant coach with a great reputation and proven track record. Why not Tibbetts, Messina, Hammon or Ewing? The upside with any of those candidates is certainly higher than with JVG.