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Stephen Silas remains optimistic with Rockets despite numerous challenges

As the head coach of the Houston Rockets, Stephen Silas’ first 10 games were a painful reminder of how hard it is for a black coach in the NBA. But his future remains promising.

Houston Rockets v Denver Nuggets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

This isn’t what Stephen Silas had in mind when he took the job to become the Houston Rockets’ next head coach. Sleepless nights three months into the job? Hearing your best player tell reporters the team isn’t good enough to win? Watching two Hall-of-Fame players walk out the door without giving it a chance?

Silas had a difficult test ahead of him since he first arrived at the Toyota Center. Now the trajectory of his initial challenge has changed.

Instead of taking over a “win-now” team — the top attraction that had Silas most excited during his introductory press conference in November. Silas is now left guiding a team in shambles. The obstacle is to salvage what remains of his first year as head coach after a 4-6 start to the season.

“It was very different on press conference day as opposed to today. The two guys I spoke to last were Russ and James. And now they are not here anymore. Those were the guys who vouched for me to get the job. I assume if they did not like the conversations they had with me, I would not be here right now. I am grateful for both of those guys. It’s the reality of the NBA.” — Silas

What made Silas’ hiring fascinating was the fact that he was given a chance. A chance to succeed as a new African-American head coach in the NBA.

Out of the seven black head coaches in the league today, only two have an opportunity to compete for a championship — Tyronne Lue and Doc Rivers. The remaining four — and now Silas — are stuck with the daunting task of laying the foundation of a rebuild. And if successful, there’s a significant possibility they will not be around to reap the benefits for their work.

The primary example of this happening is Mark Jackson. When the Warriors hired him as head coach in 2011, Jackson’s challenge was to change the fortune of a distressed franchise.

After going 23-43 in his first season, Jackson led the Warriors to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in 22 years. The Warriors won 51 games in Jackson’s final season at the helm. But it wasn’t enough to avoid his jettison by management later that summer. But when the Warriors cashed in on the foundation Jackson laid, Steve Kerr raised the Larry O’Brien trophy as the head coach in Golden State.

Not even a prosperous start to a career is enough to prevent a black coach from receiving an early pink slip. In 2016, the Memphis Grizzlies hired David Fizdale to replace David Joerger as their new head coach. Under Fizdale, the Grizzlies replicated the same success as the year before.

Memphis won one more game to end the regular season with a 43-39 record. As a seventh seed, the Grizzlies took the 61-21 San Antonio Spurs six games before being eliminated during the first round of the playoffs. The following year, management fired Fizdale 19 games into the season after the Grizzlies stumbled out of the gates.

The adversities a head coach experiences is not foreign to Silas. He had 20 years as an assistant studying from afar. But the ability to navigate a team out of darkness runs through Silas’ blood.

In 2000, Silas witnessed his dad — Paul Silas — lead the Charlotte Hornets to the postseason with a 49-33 record. What made this a learning experience for Silas was watching his dad coach a team in mourning after the death of Bobby Phills. The Hornets began the season 18-16 prior to Phills’ passing, but finished the year with a 31-17 record.

“For me, [this] is not a nightmare. It’s just dealing with the circumstances and all of the things going around with the team. Being ready for this position. Tackling problems and solving them, that’s what a head coach does. Obviously things were not perfect, but here we are.” — Silas

Silas’ initial objective may have altered since he took the job. But he remains the perfect coach to lead the Rockets into the post-James-Harden era. Silas’ coaching became even more evident following Houston’s 109-105 victory over the Spurs Thursday night.

It was a team effort, but Silas’ spirit led the short-handed Rockets to their first road victory of the season.

He no longer has a former MVP on his roster, but Silas’ coaching tenure remains optimistic with Christain Wood. The early front runner for Most Improve Player of the Year honors registered 27 points (10-for-18 FG, 5-for-7 3PT), 15 rebounds and 3 blocks inside the AT&T Center.

“I’m going to make this team competitive — whether they like it or not. I did not come to the Houston Rockets to lose any games. I did not sign up for that. And I am not here for that. I came here to win. And I came here to compete. And I am going to make sure everybody here is competing.” — Wood

Ultimately, wins and losses will determine Silas’s tenure as the Rockets head coach. But regardless of what happens moving forward, the admiration Silas received during his first 10 games with a disgruntled star deserves a championship within itself.

“That’s the NBA. Change is a part of the NBA — and I realize that from a young age. The fact that everything went down the way it did — was a surprise. But it is up to me to regroup. Reset. And move forward. It was a crazy 48 hours for sure. But we are out of it.” — Silas