NBA Coaching Carousel: Who Fits Best in Houston?


As the Houston Rockets prepare to enter a new era this offseason, there’s still a void to fill at head coach. Rumors remain prevalent regarding the Houston job, but a couple of candidates should stand out. Let’s take a brief look into some of the possible choices and get familiar with the names in the conversation.

Tyronn Lue: The Seasoned Veteran

Tyronn Lue’s name is probably most recognized for two reasons. One, Allen Iverson infamously stepped over him in the 2001 NBA Finals. More importantly though, Lue coached LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2016 title. As such, Lue is a desirable candidate to become the Rockets’ next coach. His resume boasts playoff success, as well as the championship experience Houston’s coaches lacked previously.

While he stepped back to work as an assistant with the Clippers last year, Lue’s history remains quite impressive. On top of that resume, Lue knows how to coach the game’s most talented superstars. His experience with LeBron and Kawhi Leonard means he should be more than comfortable working with James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

There is one downside to Lue’s established NBA spot, however. Since he’s got a title on his record, the price tag on his contract may “blast off” out of the Rockets’ price range. The rumor got out recently that Mike D’Antoni wanted to return next year, but he received and rightly refused a lowball offer from the Rockets. An NBA title tends to cost a lot, so if team ownership refuses to pay up, they will perhaps look elsewhere for their new leader.

According to recent rumors, Lue will interview for a head coach spot not only with the Rockets, but also with the Clippers and Pelicans too. If Houston doesn’t offer him enough money, Lue will likely choose one of his other options.

Sam Cassell: Hometown Hero

Sam Cassell might not be the most impressive name on the coaching market, but he’s well-known in Houston already. Cassell played point guard for the Rockets when they went back-to-back in 1994 and 1995. On the court, Cassell’s influence displays as a floor general. He controlled the pace of the game and always found the open teammate. Since he played in the league for 19 years, there’s no doubt that Cassell knows the sport’s intricacies and should set his players up for success. He spent the last six years as an assistant with the Clippers too, so he provides needed coaching experience.

The most vital factor in Cassell’s candidacy would likely be his impact on the team’s culture. Just by looking at this year’s Finals opponents, one notices how influential culture can be.

For instance, the Lakers’ winning formula stems from a legacy of excellence and LeBron’s passion for the game. The Heat have a strong history of being scrappy underdogs who refuse to back down. The Rockets need a reset to reestablish their identity. Who better to bring that on than the guy who’s won titles with Houston? Not to mention, Cassell introduced his signature “big balls” celebration to the league back in his playing days- who doesn’t love a guy who brings both intensity and flair to the game? Now that’s for the culture.

Jeff Van Gundy: One More Try

The third candidate allegedly in the mix is NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy. His name may be familiar for many Rockets fans as he coached the team from 2003 until 2007. The league’s landscape was completely different during that span, and Van Gundy hasn’t coached since. According to some of his media, however, he appears to appreciate what Harden and the Rockets have accomplished recently. Perhaps the former coach would be willing to leave the broadcast booth to take charge of the Rockets and lead them again.

It’s probably worth noting that Van Gundy never made it past the first round while coaching Houston. However, he made the playoffs in three out of four seasons with the team. JVG is a talented coach, but such a long break between jobs means he might not be prepared to take over in today’s NBA. Van Gundy prides himself on defensive strategy, so he would surely improve the team in that aspect.

Unfortunately, it could prove problematic for him to adapt to the fast-paced playstyles of today. That issue gets amplified even more when considering the small-ball roster he’d have to work with and the prevalence of Moreyball. After considering every contingency, hiring JVG looks unlikely.

Who to Hire?

Out of the three primary candidates, Tyronn Lue looks best. His experience with the Cavs during their annual Finals runs shows that he has what it takes to coach a team at the championship level. Additionally, he would likely do the best job adapting Houston’s roster to make one more deep playoff run, and tweak small-ball enough to fix some of its flaws. Cassell would probably be the next best choice, albeit the more realistic option due to the monetary limits. Either one would surely be an excellent hire for Houston, and hopefully, help get the Rockets back on track to chase the city’s third championship trophy.

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