Rockets fans were abuzz Friday night as the house cleaning of assistant coaches continued for the Houston Rockets. After letting associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik go, the Rockets officially declined to bring back assistant coaches Roy Rogers and Mitch Vanya, video coordinator John Cho and player development coach Irv Roland.
This is a major change. The entire defensive staff for the Rockets has been wiped out.
While many have speculated about the future of head coach Mike D’Antoni, all signs continue to point to the head coach returning for his fourth season at the helm of the franchise, with a potential extension on the horizon. D’Antoni’s return seems all the more likely based on the fact that the Rockets have opted to retain all of the offensive coaching staff for 2019-20 at this time. So, barring an unexpected development, the Rockets will be searching for a lead assistant and a defensive staff to bring change for the coming year. Let’s take a look at some options.
Jeff Van Gundy
The former head coach of the Houston Rockets and current commentator for ESPN/ABC is a fan favorite to this day here in Houston. He is also known to be a favorite of General Manager Daryl Morey, with Van Gundy being Morey’s top choice for the head coaching gig the last time it was open (previous owner Les Alexander nixed the return). While Van Gundy has repeatedly indicated a desire to return to coaching and certainly brings the defensive bonafides you would want, it seems extremely unlikely that he would leave a high-profile job as a commentator to become an assistant coach. He’s also not the type to play the role of vulture, waiting for someone to get fired so he could slide into the job.
The former head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls seems to check all of the boxes: A strong defensive reputation, a tie to the organization having previously been an assistant here under JVG, a relationship of mutual respect with the general manager (as evidenced by his time with Morey while on sabbatical) and a great relationship with potential Rockets offseason target Jimmy Butler. However, Thibs is a head coach and likely sees himself that way. I’ll bet against him being ready to take the role of assistant at this stage and it’s not clear that the Rockets would want him even if was willing. Can he adapt his defense to the modern style of the game? Would he give you more than a one-year commitment? I’ll bet against it.
The former head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brooklyn Nets, Hollins seems like an unlikely candidate on the surface; an old school, in your face, rough and rugged defensive coach. That is until you dig a little deeper and realize that Morey has TWICE tried to add Hollins to the Rockets coaching staff, missing out both times for different reasons. Hollins would definitely bring the type of culture change that Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta seems to covet.
The current associate head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, Silas would seem to be a longshot to leave Dallas in what would be a lateral move. Still, the Rockets have expressed interest in him before and he is said to be a favorite of Morey’s. He is an outgoing, vibrant personality that is well liked by players, including Steph Curry who previously endorsed him as a coaching candidate.
The associate head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers under Larry Drew, Longabardi’s claim to fame is being the defensive coordinator for Ty Lue’s Cavaliers, the last team to defeat the Warriors. Longabardi has ties to Houston having been an assistant under Jeff Van Gundy in Morey’s first year with the organization. He would later serve as an assistant under Doc Rivers, winning a championship with the Celtics. He is known for being a strong proponent of the “Strong Side” defense of JVG. He’s received a glowing endorsement from Van Gundy as a future head coach. His resume is not without blemish however, as the Cavs and Suns teams he’s coordinated for have had pretty poor defensive efforts after the championship season.
Not a name that stands out, Shrewsberry was the lead assistant for Brad Stevens and the Celtics from 2013-2018 before leaving to become the lead assistant at the University of Purdue. It’s hard to get great information on him but he was considered a big part of Stevens’ staff before returning to the college game. Shrewsberry has expressed a desire to become a college head coach and prefers the college game, but he’s been linked to the Rockets through an internet rumor. He would fit the mold as a young coach with upside and a reputation for working well with players.
Erman is the associate head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans and is said to be someone that the Rockets have long admired from a distance. Erman is considered a strong defensive coach and was one of the architects of the great Warriors defense, but it is unlikely that Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry would let him slip away to the Rockets. It’s still a name the Rockets are likely to explore.
An assistant under Greg Popovich in San Antonio, Hardy isn’t nearly as discussed as other names on the legendary coach’s staff. Hardy has worked for the Spurs since 2010 when he started as a video coordinator before being promoted to an assistant’s role in 2016. He has risen through the ranks to earn a spot on Pop’s bench and is considered a bright, up-and-coming mind on the defensive end. The Spurs continually rank high in defensive rating, employing a strategy built around not fouling. They have given the Rockets fits for years and it would make sense to raid the rival.
There are undoubtedly other coaches out there that could (and likely will) be considered. This list should give Rocket fans something to think about though over the next few days while we wait for rumors to start.