The Houston Rockets hired Dallas Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas to replace Mike D’Antoni as the team’s new head coach. Silas is the son of longtime NBA coach Paul Silas and widely respected in the league, so the move makes some degree of sense. However, it is hard to ignore the fact that the person who everyone thought would end up with the job ultimately didn’t get it.
For weeks now, current ABC/ESPN NBA broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy was described by numerous insiders as the favorite to become the Rockets’ new head coach. At one point, many believed the race was just down to him and Ty Lue. When the latter was elevated to head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, it looked like Van Gundy had a clear path. So what happened?
According to ESPN NBA insider Tim McMahon, James Harden and Russell Westbrook happened.
“Van Gundy, I don’t know if there was a lot of buy in or any buy in from James Harden or Russell Westbrook,” he said on Brian Windhorst’s podcast this week.
“And I don’t know if Jeff Van Gundy necessarily wanted to, you know, have to beg to coach guys. And so I think personality wise, that might not have been a match.”
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After a bit of back and forth with Windhorst, McMahon then put it in even simpler terms.
“We could just say Van Gundy was considered the lead candidate all season long, I think that the most important decision maker for the Rockets wasn’t quite so sure about that one,” he said.
This is not the first time this issue has been brought up. Back in September, an anonymous NBA executive predicted that Harden would refuse to play for Van Gundy.
“James [Harden] ain’t playing for [Van Gundy],” the said. “It’s a player’s league … [Van Gundy] is going to want to practice every day.”
All that being said, it’s debatable whether Houston is really missing out on anything by not hiring Van Gundy. Silas is unproven, sure, but it’s not like the Van Gundy Era with the Rockets was all that special. He led the team to a 182-146 mark and three first-round playoff exits in a four-year span.
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D’Antoni, for comparison’s sake, went 217-102 in four seasons with the Rockets and came within one Chris Paul injury of making it to an NBA Finals. If he had not run into a historically great juggernaut in the Golden State Warriors, he likely would have walked away from his stint with the organization with at least one championship.
In the 13 years since he was last an NBA head coach, Van Gundy primarily just served as a broadcaster. He admittedly did also work as head coach of the senior United States men’s national basketball team for the 2017 FIBA AmeriCup tournament and the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China, but that’s not exactly the same thing as coaching in the NBA.
All in all, the decision to not hire Van Gundy is easily forgivable. He was hardly a sure thing in terms of being successful after such a long layoff. But the fact that Harden and Westbrook may have been the main people arguing that case is certainly interesting.
If nothing else, it speaks to the fact that one or both will likely remain with the Rockets for the foreseeable future. There is no scenario where they have that much say if that’s not the case.
A longtime sports reporter, Carlos Garcia has written about some of the biggest and most notable athletic events of the last 5 years. He has been credentialed to cover MLS, NBA and MLB games all over the United States. His work has been published on Fox Sports, Bleacher Report, AOL and the Washington Post.