The Houston Rockets had many issues last year, ranging from players getting cold to horrible team chemistry. When those become problems, it is the head coach's responsibility to get his team out of the funk in any way possible. Especially for the latter, the players need to understand who is the coach of the team and thus who is the true leader. When J.B. Bickerstaff was faced with that situation, he did horribly, choosing instead to complain to the media and play with lineups that made no sense whatsoever.
All coaches have big problems fix at some time, but what separates the greats from the Bickerstaff's is the fact that they never show how out of whack things may be. They always seem fully under control, never resorting to terrible lineups and doing anything to bring the team back together. Denouncing them to the world won't do any good at bringing them back.
So now, the Rockets are faced with filling their head coaching spot a second time after firing Kevin McHale eleven games into last season. Rumors said that they liked Bickerstaff, so thank God he decided to quit. Maybe it was this writer's rants about him that convinced him. Probably not.
Even though the likes of Scott Brooks and Tom Thibodeau have been hired, plenty more options are still around. Here is a look at the top options and the Rockets' likelihood of getting them.
Frank Vogel or Dave Joerger
Larry Bird's decision to fire his head coach was surprising, to say the least. He took his team to the conference finals twice in a row, and just this past year took the number two ranked Toronto Raptors to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. The only time he didn't make the playoffs in his six seasons as Indiana Pacers head coach was last year, when he was without his star Paul George. Overall, he went 250-181 with the team. Reasons include lack of offensive output and different ideas on how the team should play. Bird also said that his players needed a new voice to lead them. Well, he can be the new voice to lead the Rockets.
The Rockets defense was porous, ranking 21st in the league in terms of defensive efficiency. The Pacers, on the other hand, were ranked third. Vogel's teams have always been great defensively, something that the Rockets have always needed to improve. Vogel can come in and help rectify that problem.
However, as Bird explained, his problem is on the offensive end. The Pacers were 23rd in offensive efficiency compared to the Rockets' eighth. Vogel also has a tendency to not use small ball lineups. For a team that likes to play fast, this may lead to a huge problem, especially with no true offensive big men on the roster. While these two are big issues, Vogel's specialty in defense is too great to ignore.
The reason him and Joerger were put in the same section is because they are very similar coaches. They both focus on defense, like to play old school and need improvements on offensive output. The only difference is that Vogel has experience working with stars, as he had George on the team. On the other hand, Joerger coached Mike Conley with the Memphis Grizzlies, a player that the team should look at in the offseason to improve their point guard position. Also, the video just below proves that he truly cares for the Grizzlies unless he belongs in Hollywood. That would be important for a team that is in shambles after Bickerstaff's coaching.
In terms of their availability, Vogel's prime suitors are the Grizzlies, New York Knicks and Rockets. However, it is unclear how those three teams are ranked. Joerger was reportedly fired because he asked to interview with the Sacramento Kings and Rockets, so it can be assumed that they are high on his list. It seems like those are the only two in contention.
Jeff Van Gundy
A return to the Rockets is a great possibility, sources say. What helps is that Houston is the only team that Jeff Van Gundy is considering so there is no pressure in getting him first. He can be a great fall back option if he isn't the number one option already.
First of all, like Vogel he has experience with stars, coaching Tracy McGrady, another charmer like James Harden. He's another defensive-minded coach, making him kind of like Vogel and Joerger. Owner Les Alexander said that he updates his offense to make it much faster in order to get hired, something he has probably asked of the first two coaches mentioned in this article too.
The difference between Van Gundy and the other two is that he is a Houston local. Fans will love the hire, and there will be no outside noise like him not liking the city or anything like that. He is also familiar with Alexander and general manager Daryl Morey. He will fit right in.
The problem is that he hasn't coached since 2007. While that would take a much bigger toll on a player's game rather than a coach's, it will still definitely affect him. He's been reporting since, so it isn't like he's taken a break from basketball. However, can he still go through the extreme rigors that even one season will have in store? That is unclear. If management thinks he can both take the stresses of being a coach as well as update his offensive schemes, then he will most likely be the next Rockets head coach.
Yes, his record is pretty bad, but give it a thought. Could anybody coach that Phoenix Suns' team? Not even Gregg Popovich could, it was that bad. Jeff Hornacek was just cursed with bad teams. Even then, he was able to lead the 2013-2014 team to a 48-34 record. Was it his fault that the Western Conference was so good that even they didn't make the playoffs? Not at all. Also, at one point, the team had three starting level points guards in Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, and Isaiah Thomas. How would you handle that situation?
What the Rockets really like about Hornacek is his offensive approach. They want a coach to play small-ball and use fast pace because they believe that is best for this group of players. While a more balanced offense may benefit the team more, just in this writer's opinion, everybody knows that the Rockets love their statistics and what they derive from them.
The team will need some work in order to become a truly fast paced team. They would need an offensive point guard that can push the ball, better three point shooters, and an athletic four that can pass off as a center. Rajon Rondo or Mike Conley can fill the first spot, but the second would be much harder. If they do get Rondo or Conley, the starting lineup would be Rondo/Conley, Harden, Corey Brewer, Trevor Ariza, and Donatas Motiejunas, with Patrick Beverley and Michael Beasley coming off the bench. Not the perfect offensive lineup, but it will do.
But with great offense comes bad defense, most of the time. Hiring Hornacek won't solve Houston's problems on the other side of the ball, maybe even making them worse. If he is able to convince the team to play his way instead of one-on-one basketball, it could be exciting, something nobody would think could be said of a Harden-led team. But they would have to sacrifice their defense to make it happen.
The truth is that there are more names circling around. David Blatt could be a good hire; but can he lead the team, especially with a stubborn star in Harden? His experience with another James suggests otherwise. They could also look at other assistants, as they have with Sam Cassell, or in college. The choices are endless.
The Rockets have also interviewed Mike D'Antoni. While he is an offensive minded coach that loves the pace to be fast, he showed with the Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers that he is an overrated coach. He would need the perfect cast of players, much like he did with the Suns. He also clashed with stars like Carmelo Anthony. In other words, D'Antoni would be a horrible hire.
A quick afterthought before the end of this article; kind of like a P.S. Wouldn't it be cool if Jason Terry goes into retirement and starts coaching the Rockets? Yes, this move would be extremely risky, but if management wants any guarantee that they are going to get a well-respected coach that will get along with the team, it will be Terry. Who knows what will happen?