No, Jeff van Gundy is not a good Rockets head coach option
The Rockets are apparently hunting for a new head coach. USA Today reported that Sam Amick, a source whose ear is close to the ground with the Rockets organization, says that relationship between the organization and current coach Mike D’Antoni are is all but dead at this point, and that D’Antoni’s contract will not be renewed at the end of this season.
Sam Amick named former Rockets coach and current ESPN broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy as a “very possible replacement for Mike,” and brought up the possibility that Tom Thibodeau could be an assistant coach under Van Gundy like was the case during Van Gundy’s Rockets coaching days.
When the Rockets were looking for a new head coach in 2016, Jeff Van Gundy was reported to be the top candidate and it was primarily the decision of owner Leslie Alexander, who is no longer around, to go with D’Antoni instead. Most Rockets fan at the time were upset with the D’Antoni decision preferring Van Gundy. And today in response to this news, the response from many Rockets fans in social media outlets has been positive.
It is not that hard to understand why Rockets fans appreciate Van Gundy to some extent. When he took over in 2003, the Rockets made the playoffs for the first time after missing it for four straight years. He is viewed as a defensive expert, and this team’s weakness has been on that end for the past two seasons. And on ESPN, he is a well-regarded broadcaster.
But Jeff Van Gundy has not coached in 10 years, and his offense during his Houston coaching days was nothing impressive even then. He never led the Rockets out of the first round, losing two winnable series in 2005 and 2007 in humiliating fashion both times.
I would not call JVG a bad coach, though I would not have called Thibodeau when he joined in Minnesota a bad coach and look at what a mess that was. But is Jeff Van Gundy really going to be the difference maker? Is he really that much better than Mike D’Antoni, who has coached teams far superior to anything Van Gundy has accomplished?
If the reports are true, there is likely little hope that D’Antoni will return for another season to have things to do. But there are two things to take away. First, Rockets fans should appreciate D’Antoni for what he has done, and understand that a replacement for him is not going to be easy. There are plenty of reasons to view Van Gundy as a worse coach, even ignoring how long it has been since has been a coach.
Second, even if the Rockets should move on from D’Antoni, why does it mean that the team must go for a retread? Why do NBA teams have to always pick the same coaches out from the same carousels? It is more likely that Jeff Van Gundy ends up as Mike Brown, another defensive-minded coach who could not run an offense, or Minnesota Tom Thibodeau, than as the improvement over D’Antoni who will bring this team to a title.