Kevin McHale is out for the Houston Rockets.
J.B Bickerstaff is in.
At some point in the near future, though, someone else may be in—Jeff Van Gundy and Tom Thibodeau, for instance.
In breaking the news that McHale had been canned, Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski also briefly discussed potential replacements, identifying Van Gundy and Thibodeau as names that could gain steam down the line:
There are no assurances long-term for Bickerstaff in Houston, but he has the opportunity to earn the job on a full-time basis. The organization has faith in a Bickerstaff-Finch partnership for now, and decided to make the move to find a different voice to lead the locker room.
Houston has reached a softer spot in the schedule with its next 11 games against teams with a combined 48-77 record, and Bickerstaff will have a chance to stabilize the Rockets.
Nevertheless, the Rockets are pushing for results now, and several elite coaches with Rockets ties in the past – including Jeff Van Gundy and Tom Thibodeau – could lurk as future candidates. Another strong candidate with Houston ties, Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, could be a free agent this summer.
Van Gundy has been linked to just about every opening under the sun over the last few years, and he has previous experience coaching for the Rockets, so his inclusion isn’t a total surprise.
It is, however, marginally shocking given how poorly things ended between Dwight Howard and Jeff’s brother, Stan Van Gundy, while both were with the Orlando Magic. Unless the Rockets are planning to let Howard walk in free agency this summer, which is possible, hiring Van Gundy is just asking for trouble behind the scenes.
Thibodeau is a natural candidate because he’s a flashy name who, like Bickerstaff, will help instill a defensive mindset. But his offensive tactics are uninventive, it’s unclear whether he’ll be receptive to three-point-chucking Moreyball, and he’s earned a reputation as someone who overworks his players. The last thing the Rockets will want is to burn out Trevor Ariza and Howard as they enter the twilight of their careers.
Steve Clifford is an interesting name, if only because he’s shown he can be open to anything. He’s a defensive wizard, but as the Charlotte Hornets offense is proving this season, he isn’t opposed to the three-point movement.
But while the Hornets have, relative to fringe-playoff expectations, underachieved over the last year, it seems odd that they would cut Clifford loose. Charlotte is now overachieving without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and remains firmly entrenched in the Eastern Conference playoff discussion.
Any change the Rockets make, though, is likely to come after this season—unless Bickerstaff totally loses the locker room or something. Bickerstaff himself could prove to be the long-term answer.
These rumors are just standard for any coaching change, and until the Rockets choose a permanent head honcho, they better get used to them.