The Houston Rockets have engaged in a coaching search after getting eliminated from the playoffs that should make fans and observers blanch.
We’re getting a clearer picture of the Houston Rockets head coaching search as days go by. After running former head coach Mike D’Antoni out of town at the end of his contract, financially embattled Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta (colloquially referred to as the “broke boi of NBA owners”) appears to be intent on spending as close to nothing on his next head coach as possible.
In spite of a deep and stocked talent pool of qualified NBA head coaches available after an absolute bloodbath of firings over the last couple of months, the Rockets appear to be looking to stay in-house if possible. According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, player development coach John Lucas is emerging as a serious contender for the vacancy.
Experience head coaches like Ty Lue, Kenny Atkinson and even Jeff Van Gundy are on the market, as well as assistants like Adrian Griffin, Ime Udoka and Becky Hammons abound. Fertitta appears to be interested in doing an end-around anything close to a coach who has a market and hiring somebody for whom there will be no bidding process.
These coaches are in demand, and it’s not going to be cheap to woo any of them. That likely removes them from consideration for the Houston job.
The Houston Rockets want bang for their buck, to excess
If John Lucas wants to be an NBA head coach again (he last coached the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2001 through 2003), all he has to do is be willing to do it according to Fertitta’s shoestring budget. The case may be a whole lot easier to make for the Rockets since there is no clamor for Lucas’s services anywhere outside of Houston.
The Houston Rockets have one of the best players in the NBA in James Harden, and Russell Westbrook is no slouch himself. The organization is perennially on the outside looking in at the championship picture, running up against superior opponents in the Golden State Warriors and now Los Angeles Lakers year after year.
It’s possible that in the post-D’Antoni era, a coaching upgrade could go a long way towards getting them over that hump. It’s hard to argue, however, that D’Antoni’s 66-year-old player development coach constitutes this upgrade that could be a difference-maker.
Of course, coaches only can do so much when it comes to unlocking and unleashing talent, but if that capacity was truly within John Lucas, he wouldn’t be 17 years removed from his last head coaching gig himself.
John Lucas remains respected around the NBA among players and organizations, but that does not necessarily translate directly into being a head coach worthy of a team that sees itself as a championship contender. The Rockets are looking for the cheapest bargain they can find on the market, and we’ll soon find out if John Lucas is indeed that bargain.