After a rocky first season as head coach of the Houston Rockets, Stephen Silas looks to right the ship as the team gets ready to set sail in a new direction. When he agreed to take the job with Houston, Silas expected to be coaching James Harden and Russell Westbrook, both of whom requested trades. The Rockets granted both superstars’ trade requests, trading Westbrook before the season and Harden after eight lackadaisical games.
In the aftermath of trading away their two superstars, general manager Rafael Stone also traded a slew of players throughout the season. The team consistently dealt with numerous injuries and missed time due to health and safety protocols throughout the season. The Rockets swiftly went from potential title contenders to a rebuilding team in a matter of months. They finished the season with a 17-55 record, worst in the NBA, and won the second overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft Lottery.
After a rocky first season as head coach of the Houston Rockets, Stephen Silas looks to right the ship as the team gets ready to head in a new direction.
When the 2020-21 season started, there was a lot of talk from the players about accountability and a desire to win, but it was hard to believe given all the reports of how toxic the atmosphere in Houston had gotten due to Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni giving Harden free reign to do he pleased and to act as if he was a gift from God. Earlier this year, Kendrick Perkins added fuel to the rumors, alleging that Russell Westbrook wanted out of Houston because he was appalled by how much partying Harden did on his off days and how much Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta enabled this behavior.
After Harden requested the trade, things got even worse. Not only was the publicity of his trade request a distraction for the team, but he showed up late and out of shape to training camp. Despite what his box score numbers may suggest, he played a very disinterested game of basketball and was beginning to cause friction in the locker room.
* Author’s note: The fact that Harden averaged 24.8 points, 10.4 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game while playing out of shape and not giving his maximum effort is a true testament to his greatness.
Stephen Silas is setting his foundation with the Houston Rockets and changing the culture in Houston.
Despite all the injuries, roster turnover, and overall turmoil within the Rockets’ organization last season, there was a clear culture shift, notably after Stone shipped Harden to the Brooklyn Nets. The Rockets won their first game without Harden in a comeback victory over the San Antonio Spurs, and the team almost instantly started playing with more energy and cohesiveness.
The bench became more engaged, celebrating and cheering guys on, and everyone genuinely seemed like they wanted to play for the man next to him. They even went on a six-game winning streak shortly after the trade, before injuries and Covid-19 ravished their roster and wholly ruined their chances of a playoff run.
Silas navigated through the treacherous waters through all the injuries and losses, and his confidence never wavered in his first stint as an NBA head coach. He suffered through a grueling season, as did his players, but they never stopped playing hard for him even when it was evident the franchise was already looking ahead to the draft. When asked about his head coach, fifth-year veteran Danuel House was quick to praise him, “He brings poise and composure, last year when we were down in games…he keeps his composure, he brings confidence, shows courage, he’s a hard worker.”
A hard worker is an understatement; sedulous would be a more accurate description. Silas first started in the NBA as a scout for the Charlotte Hornets during the 1999-2000 season before transitioning to the sidelines, becoming an assistant coach under his father, Paul Silas. He would spend the next 21 years working as an advanced scout and assistant coach before he would finally get his big break and first head coaching opportunity with the Rockets.
Along his journey to becoming the 15th head coach in Rockets history, Silas had the opportunity to prepare for this moment by working under and learning from his father (whom he gives the majority of the credit to for where is today), Hall of Famer Don Nelson, Steve Clifford, and Rick Carlisle. As Carlisle’s offensive coordinator, he led the Dallas Mavericks to the best offense in NBA history up to that point.
Entering his second season as the ship’s captain, Stephen Silas will need to lean into 20 years of coaching experience and show his poise and composure now more than ever. The Rockets now have nine players with less than four years of NBA experience, including five rookies. When asked how he is going to balance trying to win with developing this young team, Silas said:
"“The balance is definitely going to be delicate…my job is to do what I can with this group so they can progress and get better…as long as we’re progressing and improving then I’m good. As far as the wins and losses, we’re gonna learn from both…we’re going to do everything we can to do things in a winning way.”"
He has a reputation for connecting and relating with players of all ages and backgrounds, which was on full display last season. The Rockets recently held their media day for the 2021-2022 NBA season, and a common theme among the players that spoke with the media was how well of a communicator Silas is and how much they enjoy playing for him. Rookie Alperen Sengun mentioned going to his house for dinner and called him a friend and mentor while describing him as “down to earth.”
Most notably was Kevin Porter Jr., a 21-year old combo guard oozing with talent and potential, with a troubled past and history of off-court issues. His name was constantly in the media for all the wrong reasons before Houston traded for him last season. Since joining the Rockets, he’s had a complete transformation. During Houston’s media day session, Porter alluded to how coming to the Rockets was a breath of fresh air and the critical role Silas and the organization have played in turning his career around and giving him a more positive outlook on basketball and life.
"“This organization saved my life potentially…They gave me love and gave me confidence in myself and motivation to make myself a better player and better person. They invested a lot in me and I try to give it my all everyday to repay them in some way…Coach Silas took me under his wing and we talk a lot…it’s not even about basketball a lot of the time, it’s about food, the beach, just regular everyday conversations, and that means the most to me…too anxious or to eager is when I play my worst so I try to balance it but conversations like that is what help me and he’s here always, 24/7 so I know I have him one call away”"
During media day, he stressed the importance of teaching the players how to be professionals on and off the court, team dinners, making sure the players have someone to talk to if they ever have any issues, and building relationships. Silas’s ability to teach, instill confidence in players, develop relationships, and connect with players outside of basketball is precisely what this young team needs. Communicating with players and treating everyone as people and not assets are his strengths which is a stark contrast from the days of Morey and D’Antoni.
During his 20-year odyssey as an assistant coach, Silas had the luxury of aiding in the development of stars like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kemba Walker, and Luka Doncic early in their careers. And now he gets to do the same for Porter Jr. and 2021 second overall pick, Jalen Green. This Rockets team will likely lose more often than not this, but you can surely expect them to be an inspiring and fun team to watch and compete hard on both ends of the floor every night.