Rockets Rumors: Jeff Van Gundy 'A Very Possible Replacement For' Mike D'Antoni

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2020

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 09:  Head coach Jeff Van Gundy of the 2019 USA Men's Select Team watches players warm up before the 2019 USA Basketball Men's National Team Blue-White exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena on August 9, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Former Houston Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy could reportedly return to the organization after the 2019-20 NBA season to replace current coach Mike D'Antoni.

Sam Amick of The Athletic reported Tuesday on the Brodie and The Beard podcast that Van Gundy, who previously led the Rockets' coaching staff from 2003 through 2007, is a "very possible replacement" for the two-time NBA Coach of the Year, who's been unable to agree on an extension with the team.

"As I reported a couple months ago, barring a championship, if they do save the season, I do not get the sense that Mike D'Antoni is going to be back," Amick said (via Hoops Hype). "You've had a major divide in the contract negotiations."

Whether Houston opts for Van Gundy or former Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, another rumored candidate should D'Antoni exit in the offseason, it's clear the organization wants to move toward a "defense first" approach built on "discipline," per Amick.

"Now, you know, it's trying to juxtapose that, reconcile that with James Harden in particular, you know, with Thibs or Van Gundy barking at him on the defensive side," Amick said. "I mean, there's a lot we could get into there. But right now, that's probably how I see it."

Van Gundy last coached in the NBA during the 2006-07 season with Houston and then became known for his work as a lead color commentator during ESPN and ABC's NBA coverage.

The 58-year-old California native returned to the sideline in 2017 with the United States national team. He helped guide the Americans to a gold medal in the 2017 FIBA AmeriCup and helped the program through the multiyear qualifying process for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, the national team's coach for the World Cup and the Olympics, praised Van Gundy for his work helping Team USA reach those marquee events.

"He's better than most of us as a coach. I think most people know that, but that's not always what gets you hired," Popovich told reporters in February 2019. "Circumstances, and those sorts of things, and personal situations, and timing has to be right and all that, but he's certainly somebody who would make a franchise better than they are now."

Van Gundy guided the Knicks to a 248-172 record (.590 winning percentage) across seven seasons and the Rockets to a 182-146 mark (.555) in four years. His teams reached the playoffs in nine of his 11 campaigns as a head coach, and New York reached the NBA Finals in 1999 before losing to Pop's Spurs.

Whether his defensive approach is the right fit for a Rockets squad led by the backcourt tandem of Harden and Russell Westbrook, two offense-first players, would be the key question if he's hired.

Meanwhile, D'Antoni's future with the organization remains unsettled with the current campaign delayed indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic.