Can Jeff Bzdelik Help Fix the Houston Rockets?

By Taylor Pate on May 28, 2016

The Houston Rockets have found their head coach after weeks of interviews. Mike D'Antoni is set to sign a 4-year, $16 million deal. The Rockets front office is determined to surround D'Antoni with a slew of defensive-minded assistants and Jeff Bzdelik was the first name mentioned to be in the running.

The Rockets are hoping to hire an assistant capable of instilling discipline and toughness, something the organization has lacked for several years now. Part of the reason for that is the culture that has been instilled by owner Les Alexander.

Alexander has maintained a policy of not "tanking" to acquire talent, instead revamping the roster through trades and free agency. With the help of GM Daryl Morey, the Rockets have been able to keep a good-not-great product on the court for the better part of the last decade. Morey finally hit the jackpot by landing James Harden, but the culture of the team still lacks a true identity.

There are a few questions about the Rockets having a head coach like Mike D'Antoni, especially when the team's weak point has been on the defensive end. D'Antoni is famous for the 7 Seconds or Less offense, but because his teams played at such a high pace, they gave up a ton of points. This gave D'Antoni a reputation of not caring about defense. In reality, D'Antoni's teams have been largely average defensively.

Despite D'Antoni's overstated deficiencies, Les and Daryl know that the team is in need of a culture shift. The Rockets received scrutiny throughout last year for being lazy and undisciplined on defense, especially the maligned mental lapses that James Harden seemed to encounter.

Enter Jeff Bzdelik.

 Known for his defensive prowess, Bzdelik has been touted as being one of the most prepared, hard-working basketball minds in the game. Bzdelik is said to be at the top of the league when it comes to having his players prepared and educated on his defensive schemes.

More importantly, players are almost universally more disciplined when playing under Bzdelik. His practice habits are designed to get players in peak physical and mental shape, stressing tough endurance training and a strong focus on film study.

When you look at Bzdelik's history, it's not hard to see where his focus on discipline and preparation comes from. Bzdelik is part of the Pat Riley coaching tree, serving as an assistant coach of the Miami Heat from 1995 to 2001. During his tenure in Miami, Pat Riley gave Bzdelik the keys to the defense, allowing him to be the primary defensive coach on the team.

The Heat finished in the top-10 in defensive rating every year he was with the team, including 1st in 1996-97 and 4th in 2000-01. 

Bzdelik then left the Heat to become a scout, and later head coach for the Denver Nuggets after impressing the front office by coaching the summer league team to a 6-0 record. Particularly impressive to the team was how he was able to get the players to play with a tough, gritty edge and still maintain great relationships with them.

In Bzdelik's first season with the Nuggets, the team finished 17-65, but it was not for lack of defensive effort. That team finished 6th in the league in defensive rating, but was dead last in offensive rating.

The team came back the next year and posted the largest increase in wins in NBA history by a team that won less than 20 games the previous season, finishing 43-39. The team was 8th in offensive rating and 13th in defensive rating. Bzdelik was fired the next season after a 13-15 start, much to the surprise and disdain of his players.

Bzdelik then went on to coach in college, where he had stints with Air Force, Colorado, and Wake Forest. He compiled a 135-148 record in that span, reaching the NCAA Tournament and the NIT Semifinals with the Air Force Academy.

In 2014, Bzdelik joined the Memphis Grizzlies as an assistant coach, where the team finished 3rd in defensive rating. Last season, the team wound up riddled with injuries and finished 19th in defensive rating.

There's a pattern with Jeff Bzdelik; the teams he has coached are consistently top-tier defensive teams. He has earned a reputation for being a coach that instills principals and gets results out of players. His teams have played tough, hard-nosed basketball. These are key elements that the Rockets have been missing. The culture of this team has to shift. The Rockets were the laughing stock of the NBA last season, largely due to the fact that no one respects a team, or a superstar, that doesn't play defense. There will be roster changes for the Rockets, and the type of players they're going to attempt to sign will be geared towards this culture shift. By hiring Bzdelik, the Rockets have an opportunity to gain the respect of the league back.


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