Report: Jeff Van Gundy 'gaining traction' as frontrunner, Kenny Smith out of running

By Jorge Flores on May 16, 2016

As the Houston Rockets’ extensive search for a new head coach slowly rolls along, it appears the direction the team wants to go in is finally coming to light. According to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as the top candidate for the job.

Jeff Van Gundy has been rumored to be the Rockets’ top target since the coaching search started, even with the unexpected vacancies of Frank Vogel and Dave Joerger (who has already signed with the Sacramento Kings). Van Gundy has spent the last nine NBA seasons as an analyst for ESPN, after being fired by the Rockets at the conclusion of the 2006-2007 campaign. He coached the Rockets from 2003-2007 to a 182-146 record, making the Playoffs in three of those four seasons but failing to advance past the first round.

JVG’s strengths lie in defense and getting his players to compete at a higher level. These are important factors moving forward, as team chemistry, effort, and defense were the biggest issues that led to such a disappointing season in Houston. Van Gundy may be able to instill a desperately needed culture change that would rely on superstar James Harden to buy in completely. Van Gundy has proven he can work with stars, as he has successfully coached the likes of Patrick Ewing, Tracy McGrady, and Yao Ming. His coaching style can get the Rockets to buy in and back to the elite-level defense needed to win an NBA Championship (his previous Rockets teams finished in the top ten in defensive efficiency from 2003-2007).

Van Gundy has yet to interview with the Rockets as he’s busy covering the NBA Playoffs for ESPN, and his interest in coaching the team isn’t guaranteed. However, it should be noted that although he has always had a desire to return to coaching at, he has been reluctant to move his family out of Houston, where they’ve lived since he last coached.

In addition to the Van Gundy rumors, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports that former Rockets guard and current analyst for TNT’s ‘Inside the NBA’ – Kenny Smith – will no longer be considered for the job. The Rockets are looking to hire someone with experience, whether that is a head coach or an “extremely experienced” assistant. Kenny “The Jet” doesn’t yet fit that bill.

Considering what the Rockets are looking for – an experienced coach who can instill a winning culture and repair team chemistry – it’s no surprise why a guy like Jeff Van Gundy is the top choice for the job. Alas, this is a very important offseason for the organization and the Rockets need to make sure they evaluate every single option available to them.

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