Report: Rockets Eye ‘Culture Reset’ After Mike D’Antoni Exit

Michael Shapiro

The last four seasons in Houston have marked one of the most successful stretches in franchise history, with former head coach Mike D’Antoni generating four straight playoff appearances alongside James Harden. But after another ugly playoff exit, the Rockets appear to be eyeing a new strategy in the next decade.

D’Antoni kicked off the first change to the Rockets on Sunday when he announced he will not be returning for a fifth season. And considering Houston’s personnel and contract situation, a new head coach could be the only new aspect of the organization in the ninth year of the Harden era. 

“The Rockets, meanwhile, now find themselves in a bit of quandary,” The Athletic’s Sam Amick and Kelly Iko wrote on Tuesday. “They have Harden and Westbrook on the books for massive money in these next three seasons [with player options in the final campaign], and will look to conduct a culture reset of sorts.”

So who exactly will be tabbed to lead Houston’s culture reset? There are no shortage of potential candidates. Clippers assistants Tyronn Lue and Sam Cassell have reportedly received interest from the Rockets, as has former Houston coach and current NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy. Houston’s next head coach will join an organization with championship expectations. Owner Tilman Fertitta will be making the most important decision of his brief tenure after D’Antoni’s departure.

It will be difficult for any new coach to top D’Antoni’s success in Houston. No team has won more regular-season games since 2016, and the Rockets were on pace to win 50 games for the fourth straight season in 2019-20 before the COVID-19 suspension. The expectations are clear. It’s now Finals or bust for the Rockets. The next head coach could be given a short leash, even in a crowded Western Conference.

Comments (2)
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It will take more than a culture reset. The top NBA teams are all highly competitive.The Rockets must do something that differentiates them - this won't be achieved through personnel, coaches, management or ownership. Look at the record.

What could a new Rockets coach accomplish with nine points more a game and consistency that would:

  1. Almost eliminate streaks/runs
  2. Put the Rockets in position to control and dictate the style of play throughout the game
  3. Work with the current roster
    This would require buy-in and commitment from coaches, players, management and owner.
    It would cost appreciable money but it would not be against the cap.
    This would be a tweak not a blowup.
    The players and coaches would be working with performance information (know your numbers) that no one has had previously. This can be achieved through using applied technology during training and analysis of game performance.

Imagine the Rockets team with no 0 for 7’s on 3-pointers, no scoring gaps in the game, Westbrook with a consistent 3-point shot(scary) and everyone’s game consistently up. That’s what can happen.

This is mainly a decision for the owner. In the Rockets organization, just as with every other NBA franchise, the management, coaching staff and players must be very risk adverse. There is no place higher for them to go - change, even though minor, must be avoided. So, the owner (who benefits greatly from an NBA championship) must not only come up with the money but, also, assume the risk. The owner must make certain that every member of the franchise understands this and that the other members of the organization can share positive results but would be held blameless should there be a negative outcome. No one should feel a need to hedge their position on acceptance of the slightly different way of doing things to protect their future.

It would take 15 minutes to check this out Mr. Fertitta, otherwise your chances are a crap-shoot.