The Rockets are now searching for the third coach of the James Harden era after Mike D'Antoni's departure on Sunday, and Houston's latest hire will be critical in shaping the franchise's future for years to come.
Harden is firmly in his prime ahead of his ninth season with the Rockets. The three-time has an MVP running mate, and while imperfect, there does remain a championship ceiling with Russell Westbrook. So who will take the reins as the Rockets eye the first Finals of the Harden era? There are two notable candidates in the early running.
A pair of Clippers assistants were noted as possible replacements for D'Antoni on Sunday. Houston is reportedly interested in Tyronn Lue for its head coaching vacancy, per Yahoo's Chris Haynes, and ESPN's Tim MacMahon reported there is "mutual interest" between the Rockets and Sam Cassell. The Rockets could be looking at the former player route as they look to build on the progress of the D'Antoni era.
Cassell doesn't have any head coaching experience, though he has been an assistant with Los Angeles since 2014. The former NBA point guard played 15 NBA seasons, including a three-year stint with the Rockets at the start of his career. Cassell won the championship with the Rockets in 1994 and 1995.
Lue played for seven teams in 11 seasons. He was the Cavaliers coach from 2016-19, guiding Cleveland to the championship alongside LeBron James in 2016.
D'Antoni posted a 217–101 record in four years with the Rockets. Houston has made the playoffs in eight straight years with Harden, though it has yet to make the Finals with the 2017-18 MVP.