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Commentary, news, analysis and reader-driven discussions focusing on this year's NBA playoffs.
5:30 p.m. ET, 5/18/07

Van Gundy Deserved Better

Posted by Marty Burns
Winning 55 percent of his games in four seasons as Rockets coach wasn't enough for Jeff Van Gundy to keep his job.
Forget for a moment whether Jeff Van Gundy is the right man for the Rockets' job. His firing Friday is proof that the NBA is one crazy league.

All Van Gundy did this season was lead the Rockets to a 52-30 record despite center Yao Ming missing two months with a broken leg. It marked the second time in three years he racked up a 50-win campaign, missing out only in 2005-06 when Yao and Tracy McGrady went down with injury for long stretches. In his four years in Houston, Van Gundy was 182-146.

True, Houston flamed out in the first round of the playoffs in three of Van Gundy's four seasons. But this year was the only one in which Houston was favored. And losing to the Jazz in seven games, even with Game 7 at home, isn't exactly an embarrassment.

The bottom line is a coach's job is to win games, and Van Gundy did that in Houston. He even finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting this season.

OK, so maybe Van Gundy's Rockets were about as much fun to watch as a PBS documentary on horseflies. They were a plow horse in the half-court, and perhaps a tad too defensive-oriented. But with a 7-5 center in Yao, doesn't it make sense to build a team in that fashion?

Rockets owner Les Alexander apparently doesn't think so. Like many fans, he reportedly wants Houston to play more up-tempo. Never mind that Yao isn't exactly suited to play a Phoenix-style attack, Alexander wants to see more fireworks.

Fair enough. He is the owner. It's his prerogative.

He might even turn out to be correct.

Rick Adelman appears to be Alexander's choice as the next coach. The former Kings and Blazers coach had high-scoring teams in Sacramento that ran their offense through a center with deft passing skills, such as Yao. Alexander reportedly met recently with Adelman, who has been living in Portland since getting axed by the Kings after last season, to discuss the position.

Larry Brown, a finalist for the Houston opening four years ago, also could be a candidate if Adelman doesn't get the job.

But whether or not this turns out to be the right call, Alexander doesn't look too good for the way it was handled. Why would he meet with Adelman before he'd given Van Gundy the heave-ho? The Rockets are saying Van Gundy was offered another position in the organization, and that they were waiting to hear from him. Adelman clearly must have believed this to be the case, or he wouldn't have agreed to talk about the job. But either way, it sure looks like Houston was looking for a coach behind Van Gundy's back.

Van Gundy, meanwhile, apparently wanted to return. There were reports right after his team's playoff ouster that the veteran coach -- who had a year (nonguaranteed) left on his contract -- might decide not to come back. But Van Gundy said he simply needed more time to make a decision. When he decided that he wanted to stay, the Rockets told him, "Sorry."

The other strange aspect to the Van Gundy saga is the role of new GM Daryl Morey, the stat guru brought in by Alexander last season to take over personnel matters. Morey, who replaces the retired Carroll Dawson, reportedly was willing to keep Van Gundy. But now it appears Alexander has stepped in and big-footed the first decision his young GM would get to make.

Add it all up and it looks like the Rockets really bungled this operation. Instead of making a clean break, they put Van Gundy in an awkward position. Even if you don't prefer his coaching style, he deserved better. But, hey, that's life in the crazy NBA -- and nobody knows that better than Van Gundy, who will be back on the sideline someday in the not-too-distant future.

posted by SI.com | View comments |  


Posted: 6:26 PM, May 18, 2007   by Anonymous
If the Rockets want to run, they better change a lot of their personnel. They don't have the horses.
Posted: 6:29 PM, May 18, 2007   by Anonymous
That picture of Van Gundy says it all -- he could use the break.
Posted: 7:20 PM, May 18, 2007   by Anonymous
Le$ Alexander messed this one up bigtime. Even if he wanted an uptempo game, that would be impossible with the dearth of athleticism of the Rockets. Keep in mind they had Rafer Alston and Chuck Hayes starting, guys would be bench players on any other team. Their drafting has been horrendous and they have no atheletes to push the ball. JVG was wronged, no question about it.
Posted: 7:25 PM, May 18, 2007   by Anonymous
When you can't get out of the first round, especially when you have home court advantage and against a team that you should dominate, the coach is going to take the fall. At times, this seemed like a two-man team and Yao Ming seemed to be regressing. I love Van Gundy but I can see why he is taking the fall.
Posted: 7:52 PM, May 18, 2007   by Anonymous
Need a break? That is a picture of JVG actually looking pretty healthy. Have you seen a picture fromthe last Knick year?
Posted: 8:01 PM, May 18, 2007   by Anonymous
After the Game 7 loss, at home, to Utah; Van Gundy did one of his famous suicidally depressed press conferences, where he said he just didn't know if he wanted to come back or not. He stated that the option wasn't just the Rockets', and that he had to evaluate his own desire to return too. I actually believe he did a good job with a bunch of CBA players and has beens, with no bench, and only two really outstanding players. The rules changes have made big, dominating, half court centers somewhat of a liability at times, and T-Mac can be frustratingly inconsistent. It's a shame, but Van Gundy's drama queen antics put him out of a job. He literally asked for it. C'est la vie.
what a shame! I don't believe Rick A is the answer. Rockets' boss is not smart.
Posted: 8:27 PM, May 18, 2007   by Anonymous
i dont think its fair to put the blame on JVG, t-mac & yao are ok, but the supporting cast has to get better. anybody other than shane battier needs improvement, if they hope to become an elite team
Posted: 8:46 PM, May 18, 2007   by Anonymous
It's times like these when you wish that Rudy Tomjanovich was still the head coach, especially with Yao at the level he is already. I think Adelman would be the best choice however and could probably mold him after Vlade Divac, who wasn't a runner either but he usually set them up with passes.
Posted: 8:54 PM, May 18, 2007   by Kris
Didn't Magic Johnson and the Showtime Lakers run up tempo. Essentially 4 on 5 up tempo, and then if the other team was ready for the break, they waited till Kareem "caught up" and ran 1/2 court set offense. Riley proved up-tempo with a "conventional" center can work and win.
Posted: 9:48 PM, May 18, 2007   by Anonymous
Houston needs Steve Nash in order to go to the next stage. They need a guard. Since Steve is taken, Jason Kidd will be available soon.
Posted: 10:44 PM, May 18, 2007   by Anonymous
h-town teams 4 life... a lot of "so called rockets fans" have no idea what jeff had helped the rockets organization achieve in his 4 years. he took the great additions of l.head c.hayes and (batman)s.battier and a bunch of supposedly washed up has been players in j.howard and mutumbo due to age and t-mac due to contstant back injuries and being labeled as not being able to win a big game while he was playing for the worst of the worst, yao due to lack of experience and toughness and underachiever r.alston who EVERYONE SAID THAT JEFF COULD NOT GET TO FORGET THAT HE WAS NO LONGER PLAYING STREETBALL to the playoffs 3 out of 4 years without a deep bench and so so drafts for consecutive years not to mention the millions wasted on the likes of brent price, stromile swift and the self centered BONZI WELLS. and lets not forget that this was done with significant role players hurt for extended periods of time. this is just another jab to the gut for true nba fans as well as prof. sports fans THAT THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS LOYALTY! JEFF VAN GUNDY DESERVED BETTER AND EVERYONE KNOWS IT! THIS MOVE BY LES ALEXANDER IS ALMOST THE EQUIVALENT OF BUD ADAMS LETTING THE OILERS LEAVE THE H MANY MOONS AGO!
Posted: 12:32 AM, May 19, 2007   by Anonymous
It was time for him to go.
Posted: 12:59 AM, May 19, 2007   by Humair
What a classless, unprofessional way to handle the firing of one of the most professional, hard-working individuals to ever coach an nba game. I agree that they should have fired JVG (inability to develop young talent, inability to mold game plan [see yao ming guarding boozer for whole series], and offensive ineptitude [especially stifling yao's passing ability]), but the way they handled the situation was disrespectful and ridiculous. JVG gave it everything he had and this is how they treat him?! I hope Rick Adelman is taking notes.

P.S. Daryl Morey is another ivy league jacka** that doesn't know how things get done in the real world...he actually had the nerve to call the rockets a 60 win team in order to try and keep fan excitement (he must think we're all a bunch of idiots)...this is an embarrasing time to be a rockets fan

Posted: 2:58 AM, May 19, 2007   by Anonymous
Seems like phoenix's run and gun style is all the rage now. But how many have teams are capable of that - golden state, dallas...? Even then, where are those teams now? That style may be fun to watch, but it still won't win championships in a league that allows guys like bruce bowen to ride steve nash all the way to the hoop. Losing to Utah wasn't van gundy's fault, nor T-Mac's. The rockets lack depth, a point guard that can control the offense, and a center in yao ming that will take charge in crunch time. The team needs an overhaul, but they just took the first step backwards by letting van gundy go.
Van Gundy gets wins because he gets his players to play extremely hard every day. But he doesn't have enough players/talent to win a series. TMac and Yao, when healthy, are a great duo, but they need a third player. A point guard who can nail his 3's at a 40% clip would be ideal - Shane Battier is a nice piece, but in no way is he going to tip them over the edge. Bonzi Wells may have been it, but then again, Bonzi Wells is a cancer.
Dreaming of Chauncey Billups as a Rockets PG...
They better not run, but they need to learn some offense - Van Gundy just couldn't do offense because the GM can't find enough pieces.
Posted: 3:09 AM, May 19, 2007   by ananymous
Since when did uptempo bball involve 7-5 centers?
Did the sixers fastbreak with Malone leading the break?, did the Lakers let Kareem lead the break?, did the Jazz run any break with their center up front? (as long as they had nr 12 feeding the mailman they were o.k.). It is a misconception since a physical freak like Amare, (or Robinson, or Garnett) entered the league that a center SHOULD lead the break to be able to run.
Just get four quick horses that can flat out run and let the centers go baseline to baseline, for a secondary break. You'll be fine as a coach then. It is not rocket science, the game was invented long ago, and if you get your fundamentals right (catch the rebound, outlet pass, and fill the lanes) any team should be able to run. Yao can rebound and outlet pass, but Skip is not a very good point, McGrady doe not fill the lane, and the others should not be starters anyway........
Posted: 8:17 AM, May 19, 2007   by Anonymous
Van Gundy's biggest issue is his inability/lack of desire to trust/coach-up younger players.
Posted: 9:18 AM, May 19, 2007   by Anonymous
I think that Van Gundy new that this team has maxed out and he wa laready getting maximum effort from a roster full of role players. He basically did the same thing in New York and walk when the team had maxed out on potential.
Posted: 10:30 AM, May 19, 2007   by Anonymous
unbelievable, the cavs won the series however you are still talking about Jason Kidd. Why not write about the cavs they are the one that one the series not the nets. Give the cavs some credit.
Posted: 12:36 PM, May 19, 2007   by Anonymous
I second many of the opinions expressed here. I like JVG and his tough defense, but I felt more than once that he really didn't have good offensive plan. In an ideal world, I would like to have someone who could do both really well. That said, I felt Alexander should have been more upfront about why he was going to fire JVG rather than hide as he always does and try to manipulate public opinion. Maybe he wants to make the decisions and only take credit if its a good decision and the current one he is making may not be.
I would love to see JVG back in New York. I think he is a terrific coach. And Isaiah needs someone to coach since he can't do two jobs at once.

As for Houston, Yao can be a dominant force but will never be fierce enough day-in day-out that he and T-Mac can carry a team. Houston should try to get Jason Kidd, KG or any other point guard or big man that can supplement those two. But who would want to live in Houston? I've been there twice for business and couldn't even imagine that people would willingly visit the place.
Posted: 3:37 PM, May 19, 2007   by Anonymous
The Rockets need to draft better and not benefit the Nets, they had Richard Jefferson and traded him to Nets for Eddie Griffin. And now Nachbar is a solid outside shooting contributor for...the Nets.
The Rockets needed a 3rd scorer, people forgot that Jordan and Pip had Toni Kukoc a skilled 6-11 euro that can play all 5 positions and score. Shaq and Kobe had big shot Rob in clutch time.
Hopefully Adelman could run a more creative offense that would use Yao's passing skill to turn him into Divac type center. Some of the other people are right, the Showtime had Kareem and he wasn't known as a runner either, so maybe the Rockets can run.
Posted: 5:43 PM, May 19, 2007   by Anonymous
This was a GREAT move. Yeah, Van Gundy says he wanted to stay AFTER he was fired, but before then he was saying, he NEEDED TIME TO THINK. Van Gundy is not good enough to keep a team waiting. This is the time to find a coach, when guys like Paul Silas and Rick Adelman are still available. Why would you give the Larry Brown/ Brett Favre/ Roger Clemens treatment to a coach who hasn't won anything and has underacheived.
Posted: 6:20 PM, May 19, 2007   by Anonymous
Firing Van Gundy does not mean that the Rockets are trying to play the same style as Phoenix and Golden State. Van Gundy completely ignored the offensive side of the ball. The Rockets had only two offensive plays. 1 Hold the ball for 20 secs, then give it to T Mac for a prayer or jack up a 3. 2 Give the ball to Yao with horrible post position, and let him fail to take advantage of his height/size advantage. The Rockets had no ball movement,no movement away from the ball, no high pct shot attempts, no set plays, and could not even make open layups. These are things that should be coached. Van Gundy did nothing even though he had a top 5 perimeter player and a top 5 post player. Plus he refused to play people who could have contributed, like Bonzi, Spinolous, Snyder, Novack etc. Why would you play T Mac 40 mins a game in the reg season, when he already has back problems.
Posted: 5:55 AM, May 20, 2007   by Anonymous
JVG was amazing as coach of the Knicks, and gave it his all in Houston. But for all of his extreme hard work and coaching intellect, I seriously think the man needs counselling - he seems to suffer from a depressive disorder. And that disorder interferes with his relations with young players, and his public/management personna. He gets down, and others get down on him.
JVG - go talk to someone...if you are already, find someone new. The game needs bright guys like you on the sideline, not on TV as analysts.
Posted: 11:34 AM, May 21, 2007   by Anonymous
Bring back Rudy T!!!!
Posted: 4:08 PM, May 22, 2007   by Anonymous
It's like this....Van Gundy was used as a scapegoat. He was put into a position where he wouldn't flourish. He's a defensive minded coach with a team who'd rather wait under their opponent's basket than run back. The only two who were able to buy into JVG's system were Yao and the workhorse Battier, who is probably the most underappreciated leader in the game. Result: on of the L's best defenses. Pretty good coaching if you ask me. With guys like Rafer and Luther Head (or should I say "mike james the second") running the point, how could Van Grumbles actually implement HIS system? He was set up to fail from the start.
Posted: 6:38 PM, May 22, 2007   by Anonymous
we're supposed to wait on Van Gundy to see if he wants to coach another year? what kind of BS is that?
How much heart does that show your team?
How does a coach dictate what an owner can and can't do?
He can't hold the team hostage while he decides if he can take it for another year!
don't let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya.
If you asked me he was fired about a year too late. You can't have T-mac and play vangundyball...
True, wee need a PG and a PF, but Van Gundy stinks. Adelman may suck too, but at least he's better than JVG.
"unbelievable, the cavs won the series however you are still talking about Jason Kidd. Why not write about the cavs they are the one that one the series not the nets. Give the cavs some credit."

Huh? We're talking about the rockets here.

Anyway, I really don't know how successful this coaching change will be. I've never seen Adelman coach, but I'm sure his offensive system will be better than Van Gundy's. His defense... not so sure about.
I don't think the rockets should try to run at all.Not only is Yao not a fast break kind of person, but McGrady isn't either.They should just seriously improve thier half-court game. Yao could be extremely dangerous if the defenders had to worry about him dumping off to someone like McGrady instead of someone like Head. The way Van Gundy had it, either Luther Head or Shane Battier would cut around yao, and no one is really worried about those two near the key.
Posted: 8:59 PM, May 22, 2007   by Anonymous
If you want to coach and get paid big bucks....tell the owner that. I would never give millions to a coach who says he's not sure that he want's to coach. There are million$ out there who does....bye bye JVG.
Posted: 10:50 PM, May 24, 2007   by Anonymous
Consistent with the traditions of the famous Texas Medical Center, JVG turned the Rockets into the most expensive nursing home in the world. Just look at the payroll. What a shame.
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