HOUSTON -- If Jeff Van Gundy had decided sooner that he
wanted to return to the Houston Rockets, he would still have a job.
At least that's what the team was saying Friday after firing him.
The Rockets' Game 7 loss to Utah meant a first-round exit for
the third time in Van Gundy's four seasons, raising the possibility
that the coach would step down or be dismissed by owner Les
The 45-year-old Van Gundy had one season left on a nonguaranteed
contract. When the season ended, Van Gundy said he needed time to
ponder his future and while he did, the Rockets contacted at least
one possible replacement.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said Van Gundy gave the team
his blessing to seek other candidates, in case he decided not to
coach anymore. But Van Gundy said he told the Rockets all along
that he wanted to come back as coach.
"You're always disappointed when you're fired. It's
difficult," Van Gundy said. "But I was a little bit more upset
when it was being spun that I hadn't come to a decision about
wanting to coach. I had told them long ago that I wanted to coach
if they wanted me.
"And, obviously, they felt that they were better served going a
different direction, which is well within their right," he said.
"I both accept that and yet at the same time, respectfully
disagree with that decision."
By the middle of this week, all the Rockets were ready to offer
Van Gundy was a senior consulting position. On Friday morning, Van
Gundy turned it down and the team let him go.
"Early this week, it really hadn't come to a head until Jeff
came to us and said he wanted to coach," Morey said. "At that
point, we were positive about alternative candidates."
The Rockets have reportedly contacted Rick Adelman, the former
coach of Portland, Golden State and Sacramento.
The 35-year-old Morey, who's been on the job less than two
weeks, wouldn't specify if one of the "alternative candidates"
was Adelman. He did say the Rockets had a "very short list" of
replacements in mind.
"The details of who we're interviewing and when," Morey said.
"we're leaving to the resolution."
The Rockets went 182-146 under Van Gundy, including 52-30 this
season. But Houston went 7-12 in three postseason appearances and
more was expected from teams anchored by All-Stars Tracy McGrady
and Yao Ming.
Van Gundy may be headed back to one of his old jobs. He was
working as a guest analyst for ESPN on Friday night's playoff game
between Phoenix and San Antonio.
You're always disappointed when you're fired. It's difficult. But I was a little bit more upset
when it was being spun that I hadn't come to a decision about wanting to coach. I had told them long ago that I wanted to coach if they wanted me.
-- Jeff Van Gundy
"I was going to do this regardless of my situation for a few
games," Van Gundy said. "As far as long term, I hadn't really
thought about it until last night, when I sort of knew that I was
going to be fired. So I haven't really had a chance to think about
it too much."
Van Gundy wasn't ready to say he would coach again.
"I don't think you're ever ready for a day when you're let go,
but over time I'll be able to think about it and make a good
decision," he said.
San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, one of Van Gundy's
closest friends, wasn't surprised by the Rockets' move, even after
Van Gundy led Houston to its best record since 1997.
"It's the world we live in and we've all seen it before,"
Popovich said before his team met Phoenix in Game 6 on Friday
night. "Oftentimes how well one did has nothing to do with what
might happen. We're not in control of all the circumstances that
Van Gundy was working in television when the Rockets hired him
before the 2003-04 season. Before that, Van Gundy coached the New
York Knicks for seven seasons, leading them to the NBA finals in
Van Gundy's career coaching record is 430-318, 44-44 in the
postseason. He finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting this
"He's a great coach," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said. "In
this profession, you're going to get fired. He was almost coach of
the year this year. He'll get another team and he'll be a great
Morey said that even if the Rockets would have reached the
Western Conference finals, Van Gundy's situation would have
unfolded the same way.
"The process would've played out similarly, if he would've had
the same uncertainty after the year," Morey said. "That's not
meant as a knock on Jeff. We felt like we had to protect the
Rockets' interests first."
Morey said the Rockets tried to open contract negotiations with
Van Gundy around the All-Star break, but Van Gundy said he wanted
to wait until the end of the season.