Stephen Silas didn’t know he was walking into a rebuilding situation when the Rockets hired him as their head coach prior to the 2020/21 season. Silas was taking over a team that had two perennial All-Stars in James Harden and Russell Westbrook and was coming off a long string of playoff appearances.
Both players recommended Silas for the job, but they both issued trade requests before the start of training camp, with Westbrook being shipped to Washington during the preseason and Harden forcing his way to Brooklyn after eight regular season games. Silas discusses that sudden transition, and all the challenges that followed, in an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic.
“You’re trying to just tackle each situation as it came, whether it was the (Harden) stuff that you read in the paper or online and then having to answer questions about it, or the Russ stuff,” Silas said. “All those things weren’t exactly the things that I thought I was going to be talking about in my first few days as a head coach, and my first few days of training camp having to answer all those questions. But the task is there, and you just kind of do it. It’s hard to say that it was especially hard because I think it’s always going to be hard (laughs). But a task comes, there’s a mountain to climb, so you climb it. There’s a big wave coming in; you move out of the way.”
Silas also credited the Rockets’ ownership and general manager Rafael Stone for supporting him amid the turmoil.
“We were tested early, but my relationship with ownership, my relationship with management is good,” he added. “Through all of this kind of stuff that was going on, that was the thing that I was able to grasp onto and hold onto was knowing that they were in my corner because they selected me.”
Silas addressed several other topics during the interview:
“I think Jalen Green’s growth and improvement encapsulates our season. Early in the season, he was really struggling. He was pressing, not doing what he was used to doing, which is scoring points easily. And it was hard for him. But he worked through it. We stuck with him. And he got better slowly but surely as the season went along and ended up where at the end of the season, he was playing great. Same thing with Kevin Porter Jr. He started the season off turning the ball over quite a bit, learning how to play the point guard position. I think he led the league in turnovers early in the season, but as the season went along, he started to understand.”
On the challenges faced by center Alperen Sengun as he adjusted to the NBA during his rookie season:
“He makes things happen when he has the ball in his hands, whether he’s in the low post, scoring or making passes in the high post, at the elbow, making plays for his teammates. He does a good job of helping his teammates play well. But part of that growth and part of that struggle at the beginning of the season is that nobody knew how to play with him, and he didn’t know how to play with our guys. So as the season went along, it became more natural for guys to know when those passes are coming, and for him to know that this is where you’re gonna most likely get the ball and this is where you can be effective.”
On what he likes about Jabari Smith, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft:
“He is a two-way player and very much a difference-maker as far as his length and his defensive instincts and his rebounding and his grit. He’s a quiet kid, and he can fool you sometimes. When he gets on the court, he is intense and competitive and has an edge to him — which I love. So yeah, his shooting is very good, and that will be his thing offensively, as well as his ability to shot fake and drive the ball and get to the rim, use his length, his offensive rebounding and whatnot. But it’s not very often when you have a high, high pick where you can say ‘Wow, he’s really good on both ends.’ And you can see it, where he could be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor.”
On his relationship with Harden and Westbrook, considering the circumstances of their departure:
“All three people who you mentioned (including former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey) had a big part in me being here and being a head coach in the NBA. So when I see them, there’s definitely no ill will. I’ve been around the NBA my whole life, so I understand the business part of it and everything that goes into that. But yeah, I’m good. I’m good with those guys, and I appreciate them for putting their stamp on my head coaching career.”