John Lucas

Rockets Notes: Tate, Mathews, Offense, Smith, Silas, Gordon

Rockets guard Garrison Mathews and forward Jae’Sean Tate have returned to the team’s active lineup and are eager to work with their new colleagues, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

“We have a bunch of new guys so it’s important to play with everybody,” Mathews said. “Everybody’s different this year. We have a bunch of athletic guys, a bunch of guys that can guard. For me, my job stays the same, space, play hard, take charges. That’s (my) main job.”

Tate, meanwhile, is looking to mesh with his new compatriots on defense.

“I think it’s ultimately just to get more chemistry,” Tate said. “Shots are going to come; shots are going to fall throughout the season. Really, my main focus throughout this training camp is to get our communication down, especially on the defensive end, knowing we can trust each other. If we make mistakes or miss gambles, just have that chemistry.”

There’s more out of Houston:

  • The Rockets have plenty of talent on offense, but the club will have to figure out a way to get its sometimes-disparate pieces in sync, opines Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Head coach Stephen Silas and his staff are cooking up creative new ways to incorporate his best players on the hardwood together, though there have been some growing pains. “Our biggest concern — we have a lot of guys who can score — is whether they’re going to share the basketball,” assistant coach John Lucas said. “If they’re going to share the basketball, we’re going to have great continuity, great shots. If we don’t worry about who’s getting what shots, we’ll be very good.”
  • Rockets rookie lottery selection Jabari Smith Jr. suffered a left ankle sprain during the team’s Wednesday practice and will miss Houston’s Friday preseason contest with the Raptors, reports Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle“I would say it was more precautionary” than anything else, noted assistant coach John Lucas, who has been running practices with Stephen Silas currently sidelined. Silas has missed the team’s last three practices while in the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, though the team hopes he will return in time for tomorrow’s Raptors game, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle in a separate piece.
  • Veteran Rockets shooting guard Eric Gordon has changed agencies, sources inform Kelly Iko of The Athletic (Twitter link). Gordon – who is under contract through 2024, albeit with a non-guaranteed salary next season – has departed longtime representatives Landmark Sports Agency in favor of CAA.

Rockets Weighing Stephen Silas’ Future?

The Rockets are weighing the future of head coach Stephen Silas, sources with knowledge of the situation tell Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report. Fischer suggests Silas could become the next NBA head coach on the hot seat following Luke Walton‘s dismissal earlier this week.

Fischer’s report comes with a handful of caveats. Unlike Walton’s Kings, there were no playoff expectations for Silas’ Rockets this season. Additionally, staffers in Houston aren’t “waiting for this shoe drop” in the same way that team personnel in Sacramento were anticipating Walton’s exit. Still, Fischer says whispers have grown louder as of late about Silas’ job security — he has just one more year left on his contract after the 2021/22 season.

Silas’ primary goal for a Houston team without real playoff aspirations has been developing young players like Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. Those youngsters have gotten off to slow starts in 2021/22, and Fischer says rival coaches characterize the team’s offense as “disorganized and undisciplined.”

The 1-16 Rockets have the NBA’s worst offensive rating, worst assist-to-turnover ratio, and highest turnover rate. Of course, those numbers may be more the byproduct of the young, inexperienced roster than of Silas’ coaching.

As Fischer points out, Houston didn’t initially hire Silas expecting him to oversee a full-fledged rebuild, but the team has gone in that direction over the last 12 months, opting to pass on promising young players in favor of future draft picks in January’s James Harden blockbuster. Some people around the league believe Silas has been put in an impossible position.

“(Silas) is genuinely one of the nicest people in the NBA. He actually cares about people,” one assistant general manager told Fischer. “To put him with a bunch of really young dudes who probably don’t care about anything but their numbers and playing time, he’s just not the right fit.”

Another Western Conference executive who spoke to Bleacher Report wondered what exactly Silas was supposed to do with this year’s roster.

Although there’s no indication that any head coaching change is imminent, Fischer hears from multiple sources that veteran assistant John Lucas II, who has a strong relationship with general manager Rafael Stone, would be the likely interim replacement if Silas is let go during the season.

According to Fischer, Stone is more hands-on than the average NBA general manager, having walked onto Houston’s practice court at one point to preach defensive philosophy. If he were to make a coaching change, the GM would likely want to continue to have the same level of input into on-court tactics and decisions that he does now.

Rockets Notes: House, Christopher, Lucas, Green

When he first joined the Rockets in 2018/19, Danuel House was a young player being shown the ropes by veterans like James Harden and Chris Paul. Three years later, the 28-year-old has become one of the veterans on a young Houston squad and has embraced the responsibility that comes along with that, as Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle writes.

“As one of the older guys, it’s helping guys, especially guys in my position, knowing who we guard and what we’re doing,” House said. “The same thing I was taught is what I’m giving back. It’s a cycle. What the guys that were here in a Rockets uniform taught me before they went to their next destination. I’m trying to give it to the guys that are still here with me.”

House has missed the Rockets’ last six games due to a sprained right foot, but is poised to return to action on Wednesday vs. Detroit.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • Although he was a first-round pick in July, Josh Christopher hasn’t seem much action yet and has been overshadowed by Houston’s more high-profile rookies. However, the Rockets have loved the team-first attitude he has brought to the club, per Kelly Iko of The Athletic. “The way he talks, the way he works: during practice, after practice, before games, after games. The spirit that he offers up to the group. All those things are what culture personified looks like,” assistant coach Will Weaver said. “And when you can have someone doing that who’s not getting minutes, that to me speaks even louder than guys who are in the rotation providing those kinds of behaviors.”
  • Tim MacMahon of ESPN takes a look at the impact that veteran assistant coach John Lucas is having on the Rockets’ youngsters, including No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green and third-year guard Kevin Porter Jr. By his own admission, Lucas takes more of a tough-love approach to teaching than head coach Stephen Silas, who is relatively laid back. Discussing his work with Green, Lucas said, “My love for him is not praising his ass, but to keep a foot in it.”
  • Given that the Rockets project to be picking pretty high in the 2022 draft, Matt Young of The Houston Chronicle decided to take an early look at some of the top college prospects that fans in Houston should be monitoring this season.

Bucks, Heat Also Among Harden’s Preferred Trade Destinations

James Harden now has the Bucks and Heat among his preferred trade destinations, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic. Milwaukee and Miami join Brooklyn and Philadelphia as the top landing spots on Harden’s wish list.

As we observed on Tuesday when we wrote about Harden adding the Sixers to his list of preferred destinations, the Rockets are under no obligation to send the former MVP to one of the teams on his list, since he has multiple years left on his contract and doesn’t have the ability to veto trades. However, it’s possible those clubs would be more willing to offer significant packages for Harden if they know he wants to play for them.

Neither Milwaukee nor Miami looks like an ideal trade partner for Houston, however, given the Rockets’ asking price of an All-Star caliber player plus several young players and/or draft picks. Both the Bucks and Heat have traded away multiple future first-round picks and/or pick swaps, compromising their ability to build an offer heavy on draft assets.

As for potential centerpieces, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo would presumably be off the table in any deal with Miami, while Milwaukee obviously isn’t moving Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks have other former All-Stars in Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, but neither is on a particularly team-friendly contract — Middleton is owed $147MM over four years, while Holiday can reach free agency in 2021. Tyler Herro would be an intriguing target in any deal with the Heat, but has only played one season, so the Rockets would have to be awfully high on his potential to accept a package built around him.

The Nets and 76ers are still atop Harden’s wish list, according to Charania, who says the 31-year-old has been “resigned to the belief” that he can no longer compete for a championship in Houston.

However, Charania hears that the Rockets have no interest in a Brooklyn offer that doesn’t include Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving. A Sixers offer would likely have to include Ben Simmons, but new head coach Doc Rivers has “privately made clear” that he wants an opportunity to try to maximize the potential of the Simmons/Joel Embiid duo, Charania writes.

General manager Daryl Morey and the Philadelphia front office, having added sharpshooters Seth Curry and Danny Green to complement Simmons and Embiid, appear committed to keeping their two young stars for the time being.

Harden is currently going through the NBA’s coronavirus testing process and will have to register six negative tests before he’s cleared to practice with the Rockets. According to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle, Harden only requires three negative tests to begin individual workouts, and Charania suggests the superstar guard is expected to have a workout in front of team personnel soon.

According to Charania, Harden has “maintained a dialogue” with trusted Rockets assistant coach John Lucas, even as he has been non-communicative at times with the club’s front office.

Rockets Add Hornacek To Silas’ Coaching Staff

The Rockets have hired Jeff Hornacek as an assistant on Stephen Silas’ staff, according to a team press release.

Hornacek was the head coach in Phoenix for 2 1/2 seasons from 2013-16 and in New York for two seasons from 2016-18. Previous reports indicated Houston was close to an agreement with Hornacek and now it’s official.

John Lucas, who was reportedly one of the finalists to replace Mike D’Antoni as head coach, will remain in the organization as an assistant. Will Weaver, Rick Higgins, and DeSagana Diop will also join Silas’ staff.

Weaver was the head coach of the Sydney Kings in Australia after being named NBA G League Coach of the Year for the 2018/19 season with the Long Island Nets. Higgins spent the past two seasons with the Magic as associate coach/player development, while Diop spent the past four seasons on the Jazz’s staff.

Rockets Rumors: Westbrook, Gordon, House, Rivers, Tucker, More

Within their full report on Russell Westbrook‘s desire to leave Houston, Kelly Iko, Sam Amick, and Shams Charania of The Athletic write that the former MVP had made it known “for quite some time” that he wanted to see major changes to the Rockets‘ culture. Specifically, Westbrook was seeking more “team-wide accountability, discipline and structure,” and hoped to establish a culture similar to the one he’d helped create in Oklahoma City.

Westbrook wasn’t the only Rockets player who experienced some frustrations during the 2019/20 season. According to The Athletic’s report, Eric Gordon hasn’t been pleased with how his responsibilities and importance have diminished in recent years and has wanted a more consistent role. The Rockets reportedly discussed playing Gordon less often with Westbrook and James Harden to optimize his skill set, but Mike D’Antoni resisted changes to his staggering strategy.

Danuel House also wasn’t thrilled with his role in Houston’s offense and how he was used, according to Iko, Amick, and Charania, who say that the young forward “verbally challenged” Westbrook, Harden, and D’Antoni. Additionally, Austin Rivers were unhappy with inconsistent playing time and his usage, per The Athletic. Following one game when D’Antoni was about to sub in Rivers before changing his mind and inserting DeMarre Carroll instead, Rivers went on an “expletive-laden tirade.”

Many of those frustrations can be traced back to a lack of accountability, sources tell The Athletic. According to Iko, Amick, and Charania, during one team meeting following a January loss, Westbrook went around the room and gave suggestions about what each player could do to help reverse the team’s slide — Harden wasn’t as receptive to to criticism as other Rockets players, per The Athletic’s sources.

Concerns about the Rockets’ culture date back past the 2019/20 season, as there’s a belief the team has catered too much to its stars. When Trevor Ariza left the club in 2018, he wanted to join an organization that would give him more respect, according to The Athletic. When Houston later expressed interest in bringing back Ariza, he sought an apology that he never received, sources tell Iko, Amick, and Charania. There have also been some complaints over the years from Rockets players about the team’s style of play and its unwillingness to make adjustments.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • P.J. Tucker has been “irate” all season long about his contract situation, believing he’s extremely underpaid relative to his role and production, according to Iko, Amick, and Charania. Tucker feels as though he deserves a raise and has been upset by the Rockets’ unwillingness to sign him to an extension, per The Athletic.
  • D’Antoni’s and Daryl Morey‘s departures after the 2019/20 season have played a large part in creating doubt in Harden’s and Westbrook’s minds about the Rockets’ ability to sustain long-term success, according to Iko, Amick, and Charania. While both stars have had input on decisions and support the hiring of new head coach Stephen Silas, they’re concerned about the possibility of an eventual rebuild, which they’d have no interest in.
  • Retaining veteran assistant John Lucas in a key role on Silas’ staff was meant to send a “clear message” to Westbrook and Harden that Houston remains committed to contending, according to The Athletic’s report.
  • Appearing on The Ringer’s Real Ones podcast earlier this week, Austin Rivers strongly suggested that he intends to turn down his 2020/21 player option, which is worth the veteran’s minimum. “That’s something I’m going through right now with my agent,” Rivers said. “I definitely want to probably be out there on the market and just see what else is out there. But I love Houston; Houston’s still one of my main options. That’s a team I loved playing for. But there’s other teams out there that you want to look at. You owe it to yourself to at least see the best situation for yourself.”
  • In Thursday’s episode of Brian Windhorst’s Hoop Collective podcast, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon said Serge Ibaka will be high on the Rockets’ list of free agent targets this offseason, though he may be out of the club’s price range.

Rockets Notes: Harden, Silas, Diop, Higgins, Weaver, McMillan

New Rockets general manager Rafael Stone says he’s committed to building a championship team around James Harden, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN. There has been speculation former Rockets GM and newly-hired Sixers executive Daryl Morey would try to acquire the former MVP.

“We’ve still got James Harden. Our goal is still to win a championship, and if you’ve got him, you’re halfway there,” Stone said. “It’s incumbent on me and (new coach) Stephen (Silas) and the whole team to figure out the rest of the whole, but the key piece is there.”

Silas embraces those expectations and the pressure that comes with it. “I’m a win-now coach,” he said. “To not have to deal with growing and all that type of stuff, to think championship right away, is exciting for me. And I’m prepared for it and ready for it.”

We have more on the Rockets:

  • Silas’ contract is a four-year deal, Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston tweets. Silas was officially hired on October 30 after being one of the presumed finalists along with Jeff Van Gundy and John Lucas, who has decided to remain in Houston and join Silas’ staff.
  • As previously reported, the team has talked to former Suns and Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek about joining their coaching staff. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has uncovered a few other candidates that the Rockets are interested in hiring. Jazz assistant DeSagana Diop, Magic assistant Rick Higgins and former Sixers and Nets assistant Will Weaver are also possible additions to the staff, though Weaver is also a candidate for the Thunder’s head coaching job.
  • The front office aggressively pursued former Pacers head coach Nate McMillan to join the staff but he opted to instead join the Hawks’ staff under Lloyd Pierce, Berman adds in another tweet. Atlanta is close to hiring McMillan, though no official announcement has been made.

John Lucas To Remain With Rockets On Silas’ Staff

Veteran coach John Lucas, who has been in Houston for the last four years in a player development role, will remain with the Rockets, having agreed to be part of new head coach Stephen Silas‘ staff, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter link).

A former first overall pick as an NBA player, Lucas transitioned to coaching in the early 1990s and has spent time as a head coach for the Spurs, Sixers, and Cavaliers. The 66-year-old was also an assistant for the Nuggets and Clippers before eventually joining the Rockets in 2016.

After spending four years working under Mike D’Antoni, Lucas was a candidate to be promoted to take D’Antoni’s place as head coach in Houston. He was reportedly one of three finalists – alongside Silas and Jeff Van Gundy – and there was a belief that some Rockets players were pulling for him to get the job.

When the team opted instead for Silas, it wasn’t clear whether Lucas would stick around. However, new general manager Rafael Stone is said to be one of Lucas’ biggest backers in the organization and the two sides were apparently able to work out a new deal.

The Rockets are reportedly hoping that Silas’ coaching staff will include at least two former NBA head coaches. Lucas fits that bill, though it looks like the club will miss out on rumored target Nate McMillan. Houston was also said to be in talks with Jeff Hornacek.

Rockets Notes: Lucas, Van Gundy, Harden, More

Although new Rockets general manager Rafael Stone opted for Stephen Silas over John Lucas as the team’s new head coach, Stone has been Lucas’ “biggest backer” within the organization in recent years, according to Marc Stein of The New York Times. Stone was a driving force in bringing Lucas back to coaching in 2016, when Houston hired him as its director of player development, says Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

The Rockets and Silas are working hard to keep Lucas on the team’s staff and to install him in a more prominent role, tweets Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston. A source tells Feigen that, as of Tuesday, the two sides were in “extensive talks” on a deal that would keep Lucas in Houston as a member of Silas’ staff. While no deal is in place yet, there’s optimism one could get done on Wednesday, Feigen notes.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • Sources tell Marc Berman of The New York Post that Jeff Van Gundy “sent mixed vibes” regarding his interest in the Rockets’ job after interviewing with the team. Berman speculates that Van Gundy may have had concerns about the James Harden/Russell Westbrook fit or that he was just comfortable with his role as an analyst for ABC and ESPN.
  • According to Berman, some Rockets players were pulling for Lucas to get the team’s head coaching job. Marc Stein, meanwhile, says Harden’s top two endorsements for Lucas and Tyronn Lue. Rival teams are wondering if Harden is at all perturbed by the club’s eventual hire and whether the Rockets will become open to trading their superstar guard, Stein adds. Based on other recent reports, it sounds like that’s not an option Houston will consider this offseason.
  • In a pair of stories for The Athletic, Kelly Iko and John Hollinger evaluated a series of hypothetical trades involving the Rockets.

Rockets Hire Stephen Silas As Head Coach

OCTOBER 30: The Rockets have made it official, announcing in a press release that they’ve hired Silas as their new head coach. Team owner Tilman Fertitta referred to the opportunity as “well-earned and long overdue” for Silas.

“The success Coach Silas had with Dallas last season reinforced the notion that he is more than ready to lead his own team,” GM Rafael Stone said in a statement of his own. “The strengths of our core players are a great fit for Coach Silas’ system and ideology and I’m looking forward to working with him to find ways we can continue to improve our roster.”

OCTOBER 28: The Rockets and Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas are finalizing a deal that will make him the team’s new head coach, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter). Silas had been one of three presumed finalists for the position, along with former NBA head coaches Jeff Van Gundy and John Lucas.

Van Gundy and Lucas were rumored to be the frontrunners to replace Mike D’Antoni in Houston at various points during the Rockets’ head coaching search process, but the Rockets opted for a first-time head coach rather than a veteran with experience in the role.

Silas, the son of former NBA star and coach Paul Silas, was hired in 1999 as a scout by the franchise known at the time as the Charlotte Hornets and has since served as an assistant on a number of NBA coaching staffs. After spending four years as an assistant with Golden State from 2006-10 and eight years with the Bobcats/Hornets from 2010-18, he moved to Dallas in 2018, where he spent the last two years as a member of Rick Carlisle‘s staff.

Silas has received consideration for multiple head coaching jobs in recent years, having reportedly drawn interest from Indiana and Chicago this year in addition to Houston. According to Wojnarowski (via Twitter), the Rockets were impressed with Silas’ “offensive ingenuity,” as well as his pedigree as an assistant.

According to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (via Twitter), the Rockets moved “increasingly” over the weekend toward Silas. He had a Zoom call with many Houston players last night, which represented an important final step, since those players were all on board with the decision, a source tells Feigen.

As Woj points out, Silas will be tasked with coaching and running an offense for former MVPs Russell Westbrook and James Harden after having worked with a handful of other star guards during his career as an assistant, including Luka Doncic, Stephen Curry, and Kemba Walker. He’ll also oversee a period of transition within the franchise — in addition to making a head coaching change, the Rockets have also undergone a major front office overhaul this fall, with longtime GM Daryl Morey leaving the organization.

The Rockets are expected to help Silas build an experienced coaching staff that includes at least two former head coaches, according to Feigen. The team has begun talks with Nate McMillan and Jeff Hornacek, and will likely make Lucas an offer to remain with the franchise, either as an assistant or in a new capacity, Feigen adds.

With Silas poised to become the Rockets’ new coach, only one NBA team – the Thunder – has yet to finalize its head coaching search.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.