Wes Unseld Jr.

Rockets Coaching Candidates Knew Of Morey’s Decision

While Daryl Morey’s decision to step down as the Rockets’ GM surfaced this week, he said that coaching candidates were notified during the interviewing process that he was departing, Kelly Iko and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

Morey made up his mind nearly a month ago, a day after the team was eliminated from the Western Conference playoffs. Family considerations were the main reason why he chose to leave at this time.

“I mean he just said, ‘You know, I’m kind of just struggling and don’t know what I want to do,’” owner Tilman Fertitta said. “To tell y’all, when we signed Daryl’s last extension, Daryl told me, ‘You know, I’m not going to always be here (and) when my last son graduates (I might leave).'”

Head coach Mike D’Antoni decided he didn’t want to remain in the organization on the plane ride home and Morey said all of D’Antoni’s potential replacements were told that he was headed out, as well.

“We’ve been up front with all the candidates that this was coming and they’ve been respectful to not have it get out early,” said Morey, who added that D’Antoni’s parting did not impact his decision. “It’s been baked in.”

The Athletic duo, though, said that it hasn’t been quite that transparent. At least two of those candidates were uncertain why Rafael Stone, the executive VP of basketball operations who is replacing Morey as GM, was leading the interviewing process. They were not directly told Morey was going to step down.

Morey had essentially been operating as a consultant the past few weeks, The Athletic confirmed.

Houston has interviewed Jeff Van Gundy, Ty Lue, Kenny Atkinson, Stephen Silas, David Vanterpool, Wes Unseld Jr., and John Lucas for the vacant coaching job. Lue has agreed to coach the Clippers, while Van Gundy, Silas and Lucas appear to be the top remaining candidates for the Rockets.

Latest On Rockets’ Head Coaching Search

The Rockets‘ pool of candidates to replace Mike D’Antoni as the team’s new head coach still consists of seven names for now, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. According to Feigen, the club hasn’t ruled out expanding the interview process beyond those seven candidates, but has been “pleased” with its meetings so far.

Houston met last week with current assistant coaches Stephen Silas (Mavericks), David Vanterpool (Timberwolves), and Wes Unseld Jr. (Nuggets), as well as former Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson.

According to Feigen, team officials have since met with Rockets player development coach John Lucas as well, and Tyronn Lue‘s interview is scheduled to happen today. Jeff Van Gundy is also expected to interview with Houston now that his broadcasting duties for ABC and ESPN have come to an end for the season.

It’s not clear yet whether the Rockets will be prepared to make a decision on their new head coach after completing their meetings with Lue and Van Gundy. As Feigen writes, it’s possible the team will want to narrow down the field and bring back finalists for follow-up sessions, but team owner Tilman Fertitta has been part of the interview process already, so it’s not as if contenders for the position still need to meet with him.

The Rockets are one of five NBA teams still seeking a new head coach, along with the Pelicans, Pacers, Thunder, and Clippers.

Northwest Notes: Jazz, Vanterpool, Unseld, McCollum

The Jazz had a relatively successful 2019/20 run, culminating in a first round 4-3 loss to the Nuggets sans start small forward Bojan Bogdanović. As the team looks to improve this offseason, Sarah Todd of The Deseret News assesses possible free agent additions for the Jazz, with input from some Utah fans.

Todd looks at the potential fit and cost of Suns center Aron Baynes, Pacers wing Justin Holiday, Bulls combo guard Shaquille Harrison, Pistons power forward Christian Wood, and Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. — all are role players who could especially help the team’s defense.

There’s more out of the NBA’s Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves associate head coach David Vanterpool ranks among the top candidates for the head job with the ThunderJoe Mussatto of the Oklahoman runs through Vanterpool’s resume and apparent coaching style. “I have different philosophies when it comes to schematics and how you want to approach a situation,” Vanterpool said in a May conversation with the NBA Coaches Association.
  • Nuggets lead assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr. has been interviewed by the Rockets and Clippers about each of those Western Conference playoff contenders’ head coaching vacancies, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Unseld is known around the league to be a player-friendly, defensive-oriented coach. After the Nuggets defeated the Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinals, Unseld was singled out for praise by head coach Mike Malone“Wes Unseld should be a head coach,” Malone raved. “Our defense in the last three games [all Nuggets wins] has been phenomenal.”
  • Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com tweets that Trail Blazers starting shooting guard CJ McCollum expects to resume all his basketball activities with no restrictions in November as he continues to rehabilitate from the lower back injury he incurred during the NBA’s summer restart. “Got a little plan together from a rehab standpoint to kind of make sure everything is in place,” McCollum said.

Rockets Notes: Nnaji, Oturu, Silas, Unseld

The Rockets are currently the only team that doesn’t hold a pick in the 2020 NBA draft, but the club has been doing its homework on prospects from this year’s draft class. According to Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News (Twitter link), Zeke Nnaji and Daniel Oturu are among the prospects that Houston has either interviewed already or plans to interview.

Nnaji and Oturu are the 35th and 36th overall prospects on ESPN’s 2020 big board, so it’s possible that the Rockets are exploring the idea of trading into the second round — Wolfson suggests he wouldn’t be surprised if Daryl Morey contacts old friend Gersson Rosas, whose Timberwolves hold the No. 33 overall pick.

Still, the Rockets may very well just be doing their due diligence on the players entering the league this year so that there are no gaps in their scouting reports. Even if they don’t acquire a pick in this year’s draft, the Rockets will likely have an opportunity at some point down the road to trade for or sign players from the 2020 class, so it makes sense for the club to take advantage of its present opportunity to get to know some of those prospects.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • Within his latest mailbag, Kelly Iko of The Athletic explores which Rockets players might be trade candidates this offseason and which free agents the club could realistically target.
  • In a separate article for The Athletic, as part of his ongoing look at several of the candidates for the Rockets’ head coaching job, Kelly Iko evaluates the merits of a pair of assistants, Stephen Silas and Wes Unseld Jr. According to Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston (via Twitter), Unseld’s previously-reported interview with the team has now taken place. Silas has reportedly met with the Rockets as well.
  • In case you missed it, we also relayed earlier today that former Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson and Timberwolves assistant David Vanterpool have interviewed for the Rockets’ head coaching position.

Southwest Notes: Louzada, Burke, Rockets, Crowder

The Sydney Kings of Australia’s NBL announced Wednesday that Pelicans’ 2019 second-round pick Didi Louzada will be returning for his second season (Twitter link). The Brazilian wing player had confirmed the news of him coming back to Sydney a couple of hours earlier (Twitter link).

Last season as a rookie, the 21-year-old Louzada averaged 11.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG, and 1.7 APG for Sydney. The NBL’s 2020-21 season is scheduled to begin in December and will wrap up in April.

Matt Logue of The Telegraph reported that Louzada can make his NBA debut at any time as the Pelicans own his draft rights. As things stand, there’s not a set date on when the 2020/21 NBA regular season will begin.

Here’s more from across the Southwest Division:

  • Before he joined the Mavericks in the bubble this summer, Trey Burke battled COVID-19, writes Callie Caplan of The Dallas News. The veteran guard discussed his trials and tribulations with the virus, including being quarantined for weeks in a Dallas hotel. “At this point, it was like 21, 22 days,” Burke said. “I was really concerned at that point because I was thinking my career was in jeopardy. I needed an opportunity before the bubble, and Dallas, a team I’m familiar with, calls me, and I can’t get to the bubble because of coronavirus.” The former first-round pick was eventually cleared to join Dallas in Orlando after his 25th day of quarantine.
  • With Mike D’Antoni not returning next season, the Rockets are beginning their search for a new head coach, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Wojnarowski reported on Wednesday that Houston has received permission to interview Nuggets assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr. and Mavericks assistant coach Stephen Silas. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle initially reported the Rockets’ interest in both assistant coaches, along with five other head coaching candidates.
  • At NBA Finals Media Day on Tuesday, Heat forward Jae Crowder spoke about his brief time with the Grizzlies this season, writes Mark Giannotto of Commercial Appeal. The veteran forward explained how he had to take on more of a leadership role for the young Grizzlies’ team. “Being in Memphis, I took on a different role. I took on a role I’d never taken on before in an NBA locker room,” he said. “And that’s just being a main leader, being a main vocal point, being the main guy who the young guys can lean on.” Crowder was acquired by Miami in a multi-player trade at February’s trade deadline.

Rockets Notes: Butler, Coaching Search, Lue, JVG, Cassell

Before he committed to the Heat during last year’s free agency period, Jimmy Butler was a prime target for the Rockets, who attempted to go all-in for him on two separate occasions, as Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle details.

Houston’s first run at Butler came during the 2018/19 league year, when he was being shopped by the Timberwolves. At the time, the Rockets were willing to offer a package that included four first-round picks, but Minnesota ultimately preferred a Philadelphia offer headlined by two affordable veterans who were ready to contribute immediately (Robert Covington and Dario Saric).

Still convinced that Butler could be the player that helped push the team over the top, Rockets GM Daryl Morey was prepared to renew his push for him during 2019’s free agent period. According to Feigen, the club was lining up trades to move Clint Capela and Eric Gordon in order to create the cap flexibility necessary to land Butler. However, despite the fact that he’s from the Houston area and is close with James Harden, Butler decided early in free agency that he wanted to head to Miami, closing the door on the Rockets’ pursuit.

Here’s more on the Rockets, with a focus on their head coaching search:

  • While the Rockets have interest in Doc Rivers, they’re also preparing to schedule meetings with several other candidates for their head coaching job. According to Feigen, Houston had planned to begin scheduling those interviews by this Wednesday and Thursday, and the club’s list of candidates is expected to include Tyronn Lue, Jeff Van Gundy, Kenny Atkinson, Wes Unseld Jr., Stephen Silas, and perhaps Sam Cassell.
  • Lue and Van Gundy were the first two candidates identified as possibilities for the Clippers, but it sounds like both coaches are high on Houston’s list as well. According to Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter links), Morey wanted to hire Van Gundy in 2016 and owner Tilman Fertitta is believed to be a JVG fan, while Lue has also “received support” for the Rockets’ job.
  • Kelly Iko of The Athletic explores whether Lue or Cassell would be good fits as the Rockets’ head coach, expressing a belief that Cassell may actually check a lot of the boxes on Houston’s list.

Charania’s Latest: Pacers, Donovan, Bulls, Nurse, More

The Pacers have added another name to their list of head coaching candidates, having interview former Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan last week, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic.

While Donovan’s addition increases the number of candidates connected to the Pacers to a total of 18, Charania hears that the team is expected to only interview about a dozen contenders for the job. From there, the plan is for Indiana to trim its list approximately in half, then to conduct in-person interviews with the finalists.

Here are a few more notes and rumors from Charania’s latest column for The Athletic:

  • The Bulls continue to narrow down their head coaching pool and will likely meet with finalists soon, according to Charania, who hears that Kenny Atkinson, Darvin Ham, Ime Udoka, and Wes Unseld Jr. are among the candidate who have had strong interviews so far.
  • The new multiyear contract extension signed last week by Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is worth approximately $8MM per year, making him one of the NBA’s highest-paid coaches, per Charania. Nurse’s previous deal was reportedly worth in the neighborhood of $3MM per year, but he has won a title and a Coach of the Year award since signing that contract in 2018.
  • Kawhi Leonard isn’t expecting the 2020/21 NBA season to get underway anytime soon, as Charania relays. “February, maybe?” Leonard said last week after the Clippers were eliminated from the postseason. “I’ve also heard March.”
  • In case you missed it, we also passed along items from Charania on the Sixers’ coaching search, the Clippers’ offseason, and Will Barton‘s injury.

Bulls Notes: Unseld, Coaching Candidates, FA Targets

Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr. made a stronger case for the Bulls‘ head coaching vacancy after Denver defeated the Clippers in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Tuesday night, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Wojnarowski notes that Bulls executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas, who worked in Denver’s front office with Unseld, already thought highly of him. The 44-year-old assistant coach also received a ringing endorsement from Nuggets head coach Mike Malone after their victory in Game 7. “Wes Unseld should be a head coach,” Malone said.

Unseld is reportedly among 10 candidates who were a part of Karnisovas’ original list for the Bulls’ head coaching job.

Here’s more from the Windy City:

  • K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago evaluates the 10 candidates connected to the Bulls’ head coaching vacancy. Johnson notes that outside of former Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson and former Thunder head coach Billy Donovan, the rest of the candidates are assistant coaches. Former Bulls coach Jim Boylen was an assistant before getting promoted to head coach.
  • Bulls rookie point guard Coby White potentially divulged some inside information about the team’s head coaching search on Wednesday, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. White was asked by reporters what he wants in the next head coach and mentioned the team’s timeline for the position. “We haven’t talked about the new coach because it’s so spread out right now. They haven’t really narrowed it down to the people that — I think, don’t they narrow it down Friday or something like that?” According to Cowley, there are indications that Chicago has moved on to the second round of interviews, with the first round reportedly wrapping up last week.
  • In his latest mailbag, Sam Smith of Bulls.com takes a look at some potential free agent targets for Chicago. Smith writes that if veteran forward Otto Porter opts into his $28MM player option, the Bulls will be over the salary cap. Therefore, the team will likely be out of the running for a top-tier free agent until next offseason. That being said, Smith likes Markieff Morris or Marcus Morris, along with Davis Bertans, and possibly former first-round pick Emmanuel Mudiay.

Bulls Begin Interviewing Head Coaching Candidates

The Bulls‘ search for a new head coach is underway, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who reports that the team has received permission to speak to a number of candidates and has begun conducting interviews.

Several candidates identified by Wojnarowski have been previously reported as potential targets for Chicago. That group includes former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, Sixers assistant Ime Udoka, Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Bucks assistant Darvin Ham, Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas, and Timberwolves associate head coach David Vanterpool.

In addition to those candidates, Wojnarowski reports that the Bulls have also been granted permission to talk to Mavericks assistant Jamahl Mosley and Heat assistant Dan Craig.

Finally, current Bulls assistants Chris Fleming and Roy Rogers – holdovers from Jim Boylen‘s staff who remain under contract – may receive consideration for the top job, according to Wojnarowski. K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago indicates that Fleming could have a role on the new staff if he isn’t promoted, since he has previously worked with Bulls executive VP Arturas Karnisovas in Denver and there’s a “trust factor” between the two men.

Following Boylen’s dismissal, Karnisovas suggested that Chicago is seeking a head coach who “puts the relationship with players first” and is “a good communicator.” The Bulls, who appear to be conducting a wide-ranging search, could be competing with the Pacers, Sixers, Nets, and Pelicans for certain candidates, since all of those clubs are also in the market for new head coaches.

While Karnisovas has said there’s no set timeline for finalizing a new hire, it will be interesting to see whether Chicago tries to have a new head coach in place for its organized offseason team activities, which are scheduled to take place from September 14 to October 6.

Bulls Fire Head Coach Jim Boylen

The Bulls have parted ways with head coach Jim Boylen, announcing today in a press release that he has been relieved of his duties. A search for the team’s next head coach will begin immediately, according to the release.

“After doing a comprehensive evaluation and giving the process the time it deserved, I ultimately decided that a fresh approach and evolution in leadership was necessary,” new executive VP of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas said in a statement. “This was a very difficult decision, but it is time for our franchise to take that next step as we move in a new direction and era of Chicago Bulls basketball.”

Boylen, who took the reins from Fred Hoiberg during the 2018/19 season, led the Bulls to an underwhelming 39-84 (.317) record during his brief tenure as head coach and didn’t always see eye-to-eye with his players, including standout guard Zach LaVine.

When Karnisovas took over as Chicago’s new head of basketball operations in the spring, he indicated that he wanted to take some time to evaluate Boylen, though he hasn’t had many opportunities to do so in recent months. The Bulls weren’t invited to the NBA’s 22-team restart in Orlando, and still haven’t approved organized practices or scrimmages for the eight teams left out, leaving those clubs to conduct individual workouts this summer.

Reports dating back to May have suggested that Karnisovas and new GM Marc Eversley were leaning toward making a change, but more recent reports cast doubt on that plan, suggesting that financial factors could motivate the team to stick with Boylen. Given today’s news, it appears Bulls ownership is on board with eating the remainder of Boylen’s modest contract.

Sixers assistant Ime Udoka and Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin have previously been cited as possible candidates to become the Bulls’ next head coach. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link) adds a few more names to that list of potential targets, suggesting that Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Bucks assistant Darvin Ham, and former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson are expected to receive consideration as well.

Chicago will be the second team to conduct a formal head coaching search in 2020, joining the Knicks, who hired Tom Thibodeau last month. The Nets also intend to launch a search for a permanent head coach when their season ends, with the Rockets, Pelicans, and Sixers among the other teams worth keeping an eye on.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.