Why the Rockets next head coach needs to bring something extra

Rockets Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith
A fiery head coach seems like the answer. Composite image by Brandon Strange.
sengun jalen jabari (1)

From the moment the Houston Rockets hired Stephen Silas as their head coach on Oct. 28, 2020 he was dead man prowling the sidelines. The poor guy never had a prayer. A petulant superstar, dwindling crowds, sourpuss role players, overwhelmed rookies and losing. Lots and lots of losing.

Three disheartening years later, saddled with a career won-loss record for the history books, 59-177, Silas has been told that his services are no longer needed. Technically, the Rockets won’t be picking up the fourth-year option on Silas’ contract, but however you frame it, whatever words you want to use, Silas is out as Rockets coach.

And now the Rockets face the most important decision of Tilman Fertitta’s time as owner and Rafael Stone’s tenure as general manager.

Who will be the Houston Rockets’ next coach?

Looking back, the hiring of Silas was a risky reach that didn’t succeed. Silas had been an NBA assistant coach for 20 years without a head coaching offer from anywhere else. Maybe Houston teams need to stop hiring decades-long career assistants as their top man. At least Silas made three years with the Rockets. David Culley lasted barely one season with the Texans.

Maybe it’s time to put some judgment on the executives who hire these “inexperienced veterans” as head coaches. What did they see that no one else saw for 20-plus years?

The Rockets help wanted ad should be simple: “looking for a candidate with NBA head coaching experience and a fiery personality who can develop young players into stars.”

Otherwise ….

The Rockets franchise is hanging in the balance between being an NBA glamour franchise, a perennial playoff team loaded with All-Stars playing in front of packed Toyota Center crowds – or becoming Detroit or Orlando or just another non-factor NBA city trudging toward the lottery. Once you hit that status, it’s a long, tough road back. Ask Sacramento.

The Rockets are perilously close to irrelevancy. Once the hardest ticket in town, the Rockets promotions department was working overtime this season creating deals like “one ticket plus a quesadilla and a beer for $29.” You don’t need to see a menu to realize that the Rockets were literally giving away games free this season. And the stands were still half-empty some nights. Heck, one game the Rockets were giving away WWE Undertaker bobbleheads to lure fans into Toyota Center.

This was the year the NBA set an all-time, league-wide attendance record. A total of 22,234,502 fans watched games live in arenas. The Rockets should have been leading that charge, not using quesadillas as come-ons.

Everybody agrees that Silas is one heck of a guy, a sweetheart, a prince. But watching him sit on the bench placidly resigned to loss after loss got old. NBA analysts predict that Silas will be a prized get for a team looking for an assistant coach. Silas just may not be a head coach. It would be difficult for a struggling team to hire Silas, nearing his 50th birthday, as head coach and sell him to a bloodthirsty fan base.

The Rockets need a maniac with a short fuse to light a fire under their young roster. Let’s see some veins popping in foreheads on the sideline. Let’s get a coach who sweats through his sports jacket. I want the back row of the upper deck to hear our coach screaming at officials. It’s OK to get thrown out of a game to get Toyota Center crazy. We want the Rockets back on TNT and into the playoffs.

The New York Knicks languished for years as a non-factor, patsies on opponents’ schedules. Then they hired hothead Tom Thibodeau as coach, a Type A personality if ever there was one, and the Knicks are back, baby. Madison Square Garden is rocking again.

Rockets, do that.

Editor's note: The Rockets have received permission to interview Kenny Atkinson and Adrian Griffin for their vacant coaching position.

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Will the Astros ever give Joey Loperfido a chance to fix the black hole at first base? Composite Getty Image.

So how long do you suppose the Astros will cling to the ludicrous notion that Jose Abreu will return to being a sustainably decent hitter (much less a good hitter)? The All-Star break? The trade deadline July 30? The day the Astros are eliminated from the playoff race? End of the season? End of his contract at the end of next season? Maybe they sign him to a two-year extension?

Since rejoining the team Abreu has played in 13 games, starting 12 of them. He has seven hits in 42 at bats for a .167 batting average. That’s only not horrible in comparison to the sub-pathetic .099 mark Abreu had when hiatus time arrived. Since returning, Abreu has walked once. If you remember or are familiar with Susan Powter you know what comes next. STOP THE INSANITY!

Kyle Tucker’s absence obviously punches a big hole in the Astros’ lineup. Still, that regularly running out Jeremy Pena in the cleanup or fifth spot in the lineup doesn’t seem completely ridiculous, is ridiculous! Pena has been abysmal for the last month. May 11 he put up his fourth consecutive multi-hit game. In 29 games since, Pena has added one more homer with an anemic on-base percentage of .238. Not batting average, OBP. Yuck. All teams solicit All-Star votes for non-worthy guys. Pena plays in the same league as Gunnar Henderson, Bobby Witt Jr., Corey Seager, and Anthony Volpe. Hyping Pena for the All-Star game is plain ol’ silly.

Jon Singleton ever slotting in the lineup fourth or fifth, sigh. He of one homer and 28 strikeouts in his last 79 at bats. It’s just a sad state of affairs that no one below Pena or Singleton in the lineup should obviously be higher in the lineup. Mauricio Dubon, Victor Caratini, Trey Cabbage are all bottom third of the lineup if in the lineup type guys. Chas McCormick seemingly losing almost all of his hitting ability has hurt. Yainer Diaz stinking for much more of the season to date than he’s been good has hurt.

The refusal to try Joey Loperfido at first base is somewhere from perplexing to stupid. Look, Loperfido is not an elite prospect. His poor contact skills may doom him from becoming a quality regular. But find out! He struck out a bunch in his first taste but also hit .333. The low upside of the Abreu-Singleton combo is obvious. Evidently to just about all but Astros’ decision makers. Going with Trey Cabbage over Loperfido in the outfield also underwhelms.

Chasing down the Mariners?

It could all still turn for the better, but the Astros are at increasing risk of fading to oblivion behind Seattle in the American League West race. They deserve to be 31-38. They have a losing record at home, they have a losing record on the road. They have a losing record in day games, they have a losing record in night games. They are 7-14 in games against left-handed starting pitchers, they are 24-24 (hey, .500, yippee!) vs. right-handed starters. It would take a serious collapse to fall entirely out of the Wild Card race before the trade deadline, but the Astros are flirting with danger there too. They have to leapfrog several teams to get to the third Wild Card position, currently held by the Minnesota Twins. This doesn’t seem to be a good weekend to gain ground on them. Not that A.J. Hinch’s Detroit Tigers visiting Minute Maid Park this weekend are anything special, though in Friday night’s series opener the Astros face the arguably best starting pitcher in the big leagues this season (Tarik Skubal). But the Twins have four games at home against the lowly Oakland A’s.

If Minnesota is not to overtake Kansas City and Cleveland to win the AL Central, you know Carlos Correa would love to make the playoffs at his ex-team’s expense. Wednesday Correa banged out the first five-hit game of his career. It’s pretty amazing that Jose Altuve has never had a five-hit game given how great a hitter he’s been and the relatively few walks he’s drawn. Sunday in Anaheim, Altuve racked up his 39th four-hit game. Remember, last September, Altuve hit five home runs over seven innings that overlapped two games against the Texas Rangers.

George Springer is the lone Astro ever to rack up six hits in a game, doing so at Oakland in 2018. So far this month, Springer is six for 40. Springer has two seasons left after this one on the six-year 150 million dollar contract he signed with Toronto. At 34 years old he is playing as if washed up. 2023 was the worst season of Springer’s career and he has fallen off a cliff from there thus far in 2024. Springer is batting .198 with his OPS at a sickly .582.

There is only one player in the modern era (1900 forward) of Major League Baseball to amass seven hits in a nine-inning game. In 1975 Rennie Stennett went seven for seven at Wrigley Field in a Pittsburgh Pirates 22-0 obliteration of the Chicago Cubs. The “Bleacher Bums” must have had fun that day.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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