What the loss of Jeff Bzdelik means for the Rockets
According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Rockets are opting not to renew associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik's contract for next season. Bzdelik was brought to Houston in 2016 to be a defensive counterpart to head coach Mike D'Antoni and briefly left the team for personal reasons this year before returning in late November. It is unknown the official reason he was let go, but Bzdelik was famously non-committal about returning to the Rockets next season.
"That's a really good question. I don't know the answer to it," Bzdelik said to Feigen last month. "First of all, none of us have any guarantees on tomorrow. Second, you have to ask my wife. I don't think it's that big of a deal."
When asked why Bzdelik was let go, Morey told Feigen, "We're looking for any way to improve. That goes for players, coaches, front office, everything."
So while Morey acknowledged that Bzdelik did a "fantastic job" with the Rockets, it seems that the organization wants to make a meaningful upgrade at associate head coach. Not renewing Bzdelik contract is quite the move, but this is an organization known for their careful decision making (Bzdelik himself was hired after a month-long coaching search). Given their track record, it's likely the move wasn't made hastily. Trying to discern how much credit Bzdelik should be given for Houston's turnaround defensively this season is difficult as the Rockets were largely the same defensively after he returned to the bench.
Houston Rockets Defensive Rating:
Before Bzdelik Returned: 109.8
After Bzdelik Returned: 110.2
However, ignoring the impact that Bzdelik had on Houston's defensive culture would be naive. Bzdelik had a large part in implementing Houston's switch-heavy scheme over the past couple seasons that kept Houston competitive against the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets now have a large hole in Bzdelik's absence at associate head coach that needs to be filled and it'll be interesting to see which direction they go in. There are a couple candidates that stick out though based on Houston's prior dealings.
1) Roy Rogers (current Houston Rockets assistant coach)
The Rockets are no strangers to promoting from within and Rogers took the interim associate head coach job in Bzdelik's absence this season. While the Rockets were fairly mediocre defensively in that time, Rogers was given short notice to prepare for the role and responsibilities that came with it. With ten years of NBA coaching experience under his belt and three with the Rockets, Rogers profiles as an obvious candidate to take over the position should the Rockets choose to give it to him. Rogers has seen time in New Jersey, Boston, Detroit, Brooklyn, and Washington before he took the position in Houston in 2016. He stems from the Lawrence Frank/Doc Rivers coaching tree and played professional basketball for eight years (four of those in the NBA) so his ability to relate to players has always been an asset.
2) Lionel Hollins (former Brooklyn Nets head coach)
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has considered hiring Lionel Hollins at several points in the past decade. In 2014, Houston wanted to add Hollins to Kevin McHale's coaching staff as an assistant, but he was hired by the Nets to be a head coach soon after. Two years later, they were interested in bringing Hollins on as a lead assistant for Stephen Silas, but opted for the pairing of D'Antoni and Bzdelik instead. Hollins has decades of coaching experience under his belt and is known for placing a heavy emphasis on the defensive side of the ball.
3) Jeff Hornacek (former New York Knicks head coach)
It's likely Hornacek wants a shot at being a head coach again, but the 56-year-old is no stranger to being an assistant coach. Hornacek saw time in Utah and Golden State as an assistant and sitting on the bench for a team like Houston could help raise his profile when another head coaching opportunity opens up elsewhere. Hornacek was also a candidate for the Rockets head coaching job in 2016.
4) Ime Udoka (current San Antonio Spurs assistant coach)
Udoka has been with the Spurs for seven years and in that time he has earned a sterling reputation around the NBA for his ability to communicate with players. Udoka may still be a few years away from landing interviews for a head coaching position, he may be seasoned for a shot at an associate head coaching job.
"He exudes a confidence and a comfort in his own skin where people just gravitate to him," Popovich said of Udoka in 2016. "He's a fundamentally sound teacher because he's comfortable with himself, he knows the material and players read it."
5) Stephen Silas (current Dallas Mavericks associate head coach)
This may seem like a bit of curveball (and difficult to pull off), but Silas was actually a finalist for the head coaching job in 2016. Silas came away impressing the Rockets enough to earn a second interview and the Rockets even considered making Silas the lead assistant for D'Antoni. It would be tricky to lure Silas away from Dallas as he would essentially be signing on for a job he already has and the Mavericks were able to secure him to a multi-year deal back in May. It would likely require the Rockets seeking permission from the Mavericks.
There is no shortage of coaching talent around the league and the Rockets will have a lot of time to replace Bzdelik's services before training camp this August.