Tuesday , May , 08 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Rockets could use a fresh voice

(Sports Network) – Rumors are flying in Houston. Will Rockets head coach Jeff
Van Gundy be back on the bench in 2007-08, or will there be a new face calling
the shots?

The Rockets fell in seven games to the Utah Jazz in the opening round of this
year’s postseason. Houston lost Game 7 on its homecourt and have not advanced
past the first round since the 1996-97 campaign.

Under Van Gundy, the Rockets have made the playoffs in three of the four years
that he has been the general of the club. In the 2004 postseason, Houston lost
to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the Western Conference
quarterfinals, and in 2005 his Rockets blew a three games-to one lead and were
ousted by the Dallas Mavericks in round one.

The Rockets have won more than 50 games twice during Van Gundy’s tenure. They
finished 51-31 in 2004-05 and 52-30 in 2006-07. Van Gundy has compiled a
182-146 record with Houston.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Van Gundy’s original contract with the
club is set to expire on June 30. After the 2004-05 campaign, the team added a
non-guaranteed year to the deal. Van Gundy also has the right to opt out of
the contract.

All-Stars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming are two of the best in the business.
McGrady, who just finished his third season with the Rockets, is one of the
most exciting players in the league, while Yao is arguably the top center in
the NBA.

Yao missed 32 games during the 2006-07 season with a non-displaced fracture
in a bone under his right knee. Without Yao, who led the team in scoring
(25.0 ppg) and rebounding (9.4 rpg), the Rockets were a surprising 20-12.

McGrady, who will turn 28 on May 24th, stepped up while Yao was sidelined and
put the team on his back. The All-Star guard averaged 24.6 points and a team-
best 6.5 assists in 71 games this past season, which was arguably his best in
a Houston uniform.

A dominant center and an athletic, highly skilled player who can do it all
should be enough for a coach to devise a scheme to get his team to do some
damage in the postseason. Van Gundy, who did guide the New York Knicks to the
NBA Finals in 1998-99, has not been able to figure out the right formula to
get the Rockets over the hump.

Talent is not the issue with the Rockets. In the days of the salary cap, teams
in the NBA cannot simply sign players for any amount of money and put together
a roster full of high-paid stars, like the New York Yankees or Boston Red
Sox do in Major League Baseball.

Yao and McGrady are surrounded with solid role players. Shane Battier, who
completed his first season with the Rockets, is an excellent defender and a
solid shooter from the outside, while guards Rafer Alston and Luther Head give
Houston a decent perimeter game.

Veteran forward Juwan Howard and swingman Bonzi Wells, who played just 28
games in his first year with the Rockets, are still productive.

It’s just not working in Houston for Van Gundy. There is no doubt that he is a
good coach who would definitely find another head coaching job if he wants
one.

However, Van Gundy, who stresses defense, doesn’t seem to have the answers to
winning in the West. Having Yao and McGrady in the lineup should be enough for
him get his team at least past the first round of the playoffs.

A new direction and a different voice is just what the doctor ordered. McGrady
and Yao have backed Van Gundy and would like to see him return.

The bottom line here is that Houston has failed to win a playoff series under
Van Gundy. Maybe somebody else can figure out how to get McGrady, who is 0-6
in playoff series, and Yao deep into the playoffs.

HOU