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Unless Jeff Van Gundy has a change of heart about wanting to continue as coach, he will not sign a contract extension and stay with the Houston Rockets, league sources said.
This has been a decision that Van Gundy has considered for months, something he has discussed at length with his wife, Kim, and his closest confidants. Van Gundy turned down a contract extension in February, an offer which came too late considering how little confidence the organization showed in him after the 2005-2006 season.
After that 33-victory season in which his team was decimated by injuries, Van Gundy associates said he was taken aback by a volatile meeting with owner Les Alexander, who blamed him for poor attendance and a doom-and-gloom attitude that made it difficult to market the franchise. Van Gundy would've signed an extension then, but he was told to enter the final year of his contract.
Once he delivered a 2006-2007 season that made him a top coach of the year candidate, more than one extension offer was made, but he told management to wait until season's end to discuss his future. The Rockets' season ended Saturday night in a Game 7 first-round loss to the Utah Jazz.
Now, Van Gundy has all but decided to leave the job after four seasons. His family is comfortable in Houston, and sources said he has no interest in pursuing other coaching jobs and moving again. His future could include a return to TNT as a television analyst.
Van Gundy has had some heartbreaking playoff losses with the Rockets, including Game 7 defeats to the Dallas Mavericks and Jazz in two of the past three seasons. Nevertheless, Tracy McGrady has played the best all-around basketball of his career under Van Gundy, and 7-foot-6 Yao Ming has made significant strides toward becoming one of the league's most dominant forces.
Houston hasn't drafted well, nor have the Rockets signed significant free agents in his four years as coach. Still, Van Gundy resurrected Dikembe Mutombo and Juwan Howard for productive seasons, and he found a way to maximize the limited potential of Chuck Hayes, an undrafted player, as his starting power forward.
Daryl Morey, who takes over for Carroll Dawson as the Rockets' general manager this offseason, recently told Yahoo! Sports that he had hoped to re-sign Van Gundy and said that he believed it worked in the Rockets' favor that Van Gundy had "the best talent he's had in his coaching career" with the Rockets.
"He's the best coach that I've ever played for," McGrady said after the Game 7 loss. "I have a lot of respect for him. I hope he's back."
Van Gundy would be a sought-after free agent, but he recently told Yahoo! Sports that his wife and oldest daughter, Mattie, do not want to move, and Van Gundy said he has no interest in uprooting his daughter when she's so happy with school and friends. Considering that Morey's background is in statistics (he's a former colleague of Bill James), it would make sense for the Rockets to include Van Gundy as a peer when it comes to player personnel, but Alexander doesn't seem inclined to do so.
In fact, the Houston owner has told friends in the league that he wishes the Rockets would play a much faster style, like the Phoenix Suns. With Yao as his franchise player, and one of the most unathletic rosters in the Western Conference, it's hard to understand why a coach would try that with the Rockets. As it looks now, Alexander will get the chance to find his man.