Love him or hate him, Jeff Van Gundy’s tenure as head coach of the Houston Rockets will almost certainly come to an end this week. Is it a done deal? No. But where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, and absolutely no one would be shocked if the perpetually exhausted JVG decides that it’s time to step away from the coaching world once again. So that begs the question: who’s next?
Knowing Les Alexander’s lust for big names, you have to figure the Rockets’ owner has Larry Brown squarely in his sights. After all, no available coaching candidate comes close to matching Brown in the starpower category. Just check out his resume: Hall of Famer. 4th on the all-time wins list. And the only coach in basketball history to bring home a title in both the pro and college game.
Of course, there’s a reason Brown is available on the open market. While there’s no denying his basketball wizardry, he’s been known to dabble in black magic, too. His most recent coaching experience was an unequivocal disaster, as he did what many had previously believed impossible. That is to say, he actually managed to make the woebegone New York Knicks even worse. But that’s not all. Who can forget Brown’s backroom mating dance with New York, which not so conveniently took place while the team he was coaching at the time (Detroit) was otherwise occupied with a trivial affair known as the NBA FINALS? Yes, all this (and more, much more) is what you get with the Larry Brown experience. His coaching acumen is beyond reproach. Unfortunately, the same can be said of his capacity to leave behind nothing but scorched earth, rotting corpses and vitriolic fans.
So sticking with the magic motif, just who is this guy? Lord Voldemort, the all-powerful, pure evil master of the dark arts? Or Harry Potter, the moody, misunderstood and nomadic mage simultaneously capable of either saving the world or getting everyone around him killed? By the way, if we were to take the metaphor one step further, wouldn’t Jeff Van Gundy be Professor Snape? Think about it. Grumpy, sarcastic, much-maligned overachiever who’s impossible to pin down as either a good or bad guy. Throw in his apprenticeship under the original “He Who Must Not Be Named” (Pat Riley) and you’ve got a near perfect match. But I digress.
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Personally, I’m much more inclined to see Brown as a villain. His hired gun, diva act is eerily reminiscent of a recently departed Bronxback Mountain superstar, and I’m pretty sure no one in Houston is itching for a sequel to that show just yet. Also, you have to wonder whether or not someone of Brown’s prodigious pedigree would be willing to play nice with rookie GM, Daryl Morey.
Finally, take a look at the recent history of teams which were only too willing to sell their souls for a chance to dance with the devil. Think the Aggies would like a do-over on the Dennis Franchione decision? How about Kansas State and Bob Huggins? Heck, just think back to one year ago when the same New Yorkers who had welcomed Brown with open arms were ready to burn the hometown boy at the stake.
Houston sports fans are tortured enough as it is. Just like the great Amos Lee, we come from a long line of pain. Yes, team tragedy sells papers and wistful historical retrospectives, but I’d just as soon see my clubs make the right decisions and win championships. So memo to Mr. Morey: if/when JVG steps down and Larry Brown comes-a-calling, take a long, close look at his face. And if you see anything even remotely resembling slits where his nose should be, run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. Because, though I’m not quite sure how the Harry Potter saga is going to end this summer, I know exactly what to expect from a potential Larry Brown era in Houston: Uneasy optimism at first, followed by occasional awe at the spells woven on his dry erase board. Then, just as you let your guard down and start thinking that maybe, just maybe this time will be different, that he’s learned from his past mistakes and, after all, he’s probably just the victim of Isaiah Thomas and the rabid New York media, he’ll remove his hood, reveal his true nature and scream “Adava Kadavra!” all the while maniacally laughing as the Rockets franchise sinks to depths heretofore only witnessed in nightmares.
You’ve got the power to prevent this from happening, Daryl. You’re a boy wonder who has obviously displayed some incredible skills in order to achieve such a lofty position of power so early in life. Hmmm. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Somebody better check that kid’s forehead. I suspect you just might find a rather unique birthmark. I’ve got my fingers crossed. -- Jason Friedman