Rockets Suffer Another Defensive Loss with Retirement of Bzdelik

Coach Mike D'Antoni (left) will have his hands full with defensive responsibilities this season.
Coach Mike D'Antoni (left) will have his hands full with defensive responsibilities this season. Photo by Jeff Balke
Between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons for the Rockets, they went from a mediocre defensive team to one of the league's best. Yes, they added Chris Paul and P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, but at the core was the instruction and scheme of associate coach Jeff Bzdelik. While the NBA doesn't have traditional offensive and defensive coordinator roles like the NFL, Bzdelik came about as close to the "assistant head coach in charge of defense" title we see with guys like the Texans Romeo Crennel as you can get in the Association.

A former head coach for the Memphis Grizzlies, Bzdelik came in and completely overhauled the Rockets team defensive concepts. Even throughout last season, the tweaks became noticeable as the team adopted a switching defense akin to what they run in Golden State. By the time their playoff run came to an end in game seven of the Western Conference Finals, they ranked second in the playoffs in defensive rating.

Over the weekend, Bzdelik announced he would be retiring at the age of 65. He was entering his third season as a Rockets assistant.

Social media responses ranged from a shrug of the shoulders to more dire concerns for where this would leave the Rockets this season. A number of people seemed quite happy to point out that Bzdelik's retirement came on the heels of the signing of Carmelo Anthony, not known for his defensive skills, as well as the losses of Trevor Ariza and Mbah a Moute.

The Rockets will hand most of the defensive responsibilities over to assistant Roy Rogers, who has been with the Rockets since 2016. Also, former G-League coach Matt Brase was added to the staff this offseason.

Most believed that the Rockets would take some kind of step back this year defensively with the losses of Ariza and Mbah a Moute. They did add small forward James Ennis, who should be an adequate replacement for Mbah a Moute, but it is understandable to think that they could be worse rather than better. Frankly, after winning a franchise best 65 games, it would be difficult to match that in the regular season anyway.

Still, losing Bzdelik, with media day a week away, feels like an added blow to a team that may struggle to match their defensive tenacity from last year. 
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke