Multiple league sources have confirmed that Wizards assistant Sam Cassell will interview for the Houston Rockets’ vacant head coaching job. The story was first reported on Tuesday by Mark Berman of Fox 26 Sports in Houston. Attempts to reach Cassell were unsuccessful.
Cassell has sought a head coaching job since his playing days and the Wizards granted permission for him to speak with the team that drafted him out of Florida State in 1993. He has spent the past two seasons as an assistant under Coach Flip Saunders. He has helped tutor No. 1 overall pick John Wall, who credited Cassell for aiding him through his rookie season. He also helped Shaun Livingston resurrect his career during a two-month stint in Washington last season.
“He’s been through it. He understands,” Saunders said earlier this month, when asked about Cassell. “Sam never played because he was fast or jumped very high. Sam is a guy who didn’t play because of his athleticism. He played because of how smart he was. He knew angles and played to those. He’s able to help and transform that to some of the players.”
The Rockets parted with Rick Adelman nearly two weeks ago after the team missed the playoffs for the second year in a row. Houston still had a winning record in both seasons, despite Yao Ming missing most of that time with injuries. The 64-year-old Adelman went 193-135 in four seasons.
Cassell spent the first three of his 15 seasons in Houston, winning back-to-back championships with Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994-95. He won a third championship with the Boston Celtics before his career ended in 2008. Cassell often jokes with the players, “I retired by choice, not by force.”
He is expected to meet with the Rockets next week. “As a coach, I still have to get on him, because he still has to understand that he’s not a player,” Saunders said. “At times, it’s always the big adjustment from guys that have been in the league, when you jump into coaching, to change over. He’s learning as a coach and the players are learning from him.”
After a late-season game in Boston this month, Wall said he planned to work closely with Cassell this summer to improve his midrange shooting, an area where Cassell excelled. “I did a whole lot with Sam this year, and I want to do more,” Wall said. “He helps me with everything.”
Though considered a long shot for the position in Houston, Cassell could be aided by his solid relationship with owner Leslie Alexander, according to person with knowledge of the situation. Other candidates for the job include Rockets assistant coach Jack Sikma and Kings assistant and Cassell former Rockets teammate, Mario Elie, Milwaukee assistant coach Kelvin Sampson and former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson. The Houston Chronicle mentioned that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is also interested in Memphis’ Dave Joeger, Dallas’ Dwane Casey, Boston’s Lawrence Frank, San Antonio’s Mike Budenholzer, Los Angeles Clippers assistant Dean Demopoulos. Former Cleveland coach Mike Brown could also be in the mix, though no interview has been set up.