HOUSTON – Kevin McHale has added a couple of familiar names to the Houston Rockets coaching staff.
Kelvin Sampson and J.B. Bickerstaff will join McHale once teams get back to work, a person with knowledge of the decisions said Tuesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no official announcement has been made by the team in the midst of the NBA lockout.
McHale was hired June 1 to replace Rick Adelman, who parted ways with the team after four seasons.
Sampson was also interviewed for the head coaching vacancy. He has been an assistant coach in Milwaukee since 2008, and previously left college coaching jobs at Oklahoma and Indiana under NCAA scrutiny.
Bickerstaff, the son of former NBA head coach Bernie Bickerstaff, has been an assistant in Minnesota the past four seasons. McHale coached the Timberwolves at the end of the 2008-09 and also worked in the team’s front office.
The Timberwolves fired Kurt Rambis on Tuesday, and Sampson and Bickerstaff were believed to be potential candidates to become Minnesota’s next coach. Sampson was also a candidate to replace the fired John Kuester in Detroit.
The Rockets are moving on after All-Star center Yao Ming decided to retire. Houston has missed the playoffs the past two seasons, with Yao crippled by injuries and playing in only five games.
Sampson worked as a college coach from 1979-2008, but his problems with the NCAA will likely prevent him from landing another college job.
Oklahoma had eight consecutive 20-win seasons under Sampson, and he was named the NABC national coach of the year after leading the Sooners to the 2002 Final Four. But the program was later placed on probation for major rules violations involving more than 500 impermissible recruiting phone calls Sampson made between 2000-04.
Indiana hired Sampson in March 2006, despite the ongoing NCAA investigation at Oklahoma. In October 2007, Indiana self-reported that Sampson had made more impermissible phone calls to recruits, and in February 2008, the NCAA informed Indiana that Sampson had committed five major rules violations. Sampson agreed to a contract buyout, and briefly worked as a special assistant to the San Antonio Spurs later that spring.
The Bucks hired Sampson in May 2008, and Sampson said he was focused on restoring his reputation. Sampson unsuccessfully appealed NCAA penalties in 2009 that essentially bar him from coaching in college until 2013. He said in 2009 that he was setting his sights on becoming a head coach in the NBA.
Bickerstaff not only worked under McHale, he also played at McHale’s alma mater, Minnesota. He briefly worked as the Gophers’ director of basketball operations before becoming a radio analyst for the Timberwolves for the 2003-04 season. He worked three seasons under his father with the Charlotte Bobcats before the Timberwolves hired him as an assistant in 2007.
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