HOUSTON (AP) -The versions of events between the Houston Rockets' first-round playoff loss and Jeff Van Gundy's firing are slightly different, depending on which side is telling the story.
Van Gundy was dismissed on Friday, two weeks after the team lost to the Jazz 103-99 in Game 7.
The 45-year-old Van Gundy had one season left on a nonguaranteed contract. Two days after the loss, Van Gundy said he needed time to decide whether he wanted to coach again.
Playing it safe in case Van Gundy decided to leave, the Rockets contacted at least one possible replacement. That's where the versions begin to change.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said Van Gundy gave the team his blessing to seek other candidates. But Van Gundy said he told the Rockets all along he wanted to come back as coach.
``You're always disappointed when you're fired. It's difficult,'' Van Gundy said. ``But I was a little bit more upset when it was being spun that I hadn't come to a decision about wanting to coach. I had told them long ago that I wanted to coach if they wanted me.
``And, obviously, they felt that they were better served going a different direction, which is well within their right,'' he said. ``I both accept that and yet at the same time, respectfully disagree with that decision.''
Morey said Van Gundy didn't ``suggest'' the Rockets start looking for a new coach, but said Van Gundy was ``open and understood that was best for the Rockets, that we did our diligence and that we were exploring other candidates. He wasn't sure whenever he would be sure if he wanted to come back.''
By the middle of this week, all the Rockets were ready to offer Van Gundy was a senior consulting position. On Friday morning, Van Gundy turned it down and the team let him go.
``Early this week, it really hadn't come to a head until Jeff came to us and said he wanted to coach,'' Morey said. ``At that point, we were positive about alternative candidates.''
The Rockets have reportedly contacted Rick Adelman, the former coach of Portland, Golden State and Sacramento.
The 35-year-old Morey, who's been on the job less than two weeks, wouldn't specify if one of the ``alternative candidates'' was Adelman. He did say the Rockets had a ``very short list'' of replacements in mind.
Van Gundy was back to one of his old jobs on Friday night, working as a guest analyst for ESPN on Game 6 between Phoenix and San Antonio. He wouldn't say he would return to TV full-time, but said he would like to stay in Houston for the time being.
``I don't think you're ever ready for a day when you're let go,'' he said. ``But over time, I'll be able to think about it and make a good decision. And yet I know I want to stay for the near future in the Houston area. It's been a great area to live in, we've grown to really love the city and that's where we're going to be.''
Van Gundy was working in TV when the Rockets hired him prior to the 2003-04 season. Before that, Van Gundy coached the New York Knicks for five full seasons and parts of two others, leading them to the NBA finals in 1999.
Van Gundy's career coaching record is 430-318, 44-44 in the postseason. He finished fourth in NBA Coach of the Year voting this season.
Morey said even if the Rockets would have reached the Western Conference finals, Van Gundy's situation would have unfolded the same way.
``The process would've played out similarly, if he would've had the same uncertainty after the year,'' Morey said. ``That's not meant as a knock on Jeff. We felt like we had to protect the Rockets' interests first.''
Morey said the Rockets tried to open contract negotiations with Van Gundy around the All-Star break, but Van Gundy said he wanted to wait until the end of the season.
The Rockets went 182-146 under Van Gundy, including 52-30 this season. But Houston went 7-12 in three postseason appearances and more was expected from teams anchored by All-Stars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.
``I had a great four years in Houston. I really really enjoyed it,'' Van Gundy said. ``I enjoyed the players I got to coach and the coaches I got to coach with. They're great professionals and I'm just really thankful for the opportunities I was given in Houston.''
Associated Press writer Elizabeth White in San Antonio contributed to this report.
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