Veteran NBA coach Mike D'Antoni has landed a second interview with Houston and is an increasingly serious candidate for the Rockets' coaching vacancy, according to league sources.
Sources told ESPN.com that D'Antoni, who is currently serving as associate head coach for the Philadelphia 76ers, was summoned for a second sit-down with the club -- this time face-to-face with Rockets owner Leslie Alexander -- after impressing in his first interview.
The Rockets, sources say, would seek to hire a coach with strong defensive credentials, to essentially serve as D'Antoni's defensive coordinator, if talks progress to a serious stage and D'Antoni emerges as Houston's choice to replace Kevin McHale and interim successor J.B. Bickerstaff.
Sources say Jeff Van Gundy has received strong support from Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to make a return to Houston for a second stint as the team's coach, but they maintain that Alexander has yet to be fully sold on a reunion with the ESPN analyst, who has been working in television since the sides parted ways in May 2007.
The offensive-minded D'Antoni has been a head coach with Denver, Phoenix, New York and the Los Angeles Lakers. According to sources, he has Houston intrigued, despite Morey's calls after the season for significant improvement defensively.
Since its first-round elimination earlier this month, Houston has interviewed D'Antoni, former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt, former Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell, Charlotte Hornets assistant Stephen Silas, Rockets assistant Chris Finch and TNT analyst Kenny Smith.
San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina, who has extensive head-coaching experience overseas, interviewed for the Rockets' post Saturday, a source told The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears. Messina, the lead assistant for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, won four championships in the Euroleague. Sources have told ESPN that the Rockets are looking for a coach with head-coaching experience, particularly in the NBA, but Messina is well-respected across the league for his work.
It emerged Monday that Smith has been informed that he is no longer being considered for the position.
The Houston Chronicle reported in Tuesday's editions that former Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel remains "part of the process." Vogel interviewed with the Rockets in the 2011 offseason while still the Pacers' interim coach. That time, the job went to McHale.
ESPN.com reported Monday that the Memphis Grizzlies have registered strong interest in Vogel, who has also interviewed with New York for the Knicks' coaching vacancy and is widely considered a serious candidate for the Orlando Magic's coaching job.
Alexander remains close to many players from the team's highly successful Clutch City era, which delivered two championships, leading to the interviews for both Cassell and TNT's Smith.
The Rockets fired McHale just 11 games into what was the first season of a three-year deal. Houston lost to Golden State in five games in the first round of the playoffs while slipping well off the standard it set in 2014-15, when the club won 56 games and reached the Western Conference finals.
After his meeting with team officials, Bickerstaff withdrew from consideration early in the search, despite posting a 37-34 record upon succeeding McHale and helping Houston rally into a playoff spot after its season-long defensive struggles.