There wasn’t a specific moment for Jeff Van Gundy.
When the ESPN analyst and former Houston Rockets coach was asked about his onetime assistant coach, Mike Longabardi, Van Gundy said the current Phoenix Suns assistant has gotten to where he is not with flash, but through hard work and gritty determination.
Mike Longabardi file
» Spent this past season with the Phoenix Suns as Jeff Hornacek’s lead assistant
» Spent six seasons in Boston under Doc Rivers, and four in Houston under Jeff Van Gundy
» Began NBA career as a video coordinator
"It was just very steady with him," Van Gundy said. "Mike was great each and every day on the job, and I think that always followed him. He was such an effort guy that he made himself into a great assistant."
An assistant who may just be next in line for an NBA head coaching job, and who may just fit the template for the kind of coach Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey is looking for.
In Phoenix, under former Jazzman and assistant coach Jeff Hornacek, Longabardi has emerged as a defensive guru and a devotee of analytics. Just the kind of guy, perhaps, who might be a good fit for the Jazz’s young, talented roster.
Longabardi certainly has the pedigree. Under Van Gundy in Houston, he worked on a staff that included Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. He then followed Thibodeau to Boston, where the two worked under Doc Rivers for six years — including the Celtics’ 2008 championship season. And he wound up running Rivers’ defense when Thibodeau moved on to Chicago.
Under Hornacek this past season, the 41-year-old helped turn the Suns into one of the better defensive teams in the NBA.
But for Longabardi it all really started in Houston, where he began his career as a video coordinator on those Rocket teams led by Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. Van Gundy said Longabardi rose quickly enough that he was soon taking on assistant coaching responsibilities, even if his paycheck didn’t initially reflect that.
Jazz point guard John Lucas III, a former Rocket, says Longabardi was an inspiration for the younger players.
"It shows the hard work and dedication he had," said Lucas. "Me and him, we both kind of took the same journey of having to succeed at every level. Mike has been under so many great coaches and he’s watched and learned and communicated with all of them. He knows what plays to run. He knows when to call timeouts. He’s learned a lot, and I think he’s ready for the next step."
Will that next step be with the Jazz?
The Salt Lake Tribune has learned that the two sides have yet to make contact, but Lindsey says he and his staff are still in the process of identifying candidates they want to reach out to.
"We’re working hard on the internal due diligence and we’ll have an ability here very soon to react quickly, or go through a very thorough and prolonged search," Lindsey said.
Whether it’s with the Jazz or not, Van Gundy believes Longabardi is ready to take the next step.
"Whenever the time is right, he will be a very good coach in this league," he said.
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