The Orlando Magic are reportedly targeting Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson to be their next head coach, according to a report from Marc Stein of the New York Times.
Missing the NBA Playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, the Magic parted ways with former head coach Frank Vogel earlier this offseason. Sampson is reportedly the team’s top target.
The 62-year-old Sampson has aided in a recent resurgence at the University of Houston as he led the Cougars to the second round of the 2018 NCAA tournament — the program’s first March Madness appearance in eight years. A former college head coach at Montana Tech, Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana before his recent four-year tenure at Houston, Sampson also has some NBA experience as an assistant coach.
While Sampson was serving a five-year show cause for NCAA violations during his time at Indiana, he coached for three seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks and three seasons with the Houston Rockets. Although Sampson has never been a head coach at the NBA level, he has connections with the Magic’s front office as President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond both worked for the Bucks while Sampson was there under head coach Scott Skiles.
Although Sampson has some very successful rebuilds at the college level, having to rebuild an NBA team as a first-time head coach would be a very difficult task. But, as Stein and many others have noted, the Magic have also been very mysterious about this coaching search. All of the Sampson chatter could be misdirection, for all we know.
A handful of college coaches have recently made the jump to the NBA — most notably Brad Stevens (Butler to Boston) and Billy Donovan (Florida to Oklahoma City) — but both of those coaches were significantly younger than Sampson was when they were hired. If the Magic are serious about Sampson, it would be a very bold choice given his age and lack of NBA experience.