For most around the NBA, the expectation was for the Houston Rockets and head coach Mike D’Antoni to part ways after a disappointing series loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of the playoffs.
The Lakers won the best-of-seven series in five games, with Houston entering the offseason after four consecutive losses. The day after the final loss, D’Antoni informed the team that he would not return.
Many assumed that it was effectively a mutual decision, with the Rockets likely to move on no matter what. But GM Daryl Morey had said earlier in the series that retaining D’Antoni was a top priority, and Houston Chronicle beat writer Jonathan Feigen reports Friday that the Rockets expected to keep him — even after the series loss to the Lakers.
Rockets management knew that D’Antoni exceled. The team’s expectation was that they would bring him back. Assumptions elsewhere were that a disappointing five-game conference semifinals beatdown by the Lakers would end his tenure. He might have assumed that, too. And perhaps negotiations would have gone sideways as they did last summer. But the Rockets did not intend to spend the offseason looking for a new coach.
This isn’t an isolated report, either. Per Kelly Iko and Sam Amick of The Athletic, Morey “was upset” when informed on Sunday. However, he “understood and respected D’Antoni’s decision.”
As far as implications moving forward, it’s almost certainly too late for the Rockets to patch things up with D’Antoni. It does, however, provide evidence Houston isn’t necessarily looking for a contrast in coaching style or philosophy. That could perhaps boost the chances of some of the more offensive-minded candidates, such as Dallas’ Stephen Silas. Silas was a finalist alongside D’Antoni during the team’s 2016 search.
Known best for his innovative offenses, D’Antoni finished 217-101 (.682) in the regular season and 28-23 (.549) in the playoffs over four years in Houston. The 69-year-old, who wants to continue coaching, has the second-most coaching wins in team history — trailing only Hall of Famer Rudy Tomjanovich. By winning percentage, he ranks No. 1.
Over D’Antoni’s four years in Houston, the Rockets were the only team in the Western Conference to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs in each season. They also had the West’s top cumulative winning percentage in the regular season, as well.
In the 2019 offseason, D’Antoni and the Rockets tried to strike a deal on a contract extension, but the coach wasn’t satisfied with the terms of the offer(s). The discord from those negotiations may have carried over into 2020, with new reports suggesting that the parting was solely his call.
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