The Rockets hired Mike D’Antoni with the hope that his attacking offense would yield them an NBA title. Now they just want him to go away quietly.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta clearly believes the Rockets need to change directions if they’re going to win an NBA title in the near future. Part of his plan is to end Mike D’Antoni’s rein as his team’s head coach.
No one inside the Rockets organization has come out and said they want D’Antoni to leave, but the team’s actions are speaking very clearly on the subject. First, Houston elected to part ways with two of the veteran head coach’s trusted assistants. Both Jeff Bzdelik and Roy Rogers got the axe with seemingly little input from D’Antoni.
Those two moves, by themselves, could have been justified by general manager Daryl Morey as an effort to energize D’Antoni’s staff by bringing in some new blood. No such declarations have been made. Instead, the change in staff looks like a clear slap in D’Antoni’s face.
That’s nothing compared to what transpired regarding D’Antoni’s contract negotiations with the Rockets. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports that Houston offered their head coach a one-year extension with a base salary of $5 million. D’Antoni did have the ability to earn an extra $1 million for every round he advanced in the playoffs, but that’s not a conventional salary structure for a coach with his level of experience.
It’s even more troubling for D’Antoni that his contract offer lagged behind what other veteran coaches have received recently. Terry Stotts led Portland to the Western Conference Finals, but he doesn’t have the history of long-term success that D’Antoni’s resume displays. Both he and Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey signed superior deals to what D’Antoni was ultimately offered by the Rockets. That reality couldn’t have sat well with the Rockets’ coach and his representatives.
In fairness to Fertitta and the Rockets’ hierarchy, they do seem to be committed to radical change across the entire organization. The team has made the vast majority of their roster available for trade if they can find a deal to help them improve next season. Chris Paul is the biggest name on the trading block, but everyone other than James Harden is reportedly up for grabs.
Add everything up, and it’s clear that D’Antoni is a lame duck heading into the 2019-20 season. Nothing short of a trip to the NBA Finals is guaranteed to keep him in Houston past next season. That’s a very unstable situation for the Rockets and D’Antoni to be in heading into a crucial year for the franchise.