After just making his return to an NBA sideline as associate head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers in December, it didn’t take long for Mike D’Antoni to be put back in the mix for a head coaching gig. He was reportedly being targeted by the Phoenix Suns, where he served as head coach for five years in the 2000’s, after Jeff Hornacek was let go in April. A return to Phoenix didn’t materialize, and now D’Antoni is reported to be a serious candidate to become the next head coach of the Houston Rockets.
D’Antoni interviewed for the position, which was filled by interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff after Kevin McHale was fired 11 games into the season, and then was contacted for a second interview with Rockets ownership.
D’Antoni’s last head coaching stint with the Los Angeles Lakers only shed even more light on the deficiencies of his coaching style, particularly when it comes to defense. It’s made him into somewhat of a bad egg when fans discuss NBA coaches. One thing D’Antoni can do is coach the heck out of offense, as any top-tier coach will tell you. The most potent offensive systems of late (Warriors, Spurs) have modeled some of the principles that D’Antoni was successful with in Phoenix in terms of a spread offense based in lots of high pick-and-roll and two-man game action.
For the Houston Rockets to be seriously considering D’Antoni should raise eyebrows. The team has been adamant about wanting a defensive-minded head coach, which D’Antoni clearly is not, so if the Rockets were to go with him, they’d reportedly be looking for him to hire some staff with defensive credibilities (which to me is the obvious course, hiring a defensive coordinator, if you will, to accompany D’Antoni).
On the other hand, what D’Antoni brings is pretty similar to what we’ve been seeing in Houston as of late, mainly in shooting threes at a high rate, pushing the tempo, and creating opportunities off the dribble. Moreyball merging with seven-seconds-or-less might spell danger, but I see D’Antoni’s system as being the more purposeful version of what Houston has been trying to do lately. Who knows, it might actually work.
D’Antoni’s system was most masterfully displayed by Steve Nash, an all-time great point guard. His influence on Harden could be an interesting development. Harden is a scoring two-guard but also a capable playmaking lead guard in his own right, and D’Antoni might be able to emphasize the latter. The last two teams D’Antoni coached also featured ball-dominant stars in Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, but I see Harden as having more potential with D’Antoni. He won’t do anything for Harden’s abysmal defense but he could help evolve Harden as a playmaker.
Ironically enough, though not expected to be the case for too much longer, Dwight Howard is still a Rocket. D’Antoni and Howard didn’t appear to mesh well in LA. If D’Antoni is hired, we’ll see how that further impacts Howard’s thinking this summer. The Rockets can’t be instantly fixed with D’Antoni as head coach, their biggest issues are still rooted in personnel, but the way I see it this is a perceived risk that is worth taking.