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The Impending Mike D'Antoni Sweepstakes

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

Mike D'Antoni, head coach of the Houston Rockets, gestures towards his players in an NBA game.
Houston Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni | Image via USA TODAY Sports/Troy Taormina

At the end of this year's NBA season, Mike D'Antoni's contract as head coach of the Houston Rockets will expire. Despite approaching his 70th birthday next May, he has expressed his desire to keep coaching for multiple seasons. If D'Antoni cannot negotiate a contract extension with Houston, there are several teams in need of a head coach.

His "seven seconds or less" coaching style first made headlines in the 2004-05 season when he coached for the Phoenix Suns. Pairing point guard Steve Nash with uber-athletic power forward Amar'e Stoudemire, D'Antoni engineered a system built upon fast-paced play and a high volume of 3-pointers. Though it was unorthodox at the time, the Suns finished 62-20, good for first place in the Western Conference.

Following a rough tenure with the Knicks and Lakers, D'Antoni was hired as the Rockets head coach in 2016. His small-ball lineups gained notoriety, especially this season, when Houston traded away center Clint Capela. In his place, they traded for Robert Covington, a 6-foot-7 small forward whose calling card is defense. With Covington or PJ Tucker slotted in at center, the Rockets were able to go all-in on 3-point shooting.

Mike D'Antoni's coaching creativity, while drawing skepticism over the years, has multiple teams wondering what he could accomplish for them in coming seasons. Here are some teams looking for a head coach that could possibly hire D'Antoni.

Houston Rockets

James Harden and Russell Westbrook of the Houston Rockets look towards the defense in an NBA game.
James Harden (left) and Russell Westbrook | Image via Getty/Sean Gardner

Although owner Tilman Fertitta and GM Daryl Morey have been in talks of working out an extension with D'Antoni, an agreement hasn't been reached yet. It is entirely possible that he will come back to Houston for multiple years to continue the small-ball experiment. After all, he has led his team to a win against the juggernaut Lakers to begin their playoff matchup. Houston's speed and efficiency has proven too much for Los Angeles to handle so far.

D'Antoni's inability to lead the Rockets to a championship is the main reason why he hasn't signed an extension. The Warriors have been their kryptonite, beating Houston in the Western Conference Finals in 2018 and the Semifinals in 2019. If "H-Town" can at least reach the Western Conference Finals this year, D'Antoni might find himself coaching for them again; anything less might force him out.

New Orleans Pelicans

Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball of the New Orleans Pelicans smile during an NBA game.
Zion Williamson (left) and Lonzo Ball | Image via Getty/Jeff Haynes

The Pelicans relieved Alvin Gentry of his coaching duties after a disappointing performance in the Orlando bubble, going 2-6. They were flat-footed on defense, coughing up an outlandish 140 points to the Sacramento Kings on August 6th. Zion Williamson looked sluggish and Lonzo Ball averaged less than 6 points per game, shooting 19% from past the arc. At first glance, D'Antoni may seem like a good fit with the New Orleans roster. Zion is electric on offense, and his chemistry with Ball is reminiscent of Nash and Stoudemire.

However, taking a closer look at the team's performance this season should dispel any D'Antoni rumors. He has never had teams with above-average defense, yet that is New Orleans' primary area of improvement this offseason. If he were to lead the Pelicans to the playoffs, his history of collapsing at the most important moments is a red flag. D'Antoni is not the right coach for a young team that is in desperate need of defensive discipline, not offensive firepower.

Indiana Pacers

TJ Warren of the Indiana Pacers leads his team on a fastbreak opportunity, followed by JaKarr Sampson, Malcolm Brogdon, and Goga Bitadze.
TJ Warren (1) leads the Pacers on a fastbreak opportunity. | Image via AP/Bob Leverone

The Pacers fired coach Nate McMillan after getting swept by the Miami Heat in the first round of this year's playoffs. Now, they are looking for someone to give them a spark. Mike D'Antoni might be able to do just that.

One small issue that must be noted: D'Antoni and Indiana could not be more different stylistically. Under McMillan, the Pacers ran a more methodical, mid-range, and post-centric offense. Especially with Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo as offensive centerpieces, 3-point shooting has not been important. They attempted 28 3s per game, the fewest of any team this season. D'Antoni is the antithesis of McMillan's system; his teams live and die by the 3-point shot. Additionally, he won't come cheap: $5 million per season is a lot of money for Herb Simon, a notoriously frugal owner who refuses to push into the luxury tax.

D'Antoni's affinity for high-tempo offense could prove to be the boost Indiana has been looking for in recent years. Their roster is not constructed for his methodology, but perhaps he could be the one that adjusts.


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