The rumors of Mike D’Antoni’s expected exit from Houston were at least a bit strange from the Rockets’ perspective throughout 2019-20.
D’Antoni entered his fourth year with Houston after one of the more successful three-year stints in franchise history, and as the Rockets excelled through February, voluntarily finding a new coach appeared to be a risky bet. Few, if any, coaches were better suited to guide the James Harden-Russell Westbrook partnership.
It now seems as though Houston’s brass felt similarly, even after a five-game exit against the Lakers in the second round. The Rockets’ expected D’Antoni to return in 2020-21, per Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen, and the franchise, “knew that D’Antoni exceled” in leading one of the NBA’s most unconventional rosters. If the Rockets had it their way, they wouldn’t be undergoing a coaching search in the offseason.
Tilman Fertitta and Daryl Morey ultimately didn’t get their wish, and at least a modicum of blame likely lies on Houston’s owner. D’Antoni was never given a worthwhile extension offer despite his success in Houston, and tensions were evident after contract negotiations ended in May 2019. D’Antoni had an excellent partnership with Harden, and his working relationship with Daryl Morey appeared to be strong. It’s hard not to separate the difficult contract negotiations from D’Antoni’s decision to leave.
The D’Antoni era is now in the rearview mirror, but it’s worth considering whether the management of his contract will impact Houston’s coaching search. Stability from management is paramount to coaches, and while Fertitta has showed a consistent loyalty to Daryl Morey, the same wasn’t extended to D’Antoni.
Perhaps this won’t be a concern to most of the coaches on the Rockets’ short list. Houston should once again contend for the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2020-21, and there are few superstar duos as impressive as Harden and Westbrook. The Rockets’ vacancy is appealing regardless of who is atop the organization
But perhaps questions surrounding ownership and spending will impact a couple of names in Houston’s search. Established coaches such as Tyronn Lue and Jeff Van Gundy will likely expect contracts that surpass D’Antoni’s original four-year deal, and with a surplus of appealing options, the Rockets could be competition for their top choice.
Philadelphia sports its own dynamic duo as well as fringe Finals expectations. The Pelicans have one of the most exciting young cores in basketball. The Rockets remain a deeply appealing option by virtue of their top-end talent. Yet this may not be a perfect landing spot every presumed candidate. A fascinating search awaits after one of the best four-year stretches in franchise history.