The NBA shutdown has left every team in an awkward spot, but the Houston Rockets’ position may be a bit more confusing than most.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni’s contract is set to expire at the end of the NBA season, and no new deal is on the horizon. So what happens if the season restarts or continues beyond July 1, when that contract formally expires?
According to D’Antoni’s agent Warren LeGarie, that won’t be a problem.
“Mike is somebody with a lot of integrity and you make a commitment and you fulfill the commitment — regardless of if it goes past (the length of the deal),” LeGarie told Sam Amick of The Athletic. “It’s obviously something we have to work out, but he would never, ever walk away from what he feels is a moral responsibility to see it through with his team and especially with his players. He would never abandon somebody because of a technicality.”
Rockets GM Daryl Morey said the team has no concerns about D’Antoni’s commitment.
“I don’t want to go into any specifics, but I think that there’s not much needed (in terms of his contract),” Morey said. “That’s not always the case with everything during this time. I know the league lawyers are having to work on a thousand things with different legal aspects, and the Players Union and stuff. But in this case, I think things are pretty straightforward.”
It’s full speed ahead for D’Antoni, who appears ready to coach despite the potential personal risks that could involve. The contract does not appear to be a stumbling block either. With the Rockets hoping to contend for a title, that’s going to come as a relief to the entire organization.
Mike D’Antoni falls into the “higher risk” category for potential complications from the coronavirus disease because of his age, and some have been concerned for the health of people like him when the NBA and other sports leagues resume play. D’Antonio apparently is not all that worried about it.
D’Antoni is eager for the NBA to resume play and would have no reservations about returning to the sideline to coach, sources told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. D’Antoni will turn 69 on Friday and is the second-oldest coach in the NBA behind Gregg Popovich, who is 71.
Two anonymous NBA general managers recently told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes that they will be concerned about the health of older coaches and staff members when the league resumes play. But according to MacMahon, D’Antoni has told people with the Rockets that he has full confidence in NBA commissioner Adam Silver to not allow play to resume until it can be done safely.
The Rockets are 40-24 and in fifth place in the Western Conference. While the Los Angeles Lakers have a sizable lead over everyone else in the conference, the difference between Houston and the No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers is just four games.
The NBA has considered a wide array of options for potentially finishing the season, though nothing has been set in stone.
- Mike D'Antoni
Mike D’Antoni’s job with the Houston Rockets seems to be in jeopardy, and Jeff Van Gundy could be an eventual replacement.
The Athletic’s Sam Amick joined Kelly Iko‘s “Brodie and The Beard” podcast on Tuesday and shared that he believes D’Antoni will not be back unless the Rockets win a championship.
“As I reported a couple months ago, barring a championship, if they do save the season, I do not get the sense that Mike D’Antoni is going to be back,” Amick said. “They’ve had a major divide in the contract negotiations. The information that we’ve constantly heard is that that bridge for the most part has been burned, and now they’re just kind of mutually agreeing to make the best of the time they have together.”
The reports about D’Antoni’s job status are not too surprising. The coach’s agent was critical of the team last year over a contract extension offer, so there was some tension there.
Amick also shared his thoughts on Van Gundy possibly getting the job.
“Jeff Van Gundy is the one that I had heard consistently as a very possible replacement for Mike. It’s interesting to see Thibs’ name in there now. Because you have a guy who was Jeff’s top assistant when Jeff was the Rockets coach. … Van Gundy and Thibs being from the same tree, whatever happens next, I think you’re starting to get a sense of what might be prioritized. Obviously defense first, discipline.”
“Thibs” refers to Tom Thibodeau, the former Bulls and Timberwolves head coach who reportedly is receiving interest from the Nets in addition to the Rockets.
Van Gundy is currently serving as an analyst for ESPN. The 58-year-old coached the Knicks for seven seasons and then the Rockets for four. He hasn’t coached in the NBA since his gig with the Rockets ended in 2007, but that was under a different ownership group in Houston. Van Gundy and Thibodeau both reportedly are also on the Knicks’ list.
Mike D’Antoni appears to be trying to one-up his old Phoenix Suns teams.
Speaking with the media on Friday, the Houston Rockets head coach discussed the kind of pace he wants his offense to have with Russell Westbrook aboard.
“Six seconds or less, baby,” said D’Antoni, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN. “We’re working on it.
MacMahon also noted that the Rockets had 27 fastbreak points in their season opener against Milwaukee, matching their most in any game last year. While Houston did lose by the final of 117-111, they played at a pace factor of 111.5, well over their mark last season of 100.4 (per ESPN).
Of course, D’Antoni revolutionized modern conceptions of NBA offense with his famous “Seven Seconds or Less” style with Steve Nash and the Suns in the 2000s, the point being to get a shot off within seven seconds of the shot clock. He did previously say that his offense wouldn’t change much with Westbrook, but some stylistic tweaks here and there could help the Rockets reach their full potential with the Brodie in tow.
The Houston Rockets may have to make some changes now that Russell Westbrook will be sharing the floor with James Harden next season, but head coach Mike D’Antoni insists any adjustments will be minor.
D’Antoni discussed the acquisition of Westbrook in an appearance on “The Woj Pod” this week, and he said there will be no need to change Houston’s offense much with Westbrook. He noted how the Rockets had the second-best offense in the NBA behind the Golden State Warriors last season.
Houston’s Mike D’Antoni on The Woj Pod pic.twitter.com/xVFySpS1aB
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 16, 2019
“We’re not changing much,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll tweak it, but to say you’ve gotta change and you can’t win that way, that’s BS.”
D’Antoni was referring to critics who say the Rockets play too much isolation ball, whereas teams like the Warriors spread it around more and never have one player dominating that side of the ball. Some think it could be even more challenging to play that style now with how ball-dominant both Harden and Westbrook are, but D’Antoni is not concerned.
“Do we sometimes go too much 1-on-1? Yeah,” the coach admitted. “Do we sometimes iso or not move enough? Yeah, we do sometimes. But I can also make the argument that sometimes teams over-pass. Sometimes they move too much or are too helter-skelter. You try to find the balance of what is best for your players.”
Westbrook and Harden obviously aren’t concerned about sharing the ball, as they may have been the ones who facilitated the trade that sent Chris Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russ.
D’Antoni has been even more passionate in defending his offensive approach in the past, and we don’t expect that to change. From a pure talent standpoint, the Rockets should be much better off with Westbrook than Paul. As we know, there is often more to the story than that.
After a rather public breakdown in talks, the Houston Rockets and coach Mike D’Antoni are reportedly trying to make a new contract happen once again.
According to Tim MacMahon of ESPN, D’Antoni and the Rockets are progressing toward an agreement after owner Tilman Fertitta dropped the buyout language that D’Antoni balked at during the initial negotiation process.
Sources: The Rockets have rekindled extension discussions with coach Mike D'Antoni and are nearing an agreement. Houston owner Tilman Fertitta has removed the buyout language that was the sticking point when talks previously broke down.
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) June 8, 2019
It was that buyout language that had D’Antoni’s agent crying foul in public. The Rockets realized that nothing was going to get done with it in the picture, and they’ve gotten rid of it. Now they look set to retain their coach, who had been poised to enter the final year of his deal with the franchise.
Mike D’Antoni broke off contract extension talks with the Houston Rockets last week, and there have been rumblings that the team insulted him with an offer that was low in base salary and rich in incentives. While that is partly true, general manager Daryl Morey says there has been some misinformation about the offer floating around.
The Rockets said last Thursday that D’Antoni turned down an offer that would have paid him $5 million per year. D’Antoni’s agent later claimed that is inaccurate, as the terms of the deal stated that D’Antoni would only be paid $2.5 million for the 2020-21 season if the Rockets failed to make the playoffs or he was fired before the end of the year. According to Morey, that was never the case.
Morey told Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle on Monday that the only way D’Antoni would have made $2.5 million for the 2020-21 season is if he did not coach the Rockets at all. D’Antoni is still under contract through next season, so Morey says Houston’s offer to him stated that he would get $2.5 million — not $5 million — if the team decided to fire him or he resigned before the 2020-21 season. As long as he was the coach to start the year, he would have been paid the full $5 million.
The offer still included incentives, as the deal stated D’Antoni would have been paid $5 million in base salary and an additional $1 million for each playoff series won beyond the first round. As it stands now, D’Antoni is scheduled to make $4.5 million next season.
Whatever the case, you can understand why D’Antoni might feel like he has been around long enough and has enough wins under his belt that his contract should not include incentives. The highest-paid coaches in the NBA make somewhere in the $7 million range annually, and D’Antoni is probably looking for similar compensation. While it does not sound like he is as good as gone following next year, there are clearly some issues to iron out on both sides.