Rockets hire D’Antoni
The Associated Press
Mike D’Antoni is taking his “Seven Seconds or Less” offense to Houston, where James Harden is waiting to give his new coach the kind of weapon that could be a perfect fit for his system.
D’Antoni reached agreement with the Rockets on a four-year deal on Thursday, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the hiring, which was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.
In some ways, both D’Antoni and the Rockets are looking for redemption.
The 65-year-old D’Antoni has long been thought of as one of the most innovative offensive minds in basketball. He led the Phoenix Suns to two Western Conference finals appearances in five seasons, with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire spearheading a break-neck scoring machine that put the entire league on its heels.
He wasn’t as successful in ensuing stints with the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, going a combined 188-255 in six seasons and 0-8 in two trips to the playoffs.
He returned to the bench as an associate head coach in Philadelphia this season in hopes of getting another chance to run the show.
D’Antoni inherits a team in turmoil with the Rockets. They were one of the NBA’s biggest disappointments this season, with discord in the locker room leaking on to the court and making the talented roster an incredibly frustrating team to watch.
With his ability to shoot from the outside, score in transition and get to the free throw line, Harden puts as much pressure on an opposing defense as any player in the league. But his ball-dominant approach and an inability to fully mesh with center Dwight Howard added a level of tension to the attack that was palpable.
After making the Western Conference finals in 2015, the Rockets barely made the playoffs this year and were eliminated by the Golden State Warriors in the first round.
Coach Kevin McHale was fired early in the season as GM Daryl Morey desperately tried to find the right buttons to push to get the team going. Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff went 37-34 in McHale’s place.
The Rockets conducted an exhaustive coaching search. Charlotte assistant Stephen Silas, Orlando assistant Adrian Griffin, San Antonio assistant James Borrego and TNT analyst Kenny Smith were among the candidates interviewed by Morey and owner Leslie Alexander.
D’Antoni is 455-426 in 12 seasons as a head coach, including a 50-game stint with the Denver Nuggets in 1998-99. He has led his team to the playoffs six times.
His offensive expertise should align well with Harden, the bearded face of the franchise known for his scoring and volume shooting. Like D’Antoni, Harden is occasionally chided for a perceived aversion to defense, but he remains so much more than a shot hunter. He averaged 7.5 assists this season to go with his 29.0 points and has served as the Rockets’ primary ball-handler and playmaker ever since he was acquired in a trade with Oklahoma City in 2012.
There is also a familiarity between the two stemming from their time together with the U.S. Olympic team in 2012.
Howard is expected to opt out of his contract and become a free agent. It will be up to D’Antoni and Morey to find the right mix of players to surround Harden with, and D’Antoni is expected to bring in a coaching staff with experience on the defensive end to help balance his acumen on the offensive side.
Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski