When the Houston Rockets went out and decided to make Mike D'Antoni the head coach, it was met with a lot of doubt, nationally and locally.
It seemed like the hiring, much like a Randy Orton "RKO," came out of nowhere.
D'Antoni at the time wasn't a head coach anymore and hadn't been one since 2013. Last year, he was working as an associate head coach for the Philadelphia 76ers, one of the worst teams in the league. He had previously been at the helm of three different teams: the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Knicks, and Phoenix Suns. At only one of those stops, with the Suns in the mid-2000s, could his tenure have been considered a success.
Les Alexander took notice of D'Antoni during a Rockets loss to the Knicks way back in the day. The best case scenario for D'Antoni's fourth career stop is to regain the magic he had when he was with the Suns, taking them to the playoffs four straight seasons.
So when you look at how to re-build what D'Antoni had in Phoenix, you have to look at what he was working with and see how it fits with what he has now.
When he was with the Suns: Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell and Boris Diaw all had big roles in his rotation.
The question is: what Rockets can fit those Suns' roles?
Steve Nash = James Harden - Ball dominant play-maker, who can hit the three. On top of that, he's a much better scorer than Nash. Few players in history can match Nash’s vision and ability to keep his dribble alive, but Harden is still a gifted passer and possess other gifts Nash could have only dreamed of.
Amar'e Stoudemire = Clint Capela - Stoudemire could do so many things in D'Antoni's system. Capela won't be able to do half as much, but he’s just as athletic.
Shawn Marion = Ryan Anderson/Trevor Ariza - There is no clear comparison for Marion — he was truly one of a kind — but the Rockets can use both guys to fill his role. Ariza will play as much as Marion and be able to defend at a high level and shoot threes. Anderson will be counted on for the scoring and rebounding that Marion gave the Suns but it isn't as athletic; he'll still shoot the ball plenty.
Boris Diaw = Eric Gordon - Gordon is not an exact comparison but the roles could be somewhat similar. Gordon is a big piece of the team, but like Diaw, he's behind pretty much everyone else. He will still have a hand in scoring and playmaking. Diaw could stand at the top of the key and find cutters, but Gordon's playmaking will have to come through penetrating the lane.
Leandro Barbosa = Corey Brewer - Quick, comes off the bench and can get to rim with ease... Describes both pretty accurately. Barbosa was/is a much better outside shooter, if just as unwilling.
Raja Bell = Patrick Beverley - Bell was a very good three-point shooter for the Suns. Beverley will have every chance to hit the 45% goal he set for himself at the start of camp. Bell was an early three-and-D player, but that's pretty much what Beverley is at the moment.
On top of those guys, Nene will also be counted on heavily for his post passing, which fits the offense perfectly along with his post defense. Plus one or more of K.J. McDaniels, Montrezl Harrell, and Sam Dekker are likely to take a step forward and give the team some real, productive minutes.
The eras of basketball are different — you can thank D’Antoni and his Suns teams for this one — but the Suns once took the NBA by storm. Maybe now, Suns 2.0 might just be able to do the same thing again a decade later.