After weeks of speculation and reports that Jeff Van Gundy was the frontrunner for the open Rockets head coaching job, Wednesday afternoon saw a pair of reports that have firmly put that notion to bed, replacing it with another: Mike D'Antoni, whose last two coaching jobs ended in abject disasters for everyone involved.
First, Adrian Wojnarowski reported JVG was out of the running, citing Daryl Morey's desire to go a different direction and Les Alexander showing (healthy) reticence to rekindle a relationship that ended so poorly in 2007. Then, Jonathan Feigen reported — despite earlier conflicted reports — that D'Antoni was the front-runner for the job, and the Rockets are actually working on pinning down defensive-minded assistant coaches to pair with the guru of the run-and-shoot offensive system that Daryl Morey and Les Alexander love.
Now, a lot of stuff still has to happen before D'Antoni is hired, and there are still other candidates. The Rockets have already interviewed David Blatt, Jeff Hornacek, current assistant Chris Finch, Clippers assistant and Rockets huevos legend Sam Cassell and are considering Frank Vogel and Ettore Messina. But Morey will be GM-ing for his job this summer, and hiring a coach with a philosophy that matches his makes a lot of sense.
D'Antoni is the father of modern NBA offenses. His Phoenix Suns teams made Western Conference Finals in years when Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett were at the prime and competing in the same conference. To say that those teams are overhyped is to do history a disservice. Without Seven Seconds or Less, there are no Golden State Warriors and, frankly, there are no Moreyball Rockets, for better or worse.
The D'Antoni years in Phoenix ended with a thud, and although he's solely responsible for the Rockets overpaying Jeremy Lin $21 million, he also got the best years out of Jeremy Lin. Imagine what he could do for Patrick Beverley, now a certified 40% three-point shooter. The Knicks years ended in relative disgrace, and after D'Antoni was fired, Mike Woodson — yes, Mike Woodson — took largely the same team to the playoffs.
D'Antoni was at brought in midseason to make the Kobe-Dwight Howard-Steve Nash Lakers work, and it ended in disaster, particularly for D'Antoni's public perception with the way he handled beloved big man Pau Gasol. Gasol has been tossing up double-doubles in Chicago since then. D'Antoni is an associate head coach for the league's laughingstock.
Say what you will about Mike D or JVG, or any of the other candidates, this whole search has been kind of a mess. The Nets, Kings(!) and Lakers have all hired coaches. Frank Vogel, my favorite candidate, has not even been interviewed (some think he's waiting out the Knicks). The Orlando Magic's job has come open, as has the Grizzlies job.
This is a weird spot to be in for a team with such a crucial offseason ahead. Feigen also reported that there likely won't be a decision until next week. HIRE A COACH ALREADY. The draft isn't far away.