If you were listening into the press conference Wednesday, and you heard Mike D'Antoni mention defense 6,700 times, your ears don't deceive you. There wasn't a DJ, dropping the word "defense" every few seconds. D'Antoni really made it clear from the jump, that the Rockets need to play defense and it's something everyone knows including him.
D'Antoni is a name that can strike fear into the heart of coaches trying to play against his teams. How do you stop his teams from running? How will we have the energy to keep pace with them? How can we outscore them? These are the questions you heard all the time. Never asked:how on earth do we score off their suffocating defense?
This time around D'Antoni hopes that will change.
"Jeff Bzdelik will be my defensive guy. I know that the final responsibility will end up at my doorstep but actually, if the defense isn't any good, it's all his fault," D'Antoni joked.
Bzdelik has quite the defensive resume, D'Antoni shared while with the Heat underneath Hall of Famer Pat Riley he was responsible for all the schemes. The Grizzlies also were known as one of the toughest, grind-you-out teams in the NBA during his tenure as an assistant coach, although their defensive greatness also preceded his arrival in 2014.
While D'Antoni was laughing about everything defense going to Bzdelik, it was no joke. If the Rockets turn into a great defensive team next year, all credit will end up going to Bzdelik.
The Rockets brass didn't mention it during the press conference, but there was little doubt that D'Antoni wouldn't be in Houston if a supposed defensive mastermind wasn't following him.
D'Antoni's offense works, not many people will argue about that, but the Rockets need defense. If you can pair the great Seven Second or Less™ offense with a halfway good defense, well, now you're talking. That's something that might carry the Rockets back to relevance.
"Nine out of the last 10 championship teams had a balance, they were top 10 in defense and top 10 on offense," Bzdelik said. "You got to have balance, you have to be committed to both said of the ball, otherwise you're kidding yourself."
The Rockets are not too long removed from being a very good defensive team. The work Bzdelik has to do might not be so much of an overhaul but rather a tune-up.
"When a shot is taken, you have to get out of the corners, you can't stare at the ball and see if it goes in," Bzdelik said of how to fix transition defense, "as soon as the ball leaves the fingertips of the shooter we need people back, and if you're on the outside of the arc you can't be running in, you have to get back."
Ball-watching is a big problem for the Rockets. If he can just eliminate half of that, you could be looking at a pretty dominant team. Hell, the Grizzlies were a better team than the Rockets, and most of their starters were injured down the stretch.
The Rockets have a lot of the parts to be a good defensive team. Patrick Beverley is the most annoying player in the NBA and he's a good on-ball defender. Trevor Ariza can guard anyone from Chris Paul to Anthony Davis. Plus whoever ends up playing center for the Rockets, be it Clint Capela or Dwight Howard, they can block shots and protect the paint. The question mark of the group is James Harden.
"They were a very good defensive team," Bzdelik said, "for whatever reason they got a little sideways last year, but James (Harden) is very competitive, and in order to defend well you have to have a great competitive spirit and he has that."
The Rockets made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals in 2015 because Harden bought into both sides of the ball. So it can be done, this is not an impossible task... Maybe giving into Harden and bringing in an offensive coach that will put him on the fast track to 35 points a game can also be just the right guy to tell him, "maybe with defense we'll make you an all-time great."
Les Alexander heard the all the "naysayers" and he didn't give you the defensive coach you all asked and begged for. But is the tag team of D'Antoni/Bzdelik enough to make you happy? After listening to both guys, I am bought in.