As we enter a new year, it's time to issue a public apology to Mike D'Antoni.
"This team needs defense," I shouted to anyone that would listen. I was not alone. Conventional wisdom is like that.
The Rockets had offense — or so I thought — and it was the defense was the real problem in Houston. They had to find someone that would force the offensive-minded James Harden to pay attention to defense and in my mind, it was former Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy, not D'Antoni.
Les Alexander and Daryl Morey definitely did not think that, and they saved D'Antoni from the Philadelphia 76ers and tasked him with making the Rockets a contender again.
Morey and Alexander's faith in D'Antoni has been rewarded. A few months into the 2016-2017 season and the Rockets are 27-9 and are only one game out of the second seed in the West.
D'Antoni and the Rockets proved all the doubters wrong; myself, local media, national media, everyone.
The smart pairing of Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon along with expanding Harden's role on offense has paid off in spades. The team has become an unstoppable freight train, scoring points at will, as they are taking more threes than any team to ever played the game.
Recently, Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers offered this thought to why D'Antoni is thriving again in Houston.
"Mike's been able to do more things with this team than he was when he was with L.A., lets say, because he didn't have the same guys,” Rivers said. “They’re doing better than expected, they're playing terrific basketball, I think the chemistry is good too. I think that's overlooked, good chemistry with good talent usually means good results, and that's what they have."
The term "buying in" is cliché, but it does fit the Rockets’ situation. With NBA teams always trying to collect stars, sometimes not everyone is on the same page.
Just a season ago, Dwight Howard said he needed his touches to be effective, and more often than not it was not good offense. Harden is a pick-and-roll player, and he needs a big that’s going to roll to the rim, instead, Howard wanted post ups.
Howard didn't buy in, so the team suffered. It felt like the Rockets were on a rowboat, and everyone was paddling in different directions. Of course, the team went nowhere. Now, this year the team is all rowing in the same direction and now they are actually getting things done.
I underestimated what the Rockets would look like with a coach that would allow Harden to become more of a playmaker.
I also did not realize that apparently all the team needed was good shooters. Last season, the Rockets shot 34.7 percent from three, 19th in the NBA. Now, with the additions of Gordon and Anderson the team is now shooting 38 percent, the fifth-best mark in the league.
D'Antoni has certainly changed my mind. While I still cringe at the defense from time to time, it's certainly not as often as last year. As the team continues to bond, they are trying much harder. And while Harden will never be Kawhi Leonard on the defensive end, he also isn't the same James Harden from last year.
90 percent of defense is about hustle and effort, and this year Harden is doing just that. When he cares, the rest of the team cares.
We all may have chuckled and rolled our eyes when the Rockets hired D'Antoni, but nobody is chuckling anymore, especially the other teams in the West..