With last night’s defeat at the hand of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Houston Rockets face a bevy of questions. Because it wasn’t that they lost. A four-seed falling to the one-seed is hardly a blow-it-up situation in and of itself. But it’s how they lost.
So the questions do abound, and none are perhaps bigger than what happens to Mike D’Antoni, who now has an expired contract. The architect of Houston’s small-ball approach holds the highest win percentage in franchise history at .682 (217-101), and his teams have made it at least to the second round of the playoffs in all four years at the helm.
But his failure to get his teams over the top and they way they’ve performed in key moments (poorly may be an understatement) have led many to suppose the Rockets will go in another direction now that D’Antoni’s contract is up.
One name that was tied to the Rockets earlier this year and is now coming back up again is former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy.
There have been rumbles in coaching circles for weeks that the Rockets will strongly consider Jeff Van Gundy to replace Mike D’Antoni if they make a coaching change— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) September 13, 2020
GM Daryl Morey, remember, had interest in rehiring Van Gundy when Houston hired D’Antoni instead in May 2016 https://t.co/CJXIul5WgY
Van Gundy coached the team for four seasons from 2003-2007, making the playoffs three times, but infamously never making it past the first round during the Yao Ming/Tracy McGrady era.
Van Gundy is a notorious hard-nosed, old-school, defense-first guy, so maybe adding his toughness is what this Rockets team needs. While I’m not much into retreads and am certainly not sold on Van Gundy, the logic in adding someone with a little grit is sound.
Houston has played so poorly in crunch time under D’Antoni, and gotten progressively worse in that regard in the last two seasons, that it’s hard not to put some of that on the coach, especially because the coach has long history of failing in big moments.
Others hold responsibility. James Harden. Russell Westbrook. Clint Capela. Chris Paul’s hammy and then his slowness (since revitalized, because of course), Trevor Ariza and his poor playoff performances, Scott Foster... I can go on and on.
But the buck stops with coach, and the way the Rockets totally no-showed the last two games against L.A. leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.
Daryl Morey recently said that he wants D’Antoni back. Whether or not Tilman Fertitta allows Morey to make that decision is another story. And that’s assuming Morey hasn’t changed his mind following the Lakers fiasco. D’Antoni likely wants another four-year deal and will have other competing offers. I can’t imagine the front office being super eager to commit another four.
And there’s a pattern here. After Van Gundy, the Rockets went offense and laid back in Rick Adelman. They then went back to a strong personality in Kevin McHale. Followed by another unassuming offensive guru in D’Antoni. It could be time for the pendulum to swing again.
Will it be Van Gundy? Stay tuned.
What say you, Shakers? Is D’Antoni gone? If so, who do you want? Tell us in the comments.