D’Antoni’s Departure Not Necessarily a Bad One


After four seasons as the head coach of the Rockets, Mike D’Antoni’s time in Houston is finally up. Although he led the team to a Conference Semifinals appearance this year, D’Antoni and his team ultimately came up short against the Lakers who eliminated them in five games. Not even 24 hours after the series ended, the renowned coach announced that he wanted to leave Houston and enter coaching free agency elsewhere.


A Bit of History

When he was first signed, D’Antoni and Houston seemed like a match made in heaven. As one of the top offensive coaches in NBA history, the new coach had his work cut out for him with Rockets star James Harden on his roster. Over the next four years, the pair reached the Western Conference Semifinals three times, as well as a Conference Finals appearance in 2018. On top of that, the 2018 squad was the only team to take the Kevin Durant-led Warriors to seven games. All things considered, D’Antoni and his Rockets tenure should be remembered for being a hamstring away from defeating the greatest team ever assembled on a basketball court.

The Case for D’Antoni’s Departure

Although the Rockets were virtual locks for the playoffs the last four seasons, there were still some issues with D’Antoni-coached rosters. Yes, Houston has been a consistently good team while he was head coach, but they just haven’t been good enough to get over the hill. This problem comes from from two sources.

1. Refusal to make adjustments

MDA is notorious for his strict refusal to adjust the gameplan while his team is on the floor. On one hand, this is a sign of confidence. He truly trusts his players enough to let them play their own game and win.

On the other hand, however, that confidence makes him stubborn and can really hold the team back at times. This past series against LA was a perfect example. When the Lakers trapped and double-teamed Harden at half court, MDA basically just told him to figure it out himself. Add the fact that he made very few changes to the defensive strategy against LeBron and Anthony Davis when they caught fire and it’s easy to understand how Frank Vogel outcoached the Rockets.

2. Rotation issues

D’Antoni is also extremely stubborn when it comes to rotations. During the regular season, he stuck with the same guys night in and night out. The average age of Houston’s roster was 30 years old, but they still had a couple of promising prospects in Gary Clark and Isaiah Hartenstein. Unfortunately, MDA didn’t trust the young guys enough to give them minutes, a choice which drastically limited their growth and led to both eventually being released by Houston. Additionally, MDA only ran extremely short rotations in the playoffs. His eight-man teams meant players logged heavy minutes, making them more fatigued and prone to the late-game collapses seen so often during Rockets games.

The Small Ball Experiment

Coach D’Antoni’s push for small ball might be the biggest reason the two sides parted ways. The Rockets shook up their roster to the extreme this season, essentially trading away budding star center Clint Capela, Gerald Green, and four draft picks for Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington. The small-ball experiment worked for a time, but led to a “go big or go home” type scenario. Now that the Rockets’ title hopes have been prematurely extinguished, hindsight shows the change may not have been worth it.

On a similar note, Coach D’Antoni’s “layups and threes” system tested for the last four years and failed every time. His offense is too predictable, and he refuses to add new wrinkles such as the midrange shot to it. Although it had great potential, small ball only amplified the problems within the offense. Small ball was doomed from the start and the roster shakeup it created hurt Houston in the long run.

What’s Next?

The future of the Houston Rockets is an uncertain one. Now that D’Antoni left the franchise, there is a substantial void to fill at head coach. There are many candidates available and early rumors suggest Ty Lue, Sam Cassell and Jeff Van Gundy could be names to watch, but this decision isn’t one Houston will want to rush into. Choices like this can take months and the Rockets are sure to do their due diligence in the search for their next leader.

Although the sun may have set on the D’Antoni era, his exit isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes all a team needs is a new voice in charge, so the opportunity to bring in a fresh face and run it back means that Houston fans should have much to look forward to in the future.

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About Keagan Smith

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