On Mike D’Antoni and the Houston Rockets’ coaching search

The situation (hopefully) remains fluid, but at the time of writing, Mike D’Antoni appears to be the frontrunner for the Houston Rockets’ coaching vacancy.  If you follow me on Twitter, you’re aware of my thoughts on the matter, depicted through a rant on all things D’Antoni, spanning all waking hours of my Thursday.  But to recap: reports indicate D’Antoni has become the frontrunner to land the position, due to the support of team ownership.  Reports stated while general manager Daryl Morey preferred and held interest in Jeff Van Gundy and Frank Vogel, neither candidate even so much as received an interview due to the lack of interest from team owner Les Alexander.  Reports have stated that if D’Antoni is to land the job, the Rockets would seek to assemble a staff with strong defensive oriented minds as uhh…accommodating of his deficiencies.

The row over the matter is easy to comprehend.  The Rockets had the 21st best defense in the league last season.  They had the seventh best offense in the league, and as I’ve been establishing over the past several weeks, one that was consistently good throughout, contrary to popular perception.  The problem with this team, very simply put, was defense.  Daryl Morey himself said the same, in no less words, even stating earlier this summer in an interview that defense would be prioritized.

“I think it’s going to be someone who embodies what we need. We need to get our defense stronger,” Morey said.

Instead, while eschewing brilliant defensive minds in Van Gundy and Vogel, we may be getting D’Antoni, a man regarding whom there has been no evidence has ever had any interest in coaching both sides of the ball.

I said two things repeatedly all year once it became clear the season was lost.  1) that this upcoming coaching search was as, if not more, vital to the franchise’s long term interests as free agency, and, more significantly, 2) the most important challenge ahead for this franchise would be to find a coach who would both challenge James Harden and also establish a culture of discipline and accountability distinct from the enabling forces that have established the current status quo.  Mike D’Antoni is definitively not that person.

To wit, there are aspects of D’Antoni which intrigue me.  For all intents and purposes, he’s the pioneer of modern basketball offense, and one of the most brilliant minds the game has ever seen, in that regard.  Gone would be the days of uncreative sets and the complete inability to even run a basic inbounds play.  Perhaps D’Antoni could unlock even more out of Harden, a man who in my belief is actually one of the most underrated offensive forces in all of basketball.  And perhaps, while defense is truly the problem, a holistic approach might be more relevant: one might argue that while defense was the issue of this current “team”, this present manifestation of players will not be the long term composition of the roster.  To that extent, perhaps a big picture vision might be applicable, with D’Antoni modernizing the offense, and a strong assistant taking over on the other end.

I could possibly be sold if I knew the aforementioned was what Daryl Morey had in mind.  My problem, however, is that all indications are that this would be a Les Alexander move; and the track record on teams with a recent history of ownership meddling has not been pretty.

After last season’s debacle, one could understand why Morey might have lost some autonomy with Alexander in regards to such decisions.  But the latter would do well to step aside.  It’s been no secret that Van Gundy was let go after his initial tenure as Alexander pined for a more “exciting” and uptempo offense in line with D’Antoni’s Suns.  Alexander is not exactly in tune with actual reality:

“One, I don’t think we were as good as people thought we were at the beginning of the season. We didn’t shoot the ball well. We turned it over too much. I think those are the three things I would say hurt the most.

“I think we’re getting better now because we’re shooting the ball better. But we were such a horrible shooting team at the beginning of the season it really was very difficult for us to do anything. We’ve gotten better.”

That’s from April 14th, long after it was clear to anyone watching that defense was the primary issue with this team.

Alexander writes the checks, so he’ll get what he wants.  Maybe he’s right to think he’ll sell more tickets with a more exciting brand.  After all, the average fan doesn’t hold a clue to who Mike D’Antoni even is.  But regardless of the style, especially in this city, fans will only come if the team is good.  To that end, the best teams, while great offensively, are similarly great on the other end.  Defense still wins championships.  And even with a strong supporting staff or top assistant, I’m not convinced Harden will change without being challenged by the head man.

There is still time and this situation hopefully is fluid.  Hopefully, some sanity and reason will be restored to this process.  Because Mike D’Antoni is not what this team needs.  I said earlier last week that with Jeff Van Gundy, Dave Joerger, and Frank Vogel all available, the Rockets pretty much couldn’t screw this up even if they tried.  I apparently gave them too much credit.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of www.Red94.net.

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