Kevin McHale was fired after his 4-7 start, J.B. Bickerstaff finished off the season 37-34, and now Mike D’Antoni has reportedly signed a 3-year, $15-million contract to become the new coach of the Houston Rockets, according to ESPN’s Calvin Watkins. Watkins also reported that there’s a team option for year four.
During his press conference, D’Antoni told reporters that “one thing I’ve learned when ownership and the general manager wants to play a certain style, I want to coach a certain style, they all align then you have a chance.” He continued by saying, “it’s not foolproof, but you have a chance to succeed.”
Before his rough patch as a coach for both the Knicks (four years, 121-167) and the Lakers (two years, 67-87), Mike D’Antoni was the made genius who came up the seven-seconds-or-less offense in Phoenix. It was wildly successful, and D’Antoni was handed the Coach of the Year award in 2004-05 and finished his five seasons with the Suns at 253-136.
When he won the award in ’05, the Suns had one of the best teams in the NBA but were bounced in the Western Conference Finals by the San Antonio Spurs. His offense was facilitated marvelously by Steve Nash, and Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, and Shawn Marion all benefitted by having one of their best years.
However, the offense came with a price. And their defense was nowhere to be found. In his time there, the Suns finished never finished higher than 23rd in opponents points per game.
Fortunately, the Rockets can have success with this style of play. Last year, Houston was the seventh fastest team regarding pace and 25th in opponents points per game allowed, so they’re already similar to the old-school Suns. Although the defense won’t be getting better with D’Antoni coming in, he’ll certainly speed them up.
The construction of the team is also very similar to Phoenix: they have one of the league’s top playmakers with James Harden (Nash); guys who are knockdown shooters from outside in Trevor Ariza (Joe Johnson), and Patrick Beverley (Quentin Richardson); and, should he return, a center who can play out of the pick-and-roll and catch lobs with Dwight Howard (Stoudemire) — just don’t expect him to average 26 and nine.
This is a great hire for Houston because D’Antoni is the perfect coach for that system. Due to the competitiveness of the West, however, Houston most likely won’t make it out of the second round.