D’Antoni Is Jumping Ship. Or, Is He Abandoning It?

Mike D’Antoni’s coaching resume has taken him to three Western Conference cities were he slashed and burned and lost in the playoffs his final season. But nothing was more humiliating than what D’Antoni experienced in Game 4 and 5 in the bubble. The Rockets looked dazed and confused. D’Antoni was unable to do anything to stem the Lakers avalanche of small-bigs who smiled and flexed and celebrated their way to an onslaught. (When Alex Caruso is trending for blocking a James Harden jumper you know it’s the beginning of the D’Antoni end.)

We had a clue this was coming. A few days earlier, Daryl Morey mentioned that signing Mike D’Antoni was his number one priority. It was newsworthy only because of what Morey didn’t say. Had D’Antoni been content, Morey would have been quiet. But, Morey the boss feared D’Antoni the employee had other options other than Harden-ball.

Even still, the hypocrisy is thicker than mud. When superstar players leave a championship-contending team the outrage is exponentially grotesque. But when coaches abandon a playoff team after a tough series in which they are partly responsible for the negative outcome, no one seems bothered. No one calls them soft or quitters.

Mike D’Antoni’s losing playoff record, 54-56, follows him to we got D’Antoni next. Wherever that is D’Antoni will increase offensive efficiency. He ups the pace and changes iso scorers into playing the beautiful game. But the downside is he ruins the psyche of big men.

According to reports, the two teams who are in hot pursuit are the Sixers and the Pacers.

In 2019-20, the Sixers were 19th in pace and 13th in offensive rating. They took an absurdly low amount of shots, which isn’t the D’Antoni way of shoot it or move it. The  Sixers were at the lower end of the spectrum of three-pointers attempted but they had a decent percentage, 36.8%. The Sixers were 20th in scoring but have three 40% three-point shooters on the roster (Alec Burks, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz).

Joel Embiid would be why D’Anotni would take the job except Joel Embiid brings issues. He has a dominant personality and similar to former Embiid coach Brett Brown, D’Antoni doesn’t hold players accountable. In the past, D’Antoni has let strong personalities walk over him. The Embiid- Ben Simmons pairing is held together with thin glue. It’s another problem for D’Antoni to mine through.

D’Antoni likes to come to a team with a wing shot maker. That isn’t Philly. Making it even more complicated is D’Antoni himself. He has never been enamored with seven-footers but if he can get Embiid to increase his long ball efficiency, he might have something to build on. The roster still has to be reworked for D’Antoni’s liking. Which is another major problem. The Sixers have only one player option, Glenn Robinson. No opt-outs anywhere else on the roster and their payroll for 2020-21 of $147 million is suffocating.

Indy is coming hard too and it makes sense why they want D’Antoni. They let go of a highly regarded defensive-minded coach in Nate McMillan to pursue an offensive coach. Indianapolis is a D’Antoni kind of town. They love basketball as a fanbase but keep it all in perspective. No jumping out of windows if they lose.

In 2019-20, the Pacers were 21st in pace. Their offensive rating was 19th. They were middle of the pack in shots attempted but were second in percentage. The Pacers took twice as many two-pointers than three- not a D’Antoni strategy- and were last in getting to the line. As a team, they had a decent three-point percentage, 36%, and they defended the three expertly.

But their best player, Domantas Sabonis, doesn’t space the floor. Malcolm Brogdon attempted 230 threes but only made 32%. T.J. Warren is a 40% three-point shooter but he holds the ball too long.  However, Justin Holiday and Doug McDermott are D’Antoni disciples, 40% from three. Miles Turner attempted 4 threes per game, the third-highest on the team, behind Victor Oladipo and Justin Holiday.

As for Victor Oladipo. He is a huge question mark. After the injury, he hasn’t looked the same, almost as if some of his quickness has left him. He has one more year at $21 million and can be moved. That takes a $124 payroll down to $103 million. Justin Holiday is a free agent.

In the West, a tougher conference to compete in, the Thunder have an opening but they are rebuilding and Mike D’Antoni wants to win now. He thought James Harden and Chris Paul would get him there, or James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The NBA Finals is the carrot he’s been chasing for two decades.

Year 18 coaching in the NBA, 1,199 regular-season games for Mike D’Antoni and he is still is where he always is. On the hunt.