The Mike D’Antoni “Love Him or Hate Him” Houston Story

Mike D’Antoni is about to face one of the biggest challenges of his coaching career.

Last season, he worked as associate head coach for a team (76ers) that lost 72 games. Two years earlier, as coach of the Lakers, D’Antoni had a shallow 27-55 record. At 65, this may very well be the last team D’Antoni coaches and his last opportunity for a championship title. Even so, he understands that the Rockets are by no means competitors against top teams in the NBA.

D’Antoni’s coaching style requires a specific set of players on the court. When he doesn’t have those players he flunks the test, like he did with the Knicks and Lakers. There have been blurbs of success, such as with Carmelo Anthony in ‘11, but it doesn’t compare to the success D’Antoni originally had turning the Suns around. He needs a healthy Steve Nash to run the plays that he wants to run. It just hasn’t fully worked with anyone else.

That being said, speed ball won’t be what turns the Rockets around. The fast-paced strategy that Mike D’Antoni is known for requires a true point guard – one who is active and unselfish. Current Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley averaged 3.1 assists last season, and he isn’t the player required for the D’Antoni task. James Harden could step up to the role due to his speed and driving ability, but he isn’t a strong enough passer. No other current player can fill the job any better.

Despite this, D’Antoni is nearly guaranteed to work well with Harden. An offensive playbook and star talent is all he needs to make the team a scoring juggernaut. And that’s not saying that D’Antoni will focus more plays on Harden; he already gets enough ball time. Right now, the Rockets’ strategy is essentially letting Harden play isolation because he’s the star. D’Antoni will make plays more effective by integrating a team mentality on top of that.

Although the Rockets are not the ideal team for a D’Antoni offense, they will undoubtedly be able to work with him in order to score

In ten years of coaching, D’Antoni has had little trouble making his teams one of the best, offensively. Defense, on the other hand, has never been his strong suit.

Defense is the main problem that Houston will face next season, as it has been a glaring issue for a while now. Unless the Rockets gain some talented defenders along the way, D’Antoni certainly isn’t gearing towards improving their defense through practice. His long history of disregarding defense speaks for itself.

None of the NBA teams D’Antoni has coached reached top 10 rankings in defense, and that’s worrisome in the Western Conference with teams like the Warriors and the Spurs. It may have been one of those things you hide under the rug ten years ago when he coached the Suns, but the NBA has evolved since then. Both offense AND defense are crucial to becoming a good team.

Luckily, his lack of defensive strategy can’t really hurt the Rockets organizational defensive sickness. The amount of hate Harden gets about his defense is immeasurable. Additionally, Harden’s teammates, pieces that don’t fit, are clueless to what they’re doing wrong on defense.

The Rockets lost their chemistry last year amidst the discord between James Harden and Dwight Howard. No, not their chemistry as a team; it’s questionable whether they ever had that in the first place. When they became lazy on defense, they lowered the standards for themselves. The Rockets need someone to straighten out their bad habits, and D’Antoni is the very last coach to be that guy.

Will he make the Rockets a better team? Likely yes, because he knows how to use offensive players to their full potential. Is he the perfect fit for the Rockets? No, far from it. And he won’t adapt much to change that fact.


photo via llananba