Houston Rockets: Is D’Antoni’s lame-duck status affecting the team?

Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

Recent reports suggest that the Houston Rockets will not be bringing back Mike D’Antoni at the conclusion of this season, meaning he will be fulfilling the lame duck year on his contract. Could this uncertainty be affecting the Rockets?

The Houston Rockets and coach Mike D’Antoni have had an interesting timeline of events, all of which raise the question of whether the Rockets want D’Antoni to be their coach for the long haul. The Rockets weren’t able to come to an agreement with D’Antoni on an extension, which essentially meant the 68 year-old coach would be coaching out the final year on his contract.

Owner Tilman Fertitta openly spoke about how this was a good thing during his press conference regarding the matter. Fertitta had the below to say:

“I’m gonna tell you what I think from an owner’s perspective, OK? I don’t know what ‘lame duck’ means because he’s under contract. I think his agent did me a favor, OK, because if for some reason we had a horrible year and we thought we needed to make a coaching change, we just got through paying off one of the other coaches, I believe.”

The Rockets’ owner later stated that he hoped MDA would force him to give him a new deal by leading the Rockets to a championship. Fertitta also went on ESPN’s First Take and publicly stated that he felt D’Antoni was the right coach for the Rockets prior to the start of the 2019-20 season. However, Fertitta may have spoke a little too soon.

According to John Hollinger and Sam Amick of The Athletic, the Rockets are not expected to bring D’Antoni back next season, barring a championship. Granted, we don’t know whether or not this is true or which sources Hollinger and Amick are getting this information from but the timing is interesting, to say the least. D’Antoni was already forced to coach out the final year of his deal but it’s interesting to hear we won’t be returning after this season, as one can imagine it would be difficult for him to commit to an organization that hasn’t done the same to him.

To D’Antoni’s credit, he’s consistently stated how he’s not bothered with his lame duck status, but it would be impossible for this to not bother or affect MDA, as we’re talking about his future livelihood. Obviously with him not knowing how owner Tillman Fertitta and general manager Daryl Morey prioritize him, it would certainly affect his confidence in the organization. But not only that, the Rockets are playing a dangerous game by playing the wait and see approach on D’Antoni, as it would be hard to make sound decisions without him knowing whether or not this will be his last year at the helm.

If this is indeed true, then the Rockets mismanaged this situation entirely, because they had the opportunity to part ways with him after the disappointing season-ending defeat to the Kevin Durant-less Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Houston Rockets had already fired several of his assistants and were asking him to tweak his offense to suit the skillset and abilities of Russell Westbrook, so why make him do that for one year?

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What was the benefit of having Russ learn D’Antoni’s offense if he’s only going to be here for one year? Because essentially whoever is coaching next will likely run a different style of play, which Westbrook will then have to learn all over again. Even if D’Antoni is able to lead the Rockets to a championship this season, he would still know that the Houston Rockets essentially don’t want him coaching the team as they nearly fired him. It would be interesting to see how that goes over.

We’ll have to play the waiting game as it seems the only time we’ll find out is at the conclusion of the season, but it’ll be interesting to see how things pan out.