Former Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni reportedly informed the Rockets’ players that he was parting ways with the team on the plane trip back to Houston.
It’s been well-known that the Houston Rockets and coach Mike D’Antoni weren’t exactly on the best terms, as we’d heard reports throughout the season that the two sides were bound to part ways at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season. The Rockets offered D’Antoni a one-year extension prior to the start of the season, but D’Antoni’s agent Warren LeGarie intervened, stating that the incentive-laced deal wasn’t enough for a coach of D’Antoni’s caliber.
Reports surfaced early in the season that the Rockets were going to be moving in a different direction unless D’Antoni guided the Rockets to a championship, which didn’t happen, as the Rockets were eliminated by the Los Angeles Lakers during the Western Conference Semifinals.
It had also been reported that both sides knew their time would be coming to an end after the season, but that they were seeking to make the most of their remaining time together. The Rockets had been tied to Jeff Van Gundy and Tom Thibodeau throughout the season, which lends credence to the reports that they were going to be parting ways with the 2016-17 Coach of the Year.
D’Antoni made it easy for the Rockets, as he informed them that he wouldn’t be returning for the 2020-21 season, shortly after their series-ending defeat in Game 5 to the Los Angeles Lakers. D’Antoni’s contract had already expired, so absent a new deal, he couldn’t have been back anyways.
D’Antoni informed Rockets players of decision to not return
But D’Antoni made it a point to inform the players of his decision first, as stated by Randy McIlvoy of Houston’s NBC affiliate KPRC during Sunday’s KPRC Channel 2 News at 10 PM.
“I’m told by a team source, he actually had informed his players on the plane ride home from Orlando to Houston [Sunday] morning,” stated McIlvoy.
McIlvoy echoed those sentiments on KPRC’s Sports Sunday, which airs immediately after the news concludes.
“He actually told the team, I was told by a Rockets source, on the plane ride home [Sunday] morning. He informed the team that this was the decision he was making.”
This was a classy move on D’Antoni’s part to notify the players, as Rockets MVP finalist James Harden stated after Game 5 that he wanted D’Antoni to return as the Rockets coach next season.
Harden on if he wants D'Antoni to return next season: "Of course. Mike has done some unbelievable things here. It hasn't ended yet."
— Anthony Duckett (@a_duckett) September 13, 2020
D’Antoni coached the Rockets for four seasons, from 2016-2020 and led the franchise to a 217-101 record, which represents a 68.2 percent winning clip, which is the highest win percentage in Houston Rockets’ history. D’Antoni’s 217 wins ranks second among Rockets coaches, behind only Hall of Fame coach Rudy Tomjanovich.
The Rockets made the playoffs in each of D’Antoni’s four seasons in Houston, and never failed to make it past the first round under his watch.
Shortly after the D’Antoni news broke, the Rockets were linked to LA Clippers assistant coaches Tyronn Lue and Sam Cassell, who both had stints with the Rockets during their playing days. But with the NBA playoffs still underway and the 2020-21 season still without an official start date, the Rockets have plenty of time to make the decision on who they want to bring in as the next head coach.
For that reason, don’t be surprised if this ends up being a lengthy process.