The writing was on the wall for Mike D’Antoni the moment the Houston Rockets were eliminated from the playoffs by The Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1, in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals tiff. The now-former Rockets head coach made it official on Sunday, informing the Houston ownership that he won’t be returning to the team next season.
It was certainly a match made in heaven when the Italian-American coach first signed with H-Town in 2016. Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, after all, completely embraced analytical methods — which favors 3-point field goals and lay-ups over mid-range jumpers. D’Antoni seemed like the perfect fit since he was already preaching pace and space way before analytics became a thing in the league.
In four fruitful seasons in Houston, D’Antoni finished with a coaching record of 227 wins and 102 losses. This included one Western Conference Finals trip and three conference semifinals. However, D’Antoni still can’t shake the reputation of being a talented coach who just cannot lead his team over the hump.
As of the moment, there are six head coaching vacancies (including the Rockets) in the NBA.
Although his track record in the postseason isn’t as impressive as it should be, the 69-year-old tactician has already proven that his style can win a lot of games and can turn franchises into perennial contenders. Here are three NBA teams that should take a serious look at hiring Mike D’Antoni.
New Orleans Pelicans
Roster wise, the Pelicans might just have the most exciting group of young talents in the league right now. If they manage to plug-in Mike D’Antoni into that system, that promising core might surprise a lot of teams in the 2020-21 campaign.
That Phoenix Suns powerhouse squad of the early 2000s was also filled with young and athletic stars like Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. The two-time Coach of the Year transformed that team to arguably one of the best scoring units the league has ever seen.
Imagine what he can do the Pels’ two best players, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. D’Antoni will maximize all that length and athleticism and turn it to one mean-scoring machine.
D’Antoni’s free-flowing system also turned a pass-first point guard into a two-time MVP. The Pels’ current point guard, Lonzo Ball, is certainly no Steve Nash. But if there’s any coach who knows how to maximize a gifted facilitator’s talents, it’s D’Antoni.
It is also worth noting that NOLA’s recently fired head coach Alvin Gentry is a former D’Antoni deputy. The Pels might want to take a shot at the real OG this time.
If Mike D’Antoni wants another high-profile coaching gig, the Sixers might just be his best choice. The revered tactician is reportedly already lined-up to interview for the job, so this might soon come to reality.
Plus, they are already quite familiar with the two-time Euroleague champion since he served as an associate head coach under Brett Brown in 2015.
The Sixers’ offense looked completely out of sorts under former coach Brown for most of this season. That won’t be a problem with D’Antoni at the helm, since his fast-paced style remains a fixture in today’s modern game.
Philly might need to add more pieces to be able to play D’Antoni’s system to the fullest. Pundits believe the Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons tandem has already run its course, but maybe they will achieve their full potential under the right mentor.
Despite his limitations, Simmons still holds a rare mixture of raw athleticism and phenomenal court vision. The Australian stud has all the right tools to hold the keys of D’Antoni’s offense. Embiid, on the other hand, has the speed and athleticism to play fast and range to stretch the defense.
That Suns’ Nash-Stoudemire pick-and-roll was practically unstoppable back in the day, and maybe Simmons and Embiid can replicate that under D’Antoni’s leadership.
Given his history of winning right away, Mike D’Antoni would likely prefer to coach a playoff-ready group rather than a rebuilding one.
The Pacers don’t seem to have D’Antoni on their radar right now, but he will certainly be a great replacement for Nate McMillan.
The current Pacers crop is already a high-scoring bunch, but D’Antoni might just be able to elevate them to the next level.
They certainly have the personnel to do it, particularly with their budding star Domantas Sabonis. The Lithuanian-American slotman is the prototype of a modern-day big in today’s game. His well-rounded skill set fits perfectly under D’Antoni’s scheme of things, while his 6-foot-11 frame still gives that unit some size.
The status of Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner remains uncertain at the time, but Indy could flip them for players more suitable under D’Antoni’s system.
The East has improved leaps and bounds over the last few years, and maybe D’Antoni is the piece the Pacers need to catch up with other contenders.