Of the many issues hanging over the Rockets heading into what was certain to be a fascinating 2019-20 season, the status of coach Mike D’Antoni was easy to overlook. After all, tense and irritable contract extension negotiations with the team back in May were punctuated by the sacking of most of D’Antoni’s staff and D’Antoni entered this season in a coach’s most unenviable position: He’s in the final year of his contract.
A disastrous loss to Miami on Sunday night has brought D’Antoni’s status back to the fore. Several head and assistant coaches around the league had already tabbed D’Antoni as the most likely to be the first fired in the NBA this season, but an effort like the one put forth against the Heat was unexpected.
Miami won, 129-100, but the game was not that close. The Rockets trailed, 46-14, after the first quarter, with Houston shooting 5-for-21 from the floor and 2-for-15 from the 3-point line. The Heat’s biggest lead was 41 points.
During the blowout, one coach texted, “This could be it for Mike or not long after. Maybe the last straw. This is gonna stick with the FO (front office) for a while.”
D’Antoni shrugged off the lopsided score after the game. “We’re not in trouble, but if we think we’re not in trouble, we’re in trouble,” he told reporters.
Westbrook a Major Disappointment for Rockets
Certainly, things have not gone as planned for the Rockets, who are 3-3 with a winnable game on Monday in Memphis.
The record is deceptive, though. After trading for Russell Westbrook this summer, the Rockets were expecting to be championship contenders, but they’ve shown little sign of that potential. On the eve of training camp, scouts expressed to Heavy.com some skepticism about the ability of the Rockets’ offense to withstand Westbrook’s shooting struggles and the effect his defensive lapses would have on the team.
The Rockets were 14-for-48 from the 3-point line against Miami, 29.2 percent. Houston is now shooting 30.7 percent from the arc, 27th in the league. Westbrook is shooting 25.0 percent on 3s, which makes him tied for 12th among the worst 3-point shooters in the NBA. Harden has struggled, too, at 21.5 percent.
D’Antoni hoped to jumpstart the offense by replacing Danuel House in the starting five with Eric Gordon, who had been shooting 23.9 percent from the 3-point line. Gordon was 0-for-5 from 3-point range. Sums up how things have been going for D’Antoni.
The defense has been abysmal, too. The Rockets rank 29th in defensive efficiency, at 116.2 points per 100 possessions. Some of the blame for these struggles falls on the players, especially Westbrook and Harden, who are expected to be carrying the team.
But D’Antoni is the easy target for a Rockets front office that has been uncertain in its commitment to the coach.
And if his past patterns hold, then D’Antoni should be right at his threshold for staying with a team, four seasons. Before joining the Rockets four years ago, D’Antoni coached two years with the Lakers before he agreed to leave L.A. and four years with the Knicks. He stayed with Phoenix for five seasons but the first was as a fill-in for Frank Johnson.
No matter the spin, it’s clear that the Rockets are, in fact, in trouble. Maybe D’Antoni most of all.