Barring NBA Championship, Future Murky for Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni

Mike D'Antoni, Rockets

Getty Mike D'Antoni, Rockets

This was never going to be an easy ride for Houston coach Mike D’Antoni. Back when he was negotiating a contract extension with the Rockets last spring, things got tense and irritable between the sides, a process that was punctuated by the firing of most of D’Antoni’s staff.

No extension agreement was reached, bad blood between D’Antoni and owner Tillman Fertitta percolated and the coach headed into this year as a lame duck, in the final season of his contract.

When the Rockets started 3-3, capped by an embarrassing loss in Miami that saw the Heat lead by more than 40 points at times, speculation held that D’Antoni might not last the season. The Rockets won eight in a row from there, sparing D’Antoni his position, but the thin ice on which he walks in Houston has remained perilous.

Houston has gone 4-4 in its last eight games, a return to mediocrity that again has raised the prospect that the coach might be tabbed to take the fall for the team’s underachievement. At the very least, according to a report at The Athletic, D’Antoni is not expected to return to the sideline in Houston next season, when his contract expires.

The only thing that potentially could change that would be a Houston championship but there’s little indication thus far this season that the Rockets are bound for a title. The Rockets are 11-1 against teams with records under .500, but 4-6 against winning teams.

Rockets Players Still Back D’Antoni

In October, D’Antoni suggested that his status as a coach in the final year of his contract would not have much impact on his team.

“It’s not going to change the way I coach or how I feel trying to compete,” D’Antoni told USA TODAY Sports. “So then we’ll see next summer with what happens… I got a great group of guys that I don’t think care. They won’t be affected by it. I won’t be affected by it. So it’s a non-issue.”

Indeed, the core of the Rockets—James Harden, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker—has been with D’Antoni for three seasons or more including this one, with Danuel House and Austin Rivers joining the club last year and Russell Westbrook coming in this year.

The players have a comfort level with D’Antoni, who, according to a source with knowledge of the team, still very much has the backing of his roster. There’s no indication that D’Antoni’s likely departure from the team, after or during the season, is affecting the Rockets, who have won 53 at least games and won at least one playoff round in each of D’Antoni’s three seasons.

Injuries to Gordon, House and reserve Gerald Green have been largely to blame for the Rockets’ inconsistency, as well as the struggles of new acquisition Russell Westbrook, who is shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 21.9 percent from the 3-point line this season.

The Rockets rank third in offensive efficiency this season, at 113.1 points per 100 possessions. They’re 16th defensively, at 109.6 points per 100 possessions allowed.

The big issue is the 3-point shooting. The Rockets lead the league with 46.1 attempts per game from the 3-point arc, but they’re making only 34.1 percent of those shots—25th in the NBA.

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