There is, obviously, a good deal going on around Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni these days. His team is embroiled in a tied NBA playoff series against the Thunder, having lost Monday’s Game 4. It is unclear when the Rockets might take the floor again for a pivotal Game 5—if at all. With player boycotts postponing the entire slate of Wednesday’s games, including Houston’s, the possibility of canceling the entire remainder of the playoffs is looming.
Add to that mix the uncertainty around D’Antoni’s job. For most of the year, it has been presumed that D’Antoni was in his final season in Houston, having failed to lock up a contract extension as the front office nearly pulled the trigger on firing him last year. Instead, the team fired most of his staff and brought in a new team of assistants.
But there is a glimmer of good news for D’Antoni: Should he be let go by the Rockets, he is expected to be a top candidate for the Pacers’ job. Indiana surprisingly fired coach Nate McMillan following the team’s sweep at the hands of the Heat.
That report came courtesy of ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni — in the final year of his contract — will be an Indiana target should he become available, sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 26, 2020
D’Antoni Has Been a ‘Lame Duck’ All Season
Earlier this season, D’Antoni shrugged off the notion that being a lame-duck coach would be a detriment for his team, which underwent major changes that began with the trade for guard Russell Westbrook last offseason.
The Rockets got an additional overhaul when they dealt away center Clint Capela at the trade deadline, bringing in Robert Covington and committing to a small-ball style that had Covington—traditionally a small forward—as the starting center.
Through it all, D’Antoni had the support of his players.
“It’s not going to change the way I coach or how I feel trying to compete,” D’Antoni told USA TODAY Sports in December. “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.”
This is D’Antoni’s fourth season in Houston and, at 44-28, it has been his worst season. He had a winning percentage of .703 in his first three seasons and .611 this year. Despite that regular season success, the Rockets have not been to The Finals under D’Antoni and only reached the conference finals once.
Pacers Would Need an Overhaul
D’Antoni would be an odd fit in Indiana, especially coming off a season in which he coached a fast-paced, small-ball style. The Pacers would need a complete revamp of their style to fit D’Antoni’s approach. They have two young 6-11 centers, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, who are among the best players on the team. Rookie Goga Bitadze, who is also a 6-11 center, is another promising asset.
The Rockets were No. 2 in the league in pace this season, with an average of 104.04 possessions per 48 minutes. The Pacers were 22nd, at 99.41 possessions per 48 minutes.
More concerning would be D’Antoni’s commitment to the 3-point shot. The Rockets own the three season with the most 3-point attempts in league history, including 45.38 attempts per game last year. They just missed topping that record this year, trying 45.29 per game.
The Pacers, meanwhile, were last in the league in 3-point attempts this year, taking 28.0 per game.