After the Houston Rockets were dispatched by the Los Angeles Lakers in five games, the writing was on the wall that Mike D’Antoni, with his contract expired, wouldn’t be back.
But it was D’Antoni who broke up with Houston first, ending a four-year run with the Rockets which saw them pretty damn close to a championship. The 69-year-old has never shied away from innovation, and helped guide the Rockets with their plan to not have a center on the floor, which worked until the Lakers’ defensive prowess took Houston off the 3-point line and quickly eviscerated that plan.
D’Antoni now enters a robust coaching market that sees six teams, or 20% of the league, looking for a head coach. Here’s where we’ll rank the options based on the teams’ ability to win now with MDA’s fit with that franchise’s personnel.
6) Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC and Billy Donovan just agreed to part ways, with a contract extension deemed unfeasible due to the Thunder’s new direction. Oklahoma City is likely going to rebuild, beginning with Chris Paul’s potential departure via trade.
At nearly 70, D’Antoni probably doesn’t want to rebuild and Sam Presti is likely looking for more of a developmental coach to grow with players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley and the notorious Lu Dort.
5) Houston Rockets
This is extremely, extremely unlikely, which is why it’s number five out of the six current available options. But what if, what if, Houston realizes that it’s not going to be able to change the team much via trade or free agency with the Rockets’ cap situation for next season as flexible as me trying to do yoga after Thanksgiving dinner.
Perhaps the market isn’t as inviting as D’Antoni anticipated and he goes back to a situation where he’s familiar and comfortable. This is, again, not a likely scenario, but I guess it’s possible. We already know he’s a good fit for this team. And if Houston runs it back, maybe D’Antoni does as well. But again, probably, almost definitely not going to happen.
4) Chicago Bulls
Like Oklahoma City, the Bulls and their new management team should be looking for a more developmental coach. But Chicago does have the personnel to play a lot faster than it did last season, when it ranked 16th in the league in pace under Jim Boylen. Bring D’Antoni in and tell Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter, Tomas Satoranksy and Coby White to push it.
The Bulls could be close to contending for the playoffs, especially if they nail the 4th pick in this year’s draft, but they’re probably too far away for D’Antoni to seriously consider them for this job. But it would be interesting.
Now let’s get to the teams with actual real shots at D’Antoni:
3) Indiana Pacers
There’s definitely mutual interest between coach and team, and it makes sense based on the timeline. After firing Nate McMillan in part because he didn’t embrace analytics enough, with the Pacers being held back offensively for not shooting threes, D’Antoni leaves Houston with an Indiana opening waiting and a team likely wanting to embrace modern NBA offense.
Seems like a great fit in that regard, no?
But a season after D’Antoni’s Rockets traded all their playable big men, Indiana has All-Star Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner on big-money contracts. Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo and T.J. Warren can all shoot from deep, but it doesn’t seem like D’Antoni is the best fit for a roster that finished 21st in pace last season.
But Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Monday that the expectation is that Indiana will hire D’Antoni. But the two other teams listen below fit better.
2) Philadelphia 76ers
D’Antoni spent some time as a special guest assistant coach under Brett Brown before taking the Houston job four years ago, so there’s at least some familiarity with ownership. And the current Sixers roster could use a dynamic change.
No team with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons should finish 13th in offensive efficiency, which is where Philadelphia finished the regular season. And if there’s someone who can solve Al Horford offensively, it would be D’Antoni. He can work his offensive magic to put Embiid, Simmons, Horford, Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson in a better position to succeed than a year ago. I think it’s a worthy challenge for D’Antoni and one Philly should consider.
But if he gets the following opportunity, he should grab it.
1) New Orleans Pelicans
Can you imagine a D’Antoni offense led by Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, assuming NOLA keeps the latter in the offseason?
The Pels were already second in the league in pace under Alvin Gentry, but there’s still plenty of room for the offense to grow not just stylistically but with the continued growth developmentally of Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. New Orleans took the 7th-most threes this past season and made the 5th-most per game on 37% shooting. But if you’re shooting 37% from three as a team, you better believe D’Antoni will have the team taking a whole lot more from deep.
Also, imagine how much fun D’Antoni would have with J.J. Redick on the roster, not to mention Jrue Holiday and his defensive prowess.
The Pelicans are the most intriguing team right now with a head coaching opening, and they’d definitely be the best fit for an innovative coach like D’Antoni who would benefit from the combination the personnel to play fast with a winning situation.