It's good to see the beneficiaries of Mike D'Antoni's basketball upheaval now include D'Antoni himself, with the Houston Rockets hiring him as their newest head coach.
The high-scoring, 3-pointeriffic style D'Antoni espoused colored the 2015 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, and it expanded this season as the Warriors set a record for made 3-pointers and the Cavaliers obliterated the single-game 3-point record in the playoffs. Even the Oklahoma City Thunder have shown traces of the D'Antoni influence when they utilize Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant as their biggest players and have five players on the court who can make 3-pointers.
Credit is nice, but what D'Antoni really sought was the title of head coach. Those were dished out to others. Two years after the Los Angeles Lakers and D'Antoni parted ways, the team hired his indirect descendant in Luke Walton. Walton was hired based on his successful stand-in stint with the Golden State Warriors, where Steve Kerr runs a very D'Antoni-influenced offense and had former D'Antoni assistant Alvin Gentry around to help him install it in Year 1.
D'Antoni, meanwhile, lost out on the Denver Nuggets job to Mike Malone last year, and missed out on the first wave of hirings this year. Houston finally hired him, based not on what the Rockets are, but what they could be. There's no way they expect Dwight Howard to exercise his option for the final year of his contract. They didn't need the D'Antoni hiring to assure that, no matter how poorly they meshed in their lone season together with the Lakers. This summer could very well be the last chance for Howard to grab a high-priced, multiyear contract. He has to leave.
"So many folks want to draw the Steve Nash-Steph Curry comparison but leave out the lineage from Shawn Marion to Draymond Green: power forwards who can defend multiple positions, push the ball upcourt and create spacing with the ability to hit 3-pointers."
It would be easy to label D'Antoni a retread, one who carried losing records at his past two jobs with the Lakers and Knicks. But he's a retread who is actually very modern, now that the league has come around to his belief in basketball offense. So many folks want to draw the Steve Nash-Steph Curry comparison but leave out the lineage from Shawn Marion to Draymond Green: power forwards who can defend multiple positions, push the ball upcourt and create spacing with the ability to hit 3-pointers.
How does James Harden fit in here, with a game that's distinctly different from any of those players? Well, he could be a deluxe version of Jeremy Lin, who took advantage of the spread court under D'Antoni's system in New York and turned it into international fame. Yes, Harden tends to hold onto the ball as if it contains vital corporate secrets. Nash could actually keep his dribble a long time, too. The difference was he was always holding out hope to catch an open teammate, not exhausting every last chance to score before passing as a last resort the way Harden does. I'm of the belief D'Antoni can get Harden to buy in to the notion that if he gives the ball up he will get it back.
(In the meantime, save your tears for Harden missing All-NBA honors despite an array of stellar statistics. The only number for Harden that matters is two. As in, two men were responsible for coaching the Rockets this season, and both lost their jobs).
Finally, one thing to keep in mind heading into free agency is D'Antoni's reputation for helping players get big contracts. Players know about it. Agents definitely know about it. Joe Johnson, Marion and Amar'e Stoudemire landed huge deals from the Phoenix teams, and even Jodie Meeks snagged a three-year, $19 million contract for putting up career numbers amid the rubble of the Lakers. And, of course, Linsanity. A team with D'Antoni at coach could draw some bargain free agents hoping to use their time with D'Antoni as a springboard to a bigger contract in the next go-round. Now that, you know, the D'Antoni effect actually got him a job himself.