The Houston Rockets just hired my former player, Mike D’Antoni, as its head coach. Mike was NBA Coach of the Year in 2004-05 with the Phoenix Suns and his “Less than Seven Seconds” offense, which meant … get a shot as quickly as you can. Mike has a lot of experience. That includes Italy, winning the Korac Cup with Olympia Milan, winning two titles with Benetton Treviso; and the NBA, with the Denver Nuggets, the Phoenix Suns, the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Then, he played in the NBA, 1973-75, with the Kansas City Kings.
What’s Mike going to find in Houston? For starters, some pretty good players, like center Dwight Howard and guard James Harden. Of course, you don’t win anywhere in basketball unless you have a quality point guard and that will, most likely, be their first order of business. Mike will be working with GM Daryl Morey, a Northwestern graduate, perhaps the leading expert on statistics and analysis in the NBA. He gives lectures to other stats people at the Sloan Institute, just to give an idea at how far ahead he is on such matters.
Mike will also find high expectations. They started out last season with Kevin McHale on the bench and thinking big. When the team got off to a slow start, they made a coaching change. They made it into the playoffs but, as the 8th seed in the West, they ran into powerful Golden State and they were out in the first round. So, like any new coach, Mike D’Antoni will have to: (a) get on the same page with his GM; (b) get his staff set; (c) get to know his roster; (d) make any moves necessary to strengthen the team; (e) give his input in the upcoming Draft.
If I read correctly, Mike already has his Defensive Coordinator picked, Jeff Bzdelik. That’s an important piece. Then, when practice starts, around October 1, he’ll have to get his team to execute his system … run, run, run. Guys love to play like that, so I think that will go smoothly. Finally, he’ll have to get them playing as a team, at both ends of the court. That is the single most difficult thing in coaching but Mike did a great job of that in Phoenix. No coaching job is easy. As they say, “No new coach ever inherits a warm bed.” That’s why guys love to coach.