Despite being saddled with a perceived lame-duck status throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni continues to be in the organization’s long-term plans, according to general manager Daryl Morey. When asked by USA Today over the weekend about the importance of keeping the 69-year-old on the sidelines beyond the current campaign, the Rockets G.M. told the publication that he considers retaining D’Antoni the team’s top offseason priority.
“It’s probably No. 1. That’s a fair way to put it,” Morey told USA Today‘s Mark Medina.
“We have all our key players signed. I think Mike coming back is super important.”
D’Antoni’s future in Houston has been up in the air since May of 2019 when he announced he would not be renewing his contract, which was set to expire following the conclusion of the ’19-20 season. It had been reported by ESPN and other outlets at the time that he had previously expressed a desire to remain with the club for an additional three years.
Then, in early June, ESPN‘s Tim McMahon reported via Twitter that the two sides had reentered into negotiations about extending D’Antoni’s contract. However, those negotiations ultimately did not result in an extension, leaving him to coach out the final year of his original deal.
Despite the lingering uncertainty about the team’s coaching situation, D’Antoni and the Rockets haven’t allowed the failed contract negotiations to serve as a distraction and stymie their current efforts in a difficult Western Conference.
The club finished the pandemic-shortened regular season with a record of 44-28, earning the No. 4 seed in the West as a result. After defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of postseason play in seven games, Houston took Game 1 of their conference semifinal series versus LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.
Over the course of his four-year run with the franchise, D’Antoni and the Rockets have consistently held a place among the association’s elite teams, owning a 217-101 record and having won several playoff match-ups. In 2018, the team just missed out on a trip to the NBA Finals, falling by nine points to the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.
The Rockets have consistently boasted one of the league’s best offenses as well. This season, they ranked sixth league-wide by scoring 112.5 points per 100 possessions, after finishing first or second in each of the previous three seasons.
In the event that the Rockets are unable to secure D’Antoni’s services going forward, it has been reported that former head coach Jeff Van Gundy could be a top candidate to assume the role.