One second, Mike D’Antoni is out of head-coaching work in the NBA, the stench of his failed tenures with the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers persisting, even after the Golden State Warriors won a championship, in 2015, playing a style similar to what he championed.
The next second, D’Antoni is guiding the Houston Rockets toward 55 regular-season victories, third-most in the NBA, and emerging as the Coach of the Year favorite.
Asked about this transition by ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne, D’Antoni was deferential, crediting his team and the players above all else, while also downplaying the significance of the award:
MD: That it means that I’ve got a really good team. Every coach in the league does an unbelievable job, and they’re prepared and think you’re going to outcoach people, or you think that you’re going to surprise, but you don’t. Now, if you’re in the right situation, and people underestimate you, because usually for the Coach of the Year the team has been underestimated, and that’s how you get it. Otherwise, Golden State and what they’re doing, or what San Antonio’s doing, but as people said, we’re not going to make the playoffs, or barely make it, and then we have 55 wins. So, that’s how you win Coach of the Year, and that’s why most Coach of the Years get fired the next year. You overperform, then you come back to normal and they fire you.
So, I know what it is. I’m happy, I would love if that happens. [If it does], it just means I got good players and good guys.
There’s nothing here to really gripe about. D’Antoni is right. He’s here, in this discussion, because the Rockets overachieved. But they’ve overachieved in part because of him.
It was his decision to move James Harden to point guard and play Patrick Beverley off the ball. The players had to buy into, and then execute his vision, so they deserve a lion’s share of the credit. But D’Antoni, make no mistake, is crucial to what the Rockets are doing.
If he wins Coach of the Year, as most expect, he’ll deserve it.
And he won’t have to worry about getting fired next season.