The Houston Rockets saw their championship hopes crushed after falling in five games to the LA Lakers. It has quickly shifted the attention over to their long-term future with James Harden and Russell Westbrook with many significant decisions to make. Among those involves their head coaching situation, which Mike D’Antoni has made up his mind concerning his Rockets’ future.
Rockets fall short to the Lakers
The Rockets entered the playoffs with high expectations geared toward competing for an NBA title.
Houston’s title quest was cut abruptly short in the Western Conference semifinals against the LA Lakers in five games. Despite winning Game 1, things swayed into the Lakers’ direction in the final four games behind their size and defensive game plan.
Each of the first four contests saw the Rockets either in the lead or tied entering the fourth quarter. It was the Lakers’ defensive presence along with the stellar play from Anthony Davis and LeBron James shift the tide in their favor. That, coupled with Houston’s decision to play with their small-ball lineup, made the series lopsided.
Davis and James had their way, becoming the first teammates to average at least 25 points and 10 rebounds since the 1960-61 season. James Harden remained a considerable factor offensively despite the constant double teams, but Russell Westbrook struggled, averaging 19.8 points on 40.7% shooting from the floor and 24.4% from beyond the arc.
With the Rockets out of the playoffs, Mike D’Antoni has quickly decided on his long-term future with the franchise.
Mike D’Antoni won’t return as head coach
Throughout the 2019-20 season, the Rockets had the underlying storyline around Mike D’Antoni’s long-term future.
In the last few weeks, the dialogue shifted over to D’Antoni holding the cards for his fate in Houston beyond this campaign. With the Rockets falling short of an NBA title, the 69-year-old has chosen not to re-sign with the franchise, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Following the Rockets’ playoff exit, D’Antoni expressed a desire to continue coaching, but didn’t specify if that would come with the Rockets. The writing may have already been on the wall as he chose not to sign an extension before the 2019-20 season.
. There early dialogue around him have centered around the potential to coach the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers elected to part ways with Brett Favre after the team’s first-round playoff exit. There may be other opportunities that could come about int he coming weeks.
What lies ahead of the Rockets?
The loss of Mike D’Antoni will have a significant impact on the direction of the franchise.
The Rockets are expected to continue to build their roster around their star guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Harden expressed after the Game 5 loss on Saturday that he believes Houston is is a “piece” away from contending for an NBA title, according to Ben Golliver of the Washington Post.
“It’s very, very frustrating. I’m going to keep chipping away. We’re a piece away. We’re going to keep trying to grow and put the right pieces around me and (Russell Westbrook).”
Early indications point to the Rockets continuing to roll with a small-ball lineup approach. Houston is contractually tied to Harden and Westbrook until 2023, while the team doesn’t possess a single draft pick for the 2021 draft. It will lead the front office to likely look into the trade market to bring additional frontcourt talent aboard.
The next few months will be quite telling what direction the Rockets will head in 2021 and possibly beyond.