With seven NBA teams already looking for a new coach for next season, the former Suns and Rockets head coach has had his name thrown around even though he’s proven that he is unable to bring even the best talent to the Finals.
The NBA coaching carousel has officially begun and is already stirring up the offseason for some teams with rumors about possible prospects–some obvious and some surprising–and the fits that certain coaches might have that others don’t.
One of the biggest names being tossed into the ring for pretty much every team’s open position is Brooklyn Nets’ assistant coach Mike D’Antoni, former head coach of the Denver Nuggets (’98-’99), the Phoenix Suns (’03-’08), the New York Knicks (’08-’12), L.A. Lakers (’12-’14), and most recently the Houston Rockets (’16-’20).
D’Antoni has had one of the best coaching careers of the past 25 years on his way up the all-time win list–where he currently sits at 21st overall with 672 wins–in his 16 seasons as a head coach but he has never been able to turn those wins into championship trophies.
His overall record in the regular season (672-527) paired with his postseason record (54-56) show that he has a habit for winning, especially when you realize he has reached the playoffs in ten of his 16 seasons as a head coach, but it’s when his teams reach the Semifinals or Conference Finals that D’Antoni seems to shrink as a coach (or, in one case, have terrible luck regarding injury).
As a lifelong Phoenix Suns fan, it pains me to say this so publicly but D’Antoni’s wins and his historical career are great reasons to inquire about him but in the end, he is not the future that these teams should be looking for.
Why? He has proven time and again that no matter how much talent he has on his roster, and no matter how much knowledge he has on the sidelines, D’Antoni is not going to win you everything he’ll only win you up to everything before collapsing one way or another.
Take his time in Phoenix, for example, he had two-time MVP Steve Nash, four-time All-Star Shawn Marion, and five-time All-NBA center Amar’e Stoudemire, all in their prime playing their hearts and souls out for D’Antoni. They had the best record in the division for three years in a row (’04-’07) and reached the Western Conference Finals two of those three years, but at the end, D’Antoni was unable to get past a Spurs team with a Hall of Fame roster (which is understandable), and a Mavericks team that heavily relied on Dirk Nowitzki to score most of their points.
His Suns team had Marion, a constant defensive threat that finished first in steals twice under D’Antoni, and Nash who led the league in assists per game for three straight seasons under him. Both of these great players paired with the then-dominant center Stoudemire, who won rookie of the year in ’03, should have won at least one championship, let alone punched at least one ticket to the Finals, but instead, D’Antoni led them to disappointment every season.
D’Antoni’s time in Houston was very similar to his time in Phoenix, he had raw talent in 2018’s MVP James Harden and 11x All-Star Chris Paul, not to mention he had a defense that was ranked 6th in the ’17-’18 season thanks to the likes of Clint Capela and the stealing abilities of Harden and Paul.
The narrative around D’Antoni’s time in Houston always surrounded their chemistry and eventually their play against the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty that kept them from the Finals two postseasons in a row. When the Rockets were up 3-2 on Steph Curry and Kevin Durant in the Western Conference Finals, it was Paul’s Game Five injury that supposedly kept D’Antoni from making his first Finals.
Excuses aside, if there is any singular characteristic that teams look for when choosing their new head coach it is their track record in the playoffs and the way that they win in the postseason. So, with that in mind, none of the teams looking for new leadership on the side of the court should put D’Antoni above some of the other possible coaching prospects.
I am not alone in my criticism of D’Antoni, for instance when Nash became the Brooklyn Nets head coach before this past season, he hired his former head coach, along with his former teammate Stoudemire, to be an assistant on his sideline. This was D’Antoni’s best possible option, according to Stephen A. Smith of First Take on ESPN…
“…Here’s the reality of the situation,” Smith said on his morning show before the 2020-21 season, “you’ve been a head coach–Phoenix, New York, LA, Houston–never got to an NBA Finals…If you are trying to win, meaning win the ‘chip, no he ain’t the answer.”
So if Boston, Portland, Orlando, New Orleans, Dallas, Washington, or Indiana is thinking of bringing D’Antoni in to bring their franchises to the promised land they should take a step back and realize that–unless a miracle happens–D’Antoni is not going to be the man who does that for your organization.