Mike D’Antoni and the Houston Rockets came to an impasse in contract extension negotiations because Rockets’ owner Tilman Fertitta wanted an out if things didn’t go well. It was a lowball offer. According to D’Antoni’s agent, the one-year extension offer the Rockets made was for $2.5 million — which is $2 million below his current salary — but with another $2.5 million if D’Antoni made the playoffs and was still coaching the team at the end of the season.
That language gave Fertitta — an owner who made cost-cutting moves last summer that hurt the team on the court, remember Trevor Ariza — an out.
The two sides are talking again and this time some of that contract language has changed, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.
The Rockets have acted this summer like a frustrated team searching for answers. For a couple of seasons in a row now this has been one of the best teams in the NBA, but unable to get past Golden State (even when they didn’t have Kevin Durant for Game 5). They are searching for what will put them over the top, and letting go of most of D’Antoni’s staff was part of that process.
It’s completely fair for Houston to ask, “is Mike D’Antoni the guy who can coach this team to a title?” But that leads to a second question: Who are they going to get that’s better? D’Antoni is one of the game’s elite coaches, a guy James Harden trusts, and a guy who has modified his system because it’s what’s best with this roster. There are not better options just lined up at the door.
D’Antoni is entering the last season of his contract, a potential lame duck season, and that could matter in a locker room where Harden and Chris Paul (among others) have reportedly clashed over the offensive style. If those guys sense D’Antoni is not ownership’s guy long term, they are less likely to listen to him, thinking they can just wait him out and win over the next guy. It could be an issue.
Which is why it makes sense to pay D’Antoni the money of an extension. If Rockets GM Daryl Morey or ownership wants to make a change next summer and have to eat the cost of that contract extension, well, welcome to NBA ownership. That’s the cost of doing business.