NO-BRAINER

The perfect choice for Rockets head coach seems undeniably obvious

Composite image by Jack Brame.

Last week was a strange mixed bag for Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni.

First NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that "certain coaches might not be able to be the bench coaches" when the league resumes play under quarantine at Disney World in late July. And by "certain coaches," he meant senior citizens like D'Antoni, age 69, the second-oldest coach in the NBA, behind only San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich, 71.

Silver continued: "They may have to retain social distancing protocol. Maybe they can be in front of a room, a locker room, or a ball room with a whiteboard, but when it comes to actual play we're not going to want them that close to players in order to protect them."

Funny how someone named "Silver" was telling older people they can't do something.

After some intense brush back, Silver re-thought his stance on putting older coaches in time out. So it looks like D'Antoni, probably with face mask fastened, will be allowed to sit on the bench and pace courtside like a caged tiger when the Rockets head into the playoffs. The games will be played with no fans, but every game will be on TV. You know the drill, "check your local listings" for time and channel.

Then things really went downhill for D'Antoni, whose 4-year contract as Rockets coach expires at the end of this season. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta praised D'Antoni to the moon, saying, "I think I have one of the NBA's great coaches. Personally I like Mike."

That's scary talk.

General manager Daryl Morey made things much worse by adding, "Mike will be coaching our team (in Orlando). It would be such a huge disadvantage to lose him. We would never stand for that." Morey added, "Coach D'Antoni is one of the best all-time coaches in my opinion. He's one of the great innovators and a great partner. I'd love to keep it going."

Uh-oh. Historically speaking in sports, votes of confidence from owners and general managers means a coach, especially those in the last year of their contract, will be clearing out his office and heading to the unemployment office. (Tip, Line C usually moves faster.)

Here's what the Rockets should do. Get D'Antoni, Fertitta and Morey in a room, lock the door, and nobody leaves until D'Antoni is offered and signs another contract to remain as Rockets coach. A more important "historically speaking" – D'Antoni has the best winning percentage (.687) in team history. The Rockets are 213-97 during his tenure. Morey is right, D'Antoni is of the great innovators in basketball. D'Antoni has some Phil Jackson in him, able to coach ego-driven superstars like James Harden and Russell Westbrook and keep them happy and on the same page.

OK, Chris Paul not so much.

The Rockets are a veteran squad. Their key players, Harden (30), Westbrook (31), P.J. Tucker (35) and Eric Gordon (31) are in the second half of their careers. Their time for a championship is now. The Rockets need a veteran coach with a steady hand, a brilliant basketball mind and experience. That's D'Antoni. To borrow a phrase, D'Antoni is the stable genius suited to guide the Rockets to the promised land, the Larry O'Brien championship trophy. James Harden calls D'Antoni "a real players coach." That's perfect for these Rockets.

Things do, or should, come in threes, Toyota Center needs to hang a third NBA title banner. It's been a long time, a quarter century, since we had a parade downtown for the Rockets.

Should the Rockets triumph in this weird, coronavirus-shortened season, D'Antoni would be the oldest coach in NBA history to win the title. For you trivia buffs, Larry Brown was 63 when he guided the Detroit Pistons to the crown in 2004. Heck, Brown should have won the title, he had enough practice. The Pistons were the seventh NBA team that Brown coached. He coached nine different teams by the time he retired in 2011. He finished with a .548 winning percentage over 27 years. Pretty good.

D'Antoni has coached five teams over 16 seasons. His winning percentage is .557. Even better.

D'Antoni wants to keep coaching a few more years. He still out-thinks most rivals. His mind is sharp. Besides, Prevagen is available without prescription at Walgreen's and Walmarts. The magic ingredient is from jellyfish.

Fun fact: D'Antoni has dual citizenship, the United States and Italy. His grandpop emigrated from Italy to the U.S. in the early 1900s. D'Antoni played 14 seasons (1977-90) with Olimpia Milano in the Italian pro league and became their all-time leading scorer. Olimpia Milano won five Italian league titles and two European championships with D'Antoni as its starting point guard. He can relate to Harden, Westbrook and Green. They respect D'Antoni and listen when he tells them, "Fellas, you gotta share the ball."*

*Does not apply to Harden.

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PROBABLE STARTERS

Thurs, Sept. 24 - HOU: Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.33) vs. TEX: Lance Lynn (6-2, 2.53)

Fri, Sept. 25 - HOU: Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.78) vs. TEX: Kyle Cody (1-1, 1.53)

Sat, Sept. 26 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Kyle Gibson (2-6, 5.87)

Sun, Sept. 27 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Jordan Lyles (1-5, 7.07)

STORYLINES

Season finale - The Astros will wrap up their regular season with their four game set in Arlington at the new Globe Life Field. Houston's magic number rests at two, as the Angels still have a puncher's chance. With Houston's miserable 8-20 road record, the postseason is anything but clinched.

Where's the offense? - The Astros offense has left a lot to be desired over the last few weeks, scoring more than three runs just twice in their last ten games. The bats really need to get going, especially if the team expects to do anything in the playoffs. George Springer has been the only reliable bat of late, with the performances of Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, and, most of all, Jose Altuve, leaving a lot to be desired.

Playoff seeding - If the playoffs started today, the Astros would face off with their division rivals in Oakland. There's an infinite number of possibilities over the next four games, but the Astros can see themselves finish anywhere from the fifth seed to out of the playoffs entirely. Any of Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Oakland, Chicago, New York, and Cleveland could be first round foes depending on how the cards fall.

PREDICTION

Lance Lynn has been one of the better pitchers in the game for a few years now, Kyle Cody is an intriguing young arm with good stuff, and Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson gave the Astros fits in Houston just last week. It isn't a recipe for success for Houston. The Astros win 1 of 4, which combined with the Angels and Mariners failing to take care of business, is enough to get Houston into the playoffs.

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