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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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