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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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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