What to make of Mike D'Antoni's extension talks breaking down

Before the 2018-19 season started, it was almost assumed that Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni would be receiving a contract extension by the end of it. The Rockets had just come off a 65-win season in which they fell just short of toppling the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, D'Antoni had developed a strong rapport with the players in the locker room, and it became clear that the Rockets had made the right hire in the summer of 2016.

However when the Rockets started off 11-14, talks of possible extension had quickly become worried murmurs of D'Antoni's job security. Those murmurs became almost laughable when Houston turned it back around by winning 10 of their next 11 games and several players pointed to D'Antoni's even-keeled demeanor as a reason for the turnaround. "He gets us going, he motivates us. When things aren't going great, he tells us that we're going to turn it around," said Rockets star James Harden at the time. Though the Rockets went on to being eliminated by the Warriors for the second straight season, pointing the finger at D'Antoni was irrational and it still felt D'Antoni would receive an extension.

The weeks that followed foreshadowed that perhaps extension negotiations weren't going as smoothly was originally thought. Assistant coaches Jeff Bzdelik, Mitch Vanya, and Irv Roland were let go, talks of D'Antoni's uncertain future with the team became public through the mutual departure of Roy Rogers, and details of a performance-based contract offer were also made public. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta also came out and told the Houston Chronicle that he wouldn't be opposed to the idea of D'Antoni coaching the last year on his contract without an extension.

These events painted a picture that perhaps the organization wasn't as enthusiastic to get an extension done as Mike D'Antoni himself, who told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that wants to coach at least three more seasons and wishes to win a championship in Houston.

Then Wojnarowski reported Friday afternoon that extension negotiations with D'Antoni have ended and that he would coach the remaining year on his contract before moving forward.

So, what exactly does this means for the Rockets?

Well, there are a couple of layers to peel away at. One misconception about 'lame duck' coaches is that just because a team failed to extend their contract, the likelihood of a new deal is now slim to none. More likely, it means the team is uncertain about extending the coach and they want to keep their options open in case they decide to pivot. Paying a coach millions of dollars in guaranteed money and being forced to eat that money due a a premature exodus isn't exactly an ideal situation. As long as both sides are comfortable playing out the old contract (which it seems D'Antoni is perfectly fine in doing), a deal could be worked out the following summer, but the team wants more time before making a definite decision.

Also, as Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressed to the media Friday afternoon, sometimes both sides want a deal to get done and it doesn't happen. This seems to be the case here because it really does seem like Houston wanted to extend D'Antoni, but negotiations didn't go the way they planned. It doesn't mean D'Antoni isn't the voice they want to move into the future with, it just means both sides have effectively kicked the can down the road until next summer.

"I know coach D'Antoni is fine," said Morey. "He would have preferred to work something out, but we didn't. We'll work something out after the next season. It's fine."

From what the Rockets have said publicly, it also seems like Houston wanted to go with a short-term extension whereas D'Antoni's camp preferred a long-term contract as the short-term contract would not have been fully-guaranteed. According to Fertitta, the Rockets had proposed a $5 million one-year extension with incentives of $1 million per playoff round won. ESPN's Wojnarowski reported that D'Antoni's camp wanted a more traditional guaranteed deal instead of one fraught with incentives.

With all that being said, if both sides are truly comfortable with D'Antoni coaching his final season out before another possible round of negotiations, it may not be the worst idea to play it safe and let things play out. Looking back, it definitely seems the Rockets rushed into an extension for former head coach Kevin McHale and they had to eat the final three years, $12 million of his salary. D'Antoni does really feel like an ideal organizational and cultural fit for Houston, but if a deal couldn't be worked out this summer, there's no sense in fretting about it as there's still plenty of time next year during the season or in the following summer to get one done.

A big remaining problem the Rockets face is filling out the holes left on the coaching staff around D'Antoni as Houston suits up for another competitive 2019-20 campaign. If Roy Rogers left due to uncertainty about D'Antoni's future, it's fair to ask whether or not other coaches would be scared off by D'Antoni returning on his last year.

Whatever the case, it's shaping up to be yet another interesting offseason for the Rockets.

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Yordan Alvarez's homer in Wednesday's game gave him 100 RBI on the season. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Winners of three straight, six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten, the Astros had the chance to move yet another game closer to clinching their playoff spot if they could secure the series with a win against the Angels on Wednesday. Even though it looked as though they were headed towards a loss in extra innings, they would ultimately come out ahead.

Final Score (12 innings): Astros 9, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 91-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yimi Garcia (4-9)

Losing Pitcher: Sam Selman (0-1)

Garcia goes six shutout innings

Although he didn't have swing-and-miss dominance in this start, Luis Garcia could still capitalize on a struggling Angels offense and post a shutout quality start against them. He allowed three walks and three hits throughout his outing but stranded all of them while getting outs on balls in play. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 79 P.

Alvarez reaches 100 RBI as Houston's offense keeps rolling

That performance had Garcia in line for the win, as two homers handed him a 3-0 advantage which he held. Houston once again used early offense to take a first-inning lead, as a leadoff walk by Jose Altuve turned into a monster 456-foot by Yordan Alvarez, pushing him to 100 RBI on the season. The score held at 2-0 until the top of the fifth, when Jason Castro led that frame off with a solo homer to extend the lead to three runs.

Extras in Anaheim

Phil Maton was first out of Houston's bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, but a single, double, and walk loaded the bases with no outs to put him in a jam. A lineout kept the runners put for the first out, but a single and a walk would make it a one-run game and left the bases loaded as Maton would get pulled.

Kendall Graveman entered to try and stop the bleeding, but after a force out at home to put that within reach, Jack Mayfield came through for Los Angeles with a go-ahead three-run double, giving the Angels their first lead of the series at 5-3. In the top of the eighth, a walk by Alex Bregman brought Alvarez back to the plate, and he would nearly miss a game-tying homer and instead got an RBI-single to make it 5-4.

Alvarez would still come in to tie the game, hustling home from second on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to knot things up 5-5. Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he sat down LA in order with two strikeouts. Still tied in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Pressly came in to force extras, and despite being shadowed by the winning run on the bases after a leadoff single, retired the next three batters to send the game to the tenth.

Astros keep battling and take it in the twelfth

Jake Meyers took second base as Houston's free runner in the top of the tenth, but he would go nowhere as the Astros went down in order, giving the Angels another chance at a walk-off. Instead of giving Shohei Ohtani a free pass immediately, Houston would let Blake Taylor throw two balls to him before giving him the intentional walk.

Taylor then gave up a single to load the bases with no outs, and after getting a force out at home for the first out, Yimi Garcia would replace him. Thanks to a great play by Chas McCormick, giving him multiple in the game, the Astros would live to see another inning as he would make a great catch in right field and then throw out Ohtani at home.

In the top of the eleventh, a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel moved Aledmys Diaz to third, but that's as close as Houston would come, leaving them stuck at five runs. After Garcia retired three more batters in the bottom of the eleventh, the game moved to the twelfth, where Houston would get back in front on an RBI single by Jake Meyers, then padded the new lead on a two-RBI double by Jose Altuve, who would also score on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it 9-5. Josh James came in and wrapped things up in the bottom half as Houston secured the series victory and reduced their magic number to two against Oakland and three against Seattle.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game series, and the last time these two teams will meet this year, will be an 8:38 PM Central start on Thursday. The expected pitching matchup is Alex Cobb (8-3, 3.59 ERA) for Los Angeles and Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.11 ERA) for Houston.

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