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.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

RAVENS 33, TEXANS 16

5 observations from the Ravens win over the Texans

Getty Images

Let's be honest; the Texans were not going to beat the Ravens. Baltimore has better players, a better quarterback and a better coaching staff. (And oh, a better kicker). All of that was on display in the Ravens' 33-16 win.

The Ravens move to 2-0, while the Texans dropped to 0-2 after facing the AFC's two best teams.

The Texans will still likely contend for a playoff spot, but nothing the last two weeks indicates they are anywhere near contending in the AFC. A look at five things from the Ravens win:

1) Oh, Brien...It did not take long for Bill O'Brien's goofy coaching to rear its ugly head. Down 3-0 at their own 34 as the first quarter was running out, O'Brien chose to go for it on fourth and one. The play was predictably blown up, the Ravens quickly scored to make it 10-0, and the Texans were instantly in a hole against a superior opponent. You can't give points away against the Ravens. They might have scored anyway with a punt, but there was no stopping them with a short field.

2) Some positives on defense. Despite the score, The Texans looked much better on that side of the ball against an explosive offense. J.J. Watt had two sacks, the team had four total, and they kept Lamar Jackson from destroying them. Seven of the points were scored by the Ravens defense, and O'Brien's gaffe led to seven more. The Ravens wore them down in the fourth quarter, but they played well enough until then to keep the team in the game had the offense been better. They did not force any turnovers, however, and that was one of the differences in the game. They were also blown off the ball on a fourth and one in the fourth quarter that led to the Ravens' 30th points and could not stop the run at all in the fourth quarter. But that's what the Ravens do with a lead, and the Texans offense gave them no breaks by being unable to stay on the field.

3) The difference between real contenders...The Ravens were just so much more skilled on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they focused on taking away the run. David Johnson averaged 3.1 yards per carry. Will Fuller had as many catches as you did. The Ravens forced two turnovers on just really good football plays. The Texans don't make plays like that. They might against lesser teams, but if your goal is to compete with the best, it's just not good enough.

4) Deshaun Watson needs to be better. His numbers looked so so on the surface (25 of 36, 275 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception). He was sacked four times and added 17 rushing yards on five carries. He did not make plays late when they needed one here or there to maybe get back in the game. With his big contract, it's time for Watson to stop being close to elite and take the next step. His interception was more of being fooled by Marcus Peters than throwing a bad ball, but the Texans were just 3 of 9 on third downs. Throw in the ill-advised fourth down play, and they were just 3 of 10 extending drives. Give the Ravens a lot of credit, but again, to compete with the best, you have to be better than that.

5) Now what? The Texans travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, who have not been impressive in their two wins. Still, it's hard to see Houston as anything but serious underdogs. They are last in the AFC South, and have a lot of work to do. The defense showed some promise at times, but will have to continue to improve. The offense has a long way to go. They match up better with the Steelers than they do the Ravens and Chiefs, but that does not mean they can win. If you were hoping they would give you some indication they can be more than just also-rans, they failed to do that on any level against either the Chiefs or Ravens.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome