By Jahmal Corner
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – From basketball innovator to coaching flameout, Mike D’Antoni has survived the roller coaster of the NBA and landed back in the league’s good graces.
The transition has come almost as fast as his new team, the Houston Rockets, launches three-pointers.
D’Antoni’s coaching philosophy has always been a simple one: “Shoot it. Shoot it quickly.”
He has lived and died by the creed, winning fans and style points before stalling during stints at high-profile franchises.
D’Antoni, 65, is back in his sweet spot as a first-year coach in Houston, revving up the Rockets’ offense to new speeds.
“I’m just happy to find a team where everybody is on the same page,” D’Antoni told Reuters prior to Houston’s contest against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. “You do that and you can find success. I’ve been lucky to find a spot like this.” The Rockets and D’Antoni have happily found each other, embracing the run-and-gun pace that is becoming the league’s norm.
Houston (43-19), third in the Western Conference, leads the NBA by a long shot in both three-pointers made and attempted as they fire off more than 40 a night.
“We’re going to shoot them, that’s what we do,” said Rockets leading man James Harden after the team made 20 three-pointers in routing the Clippers 122-103.
Added Rockets forward Ryan Anderson: “You don’t really realize how many (three-pointers) we’re taking until you hear (about it), because it’s so naturally the way we play. It’s fun basketball.”
At his best, D’Antoni has always put the ‘fun’ in basketball.
As a player, he enjoyed a short tour of the NBA before becoming a standout in Italy for Olimpia Milano where he won multiple titles and was idolized by a generation of youngsters that included Kobe Bryant, who was living in Italy at the time. D’Antoni’s first NBA head coaching job came with the Denver Nuggets in 1998-99. By the time he burst onto the scene with the Phoenix Suns in the early 2000s, his style of quick shots and heavy pick-and-rolls was cutting edge.
D’Antoni won the 2004-05 Coach of the Year Award, and the Suns became an NBA darling, inspiring a book, “Seven Seconds or Less”, which characterized the coach’s offensive mindset.
But D’Antoni’s brand of basketball took a hit when the Suns did not reach the NBA Finals, and he subsequently failed during coaching tenures with the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, who both rejected his concepts.
“The Mike system needs the right system around him. It’s clear that when he has the right players his system is really good,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told Reuters.
Today’s NBA offense features much of the pace, space and perimeter shooting that D’Antoni long preached, bringing the coach a measure of validation.
“You want to not be totally (viewed as) crazy,” he said.
(Editing by Gene Cherry)