Mike D'Antoni

Western Notes: Conley, Turner, Howard, Suns

After a long, successful run with the Grizzlies, Mike Conley was viewed heading into this season as the player who was going to help turn the Jazz from a solid playoff team into a bona fide contender. However, it has been an up-and-down first season in Utah for Conley, who is averaging just 13.5 PPG on 39.8% shooting.

Speaking to Tony Jones of The Athletic, Conley admitted he hasn’t been able to entirely block out the criticism he has faced this season, and that he understands that criticism.

“Nobody is more frustrated than me,” Conley said. “Not the fans, not the media, not my teammates. I’m not a guy who runs from looking in the mirror. But, at this point, I have to control what I can control. I have to stay locked in. I have to focus on what I can handle. I know what’s being said. But in a big way, it’s not in my control what people may think.”

As Conley gears up for the home stretch and looks to become a consistent, reliable contributor for the Jazz, let’s round up a few more notes from around the Western Conference…

  • The Timberwolves and Evan Turner “came close” to reaching a buyout agreement by Sunday night, but couldn’t finalize a deal, tweets Darren Wolfson of SKOR North. According to Wolfson, Turner would still like to play this season, but that seems unlikely to happen with the Wolves, who are prioritizing the players they expect to be longer-term pieces.
  • Discussing Dwight Howard‘s initial stint with the Lakers, team owner Jeanie Buss singled out former Lakers – and current Rockets – head coach Mike D’Antoni as a reason why the veteran center didn’t succeed and chose to leave in free agency. “We hired a coach that didn’t respect his game and wasn’t going to put him in a position to succeed,” Buss said (video link via The Los Angeles Times).
  • Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic examines how Jordan McRae could fit with the Suns this season and potentially beyond. Phoenix reportedly intends to place a waiver claim on McRae, but there’s a possibility Detroit will do so as well, and the Pistons would have the higher priority.
  • NBA fans interested in the league’s salary cap minutiae will enjoy Jeff Siegel’s latest article at Early Bird Rights, which details the unusual case of the Kings‘ buyout agreement with Anthony Tolliver and explains why it could indirectly cost the Trail Blazers a little money.

And-Ones: Giannis, Motiejunas, Nogueira, Bosh

Following a wild 2019 offseason, the NBA has been in a period of relative stability for the last several months. However, there are a number of tipping points on tap for the 2020 postseason and offseason that could re-inject some chaos into the basketball landscape, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com.

According to Bontemps, people around the league will be keeping an especially close eye on teams like the Rockets and Sixers, who will be looking to make deep playoff runs after falling short of their goals in recent years. If those two teams are eliminated early in the postseason, it’s possible major changes could be made, with Mike D’Antoni and Brett Brown potentially on the way out and roster shakeups around the corner.

League insiders will also be curious to see whether the Warriors look to use their 2020 lottery pick as the centerpiece in a trade for another impact player, Bontemps writes. Most notably, all eyes will be on Milwaukee as Giannis Antetokounmpo decides whether to sign a super-max extension with the Bucks. For what it’s worth, Bontemps says every executive he spoke to expects Antetokounmpo to remain in Milwaukee.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Former NBA forward Donatas Motiejunas said he has drawn interest from some NBA and EuroLeague teams, per Lithuanian journalist Donatas Urbonas (Twitter link). However, Motiejunas remains under contract with the Shanghai Sharks during the Chinese Basketball Association’s coronovirus-related hiatus and isn’t looking to get out of that deal.
  • Lucas Nogueira, a former first-round pick who spent four seasons in the NBA with the Raptors, has signed with Muharraq Club in Bahrain, according to the team (Instagram link; hat tip to Sportando). The 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Nogueira appeared in 141 games for Toronto between 2014-18.
  • Chris Bosh took to Instagram to express his disappointment after not being included in 2020’s list of finalists for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Coaching Rumors: D’Antoni, Gentry, Boylen, Spurs

The Rockets are off to a reasonably strong start this season, with their 15-7 record good for fourth in the Western Conference. However, Houston’s play hasn’t necessarily made Mike D’Antoni‘s position as head coach any more secure.

According to John Hollinger and Sam Amick of The Athletic, a source with direct knowledge of the Rockets’ situation expressed “serious skepticism” that D’Antoni will still be the head coach in Houston beyond this season. In the view of that source, any result short of a Rockets championship this season probably means the odds are “slim” that D’Antoni returns in 2020/21.

While it seems unlikely that the Rockets would make an in-season coaching change unless things really go south, a few teams around the NBA may look ahead to next spring and consider the possibility of pursuing D’Antoni should he become available, according to Hollinger and Amick.

Here are a few more head coaching notes and rumors from The Athletic’s duo:

  • A number of factors are working in Alvin Gentry‘s favor when it comes to his job security. The Pelicans haven’t been healthy, head of basketball operations David Griffin has a history with Gentry, and team owner Gayle Benson also thinks highly of New Orleans’ head coach. Plus, Gentry is under contract for the 2020/21 season, and his salary for next year is believed to be worth $5MM+, a source tells Hollinger and Amick.
  • League sources tell The Athletic that Bulls head of basketball operations John Paxson continues to be a fan of Jim Boylen and his “tough-love approach.” However, Boylen’s defensive scheme has drawn some criticism and Chicago has the league’s 29th-ranked offense. According to Hollinger and Amick, Boylen also remains unpopular in the Bulls’ locker room. The Athletic duo wonders if an organizational overhaul that affects both Boylen and the front office could be in the cards next year if the team’s struggles continue.
  • League sources continue to speculate that Kansas head coach Bill Self could be a potential successor for Gregg Popovich when the Spurs‘ longtime head coach opts to retire, per Hollinger and Amick. Self has been close friends with San Antonio executive R.C. Buford since they attended college together at Oklahoma State.

Rockets Notes: Morey, Offseason, D’Antoni

The Rockets have certainly not been bereft of drama, on or off the hardwood. After subtracting Chris Paul and adding Russell Westbrook this summer to be James Harden‘s new backcourt mate, Houston has struggled. The club is currently 4-3, the eighth seed in a loaded Western Conference.

As Houston prepares for a Wednesday home bout against a Warriors team missing as many as five starters, let’s take a look at more Rockets notes:

  • Following a lopsided 129-100 defeat to the 5-1 Heat, the job security of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni has been questioned, according to Sean Deveney of Heavy.com. “This is gonna stick with the FO (front office) for a while,” one coach texted Deveney during Sunday’s blowout. D’Antoni’s current contract with the Rockets expires at the end of the season.
  • Despite the Rockets’ rocky 4-3 start to the regular season, including that forgettable showing on Sunday, GM Daryl Morey considers the ceiling for the new-look Rockets to be extremely high, according to a conversation with The Athletic Houston’s Kelly Iko. “I really think we could be the best offense ever put on the floor,” Morey said. “Now we’ll see if we can back that up, but our transition has been really good. Obviously, last year, we were one of the best halfcourt teams ever. There have been times where we’ve combined those two things and looked really good. Sometimes our transition has fallen off, sometimes our half-court (offense). But if we pull it together like I think we can, I think we’ll be the best offense in the league and a top-10 defense. That’ll be a formula to win the title.”
  • In the same interview, Morey acknowledges a desire to improve the team’s defense. The team is currently ranked 28th in defensive efficiency, according to NBA.com“We’re going to be a good defensive team. Obviously there’s been, you know, some things that don’t look good so far. But I have a lot of confidence that we’re going to be one of the top-10 defensive teams by the end of the year… To be a championship-caliber team, you gotta be a top-10 defense.”
  • Notably, Morey’s new Q&A with Iko doesn’t touch on the controversy stemming from the GM’s summer tweet supporting the Hong Kong protests against mainland China. That message prompted China to suspend all business ties with the Rockets. Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports thinks Morey needs to address what became the big story of the NBA preseason, as he notes in a recent opinion column.

Mike D’Antoni Unfazed By Lame-Duck Status

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni doesn’t see his lame duck status as an issue, Mark Medina of USA Today reports.

D’Antoni and his agent were unable to reach an extension agreement with the Rockets after last season. He’s making $4.5MM in the final year of his contract.

With the James HardenRussell Westbrook combination, Houston believes it can make a run to the championship after getting eliminated the past two postseason by the Warriors.

“I got a great group of guys that I don’t think care. They won’t be affected by it,” D’Antoni told Medina. “I won’t be affected by it. So it’s a non-issue.”

D’Antoni hinted that he doesn’t see his contract situation changing during the season. The front office and owner Tilman Fertitta have downplayed concerns about D’Antoni coaching this season without long-term security with the franchise.

“It’s not going to change the way I coach or how I feel trying to compete,” D’Antoni said. “So then we’ll see next summer with what happens.”

D’Antoni hasn’t seen any signs of players tuning him out or treating him any differently due to his contract status.

“Every situation is different. If I had guys looking for outs or not listening to me or if we had problems, it could be a problem,” D’Antoni said. “But if you have a great group, which I have luckily, and they want to only win? We have a great relationship and we’re doing this all together.”

Rockets Notes: Westbrook, Harden, D’Antoni, More

Speaking today to reporters at the Rockets‘ Media Day, Russell Westbrook and James Harden expressed enthusiasm about teaming up in Houston this season. As Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com details, Westbrook said the pairing will be “scary” for the rest of the NBA, while Harden suggested the two former MVPs will have no problem sharing the ball on offense.

“If Russ got it going and Russ is having one of those games that we’ve all seen before, guess what I’m going to do: sit back and watch the show, and vice versa,” Harden said. “It’s just a part of basketball. So you can’t sit up here and say, ‘Oh, Russ is going to have the ball for the first half and I’m going to have the ball the second half.’ No, things happen through the course of the game that you just flow with and go with.

“All of us in this locker room and this front office has one goal, and that’s to win it. However that happens, it’s going to happen, and we’re just going to figure it out.”

Westbrook agreed with Harden that the two stars won’t have any trouble co-existing in the Rockets’ backcourt and will focus on what’s best for the team.

“I don’t have to have the ball to impact the game,” Westbrook said, per MacMahon. “I don’t have to score, I don’t have to do anything. I can defend, I can rebound, I can pass, I can lead. Our main goal, main focus, is to win. I can go be scoreless, and if we win, that’s the best thing that ever happened. That’s all I cared about, and that’s all I ever cared about.”

Westbrook, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery after the Thunder were eliminated from the postseason in the spring, was only recently cleared for five-on-five work, writes MacMahon. So the Rockets will proceed cautiously with the star point guard, who isn’t expected to participate in all of the club’s practices and preseason games.

Here’s more out of Houston:

  • Harden and Westbrook both indicated today that they have interest in representing Team USA in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo (Twitter links via MacMahon and Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston).
  • Head coach Mike D’Antoni, GM Daryl Morey, and owner Tilman Fertitta all downplayed concerns about D’Antoni entering the final year of his contract without an extension and expressed confidence that he’ll stick with the Rockets beyond 2019/20, MacMahon notes in a pair of tweets. Everybody tells me that Mike is the right guy for this team. Mike appears to me to be the right guy for this team,” Fertitta said. “I think he’s a great coach. He’s one of the great offensive minds out there. I truly do not see Mike going anywhere.”
  • Ryan Anderson‘s new contract with the Rockets features a $250K partial guarantee, sources tell Alykhan Bijani and Kelly Iko of The Athletic (Twitter link). Anderson would receive another $250K, increasing the partial guarantee to $500K, if he makes the opening-night roster.
  • Jaron Blossomgame‘s non-guaranteed deal with Houston doesn’t feature an Exhibit 10 clause, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com hears. That may be a hint that the Rockets don’t expect Blossomgame to play for their G League team. His NBAGL rights are still held by the Canton Charge, the Cavaliers‘ affiliate.

Western Notes: Jazz, D’Antoni, Clippers, Thunder

After trading away Derrick Favors and signing Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz had a little leftover cap room and took advantage of that remaining space by signing Miye Oni, William Howard, and Stanton Kidd to three-year contracts, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. Utah would have been limited to two-year deals if the club had exhausted its cap space.

The Jazz intend to have Howard, Kidd, and others compete for the 15th and final roster spot in training camp, per Tony Jones of The Athletic (Twitter links), who notes that both Howard and Kidd received partial guarantees for the 2019/20 season.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • Appearing on SiriusXM NBA Radio this week, agent Warren LeGarie said that his client Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni is perfectly happy to enter the 2019/20 season – the final year of his deal – without a contract extension (Twitter link via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report). It’s not even something we’re considering right now,” LeGarie said of a potential extension. “We have a contract.”
  • Appearing on The Dan Patrick Show (video link) this week, Clippers consultant Jerry West raved about the team’s ownership and culture, as Dan Feldman of NBC Sports relays. “He’s just a great owner and one of the nicest men I’ve ever been around in my life,” West said of Steve Ballmer. “… He’s willing to spend on players. He’s willing to spend on personnel within the front office. And as I mentioned before, I’ve never been around any organization that is better than this one. That’s for sure.”
  • In trading Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and Jerami Grant, the Thunder appeared to be pivoting toward an all-out rebuild. Brett Dawson of The Athletic explores how that rebuilding process might be impacted if Chris Paul starts the 2019/20 season on Okahoma City’s roster.

Mike D’Antoni’s Agent Denies Progress Toward Extension

The Rockets and head coach Mike D’Antoni may not be as close to an extension agreement as yesterday’s report indicated, tweets Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston. Warren LeGarie, D’Antoni’s agent, confirms that owner Tilman Fertitta and GM Daryl Morey met with the coach at his West Virginia home, but paints a different picture of negotiations.

“It’s not exactly representing the situation,” LeGarie said. “When they met with Mike … they had presented essentially what they considered (was) a new offer, even though for us it’s the same, it’s the same one that we’re not willing to do. They’ve taken (out) the $2.5MM buyout and made that a $5MM deal. It’s still not Mike’s market (value).”

D’Antoni listened to the offer from Fertitta and Morey, but didn’t engage in negotiations, telling them to present the deal to his agent.

“They’re never talked to me since,” LeGarie said. “So it’s not moving. It’s a little bit disingenuous what is being reported. They believe by going there and bypassing (me) that will somehow get it done. It won’t. … We have not been talking and we’re not closer to a deal.”

D’Antoni has one year left on his contract at $4.5MM. He has been the Rockets’ coach for the past three seasons, compiling a 173-73 record.

Rockets, D’Antoni Close To Extension Agreement

The Rockets have re-engaged contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni and are close to an agreement, Tim MacMahon of ESPN tweets.

Houston owner Tilman Fertitta has removed the buyout language that was the sticking point when talks previously broke down, MacMahon adds.

D’Antoni is entering the final year of his contract and is due $4.5MM next season. D’Antoni and his agent had broken off negotiations late last month.

Before the breakdown, the Rockets reportedly offered D’Antoni a one-year, $5MM extension which could have increased in value based on Houston’s performance in the playoffs. However, D’Antoni’s agent Warren LeGarie said at the time D’Antoni’s $1MM bonuses for postseason advancement wouldn’t have kicked in until the second round, and that he wouldn’t have earned his full $5MM base salary if he had been fired or if the Rockets failed to make the playoffs.

The Rockets’ brass has made significant changes to D’Antoni staff since the club was eliminated by Golden State in the conference semifinals, parting ways with Jeff BdzelikRoy RogersMitch Vanya, and Irv Roland.

Rockets Rumors: D’Antoni, Offseason, Paul

After head coach Mike D’Antoni ended contract extension negotiations with the Rockets on Thursday, details about the offer that Houston made to D’Antoni began to trickle out.

According to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle, team owner Tilman Fertitta claimed that the Rockets offered D’Antoni a one-year, $5MM extension which could have increased in value based on Houston’s performance in the playoffs. As Fertitta described it, the deal – which would’ve been a raise on D’Antoni’s current $4.5MM salary – would’ve paid the head coach an extra $1MM for every series the Rockets won.

“We didn’t end extension talks,” Fertitta said. “Agents’ jobs are to play hardball. I made Mike a great extension offer. It was one of the better base salaries in basketball but also had the highest incentives in basketball. Mike could make $4MM in incentives. Business is business. I’m a very incentive-based guy. If you perform, I want you to do unbelievable.”

However, addressing that offer today, D’Antoni’s agent Warren LeGarie portrayed it a little differently. As Feigen relays, LeGarie said that D’Antoni’s $1MM bonuses wouldn’t have started until the second round, and that he wouldn’t have earned his full $5MM base salary if he had been fired or if the Rockets failed to make the playoffs.

“The reported $5MM is really $2.5MM because it comes with contingencies,” LeGarie said. “One, it’s only $5MM if he makes the playoffs and two, if he is coaching the team at the end of the year. If they decide to fire Mike in the proverbial change of direction, he gets $2.5MM. If there is an injury or a change in the roster construction, of which Mike has no control, he nonetheless would become a victim of it.”

LeGarie emphasized that D’Antoni wasn’t “insulted” by the offer, but said it didn’t make sense for their side, based on the current market for coaches of D’Antoni’s stature.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • Despite rumors that the Rockets are making virtually everyone except for James Harden available on the trade market, Fertitta and general manager Daryl Morey praised the club’s starting five and predicted it would return next season, per Feigen.
  • According to Feigen, Morey said he hopes to use the Rockets’ mid-level exception to add a “high-quality” player to the roster, signaling that he’ll try to use it on a single player rather than multiple pieces.
  • More from Morey, via Feigen: “Whatever it takes to get over that final hump to get a championship, that’s what we’re going to do. On the coaching front, I … recommended we make some changes. If there’s a trade out there that helps us, great, we’ll do that as well. Our starting five this year I would put up there with anyone. If there’s a trade out there that helps, we’ll do that. We’re going to keep all of our key people.”
  • As Sean Deveney of Sporting News details, executives around the NBA still like Chris Paul as a player, but view his contract as one that would be hard for Houston to move in a trade. “It will have to be a salary dump,” one front-office executive said. “You might get back a decent player and a draft pick. But mostly, it is getting that contract off your books for the next three years. … If you’re Houston, you’re happy just to move him along and let someone else pay him. But you’re going to have to take back a bad contract in the bargain.”