NBA Rumor: Mike D'Antoni Contract

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The team packed the next morning before the afternoon flight that would take them back to Houston. All morning, D’Antoni was expecting a call from Fertitta, but sources say it never came. Before getting onto the plane, sources say D’Antoni’s mind was made up that he wouldn’t be seeking another contract with the Rockets — short or long-term —and would prefer to test the open market. D’Antoni then called LeGarie, sources said, and let him know of his wishes. D’Antoni told LeGarie to deliver the message while the team plane was in the air, sources said. During the plane ride back to Houston, no one on the team knew D’Antoni’s mind had already been made up. Shortly before the plane landed in Houston, just before service began to return to everyone’s phones and the text/social media notifications would start to ding with the news, D’Antoni told Morey, his staff and the players about his decision. D’Antoni wanted to speak with Morey first and foremost, as the two had maintained a strong relationship. Morey was upset, sources say, but understood and respected D’Antoni’s decision. A relieved D’Antoni stood up, shook hands and hugged each member of the team that was on the plane.

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Sources say former Rockets owner Les Alexander, who had led the decision to hire D’Antoni back in June of 2016, was working on granting a patient D’Antoni his wishes. But two weeks later, the team had been sold for a record $2.2 billion to Tilman Fertitta. Fertitta, the billionaire businessman from nearby Galveston, who has always taken pride in being ruthless in his dealings, pushed back on the notion of picking up the option that early after D’Antoni asked again to have his extension picked up, sources say. D’Antoni had no idea that Alexander was selling the team, and it blindsided nearly everyone within the organization. This issue about D’Antoni’s option would not go away anytime soon.

Sources say D’Antoni was frustrated with not only the media being used as a negotiating tool but how his desires were being construed. Sources also say that Fertitta’s public comments contradicted the negotiations that were taking place regarding D’Antoni’s extension, with D’Antoni always making it clear that he wanted to coach the team and that he had no desire of leaving that summer, even after a bitter exit that left a bad taste in the organization’s mouth.

Mike D'Antoni hasn't ruled out Rockets return

The Houston Rockets’ season-ending loss to the Lakers in Game 5 of the West semifinals couldn’t be pinned on the brother of Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo, who was sitting courtside on Saturday night. Nor could the looming situation with Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets coach who is now a free agent and who appears so likely to depart but who — a source with knowledge of his thinking insists — has not completely ruled out the possibility of a return. And last but certainly not least, Russell Westbrook’s playoff struggles that expedited the Rockets’ demise weren’t William’s fault either.

Sources say there is certainly D’Antoni interest in Indiana, but the Pacers have several other candidates in mind as well. The New Orleans vacancy would make sense based on his previous history with executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin from their shared Phoenix days, but sources say that’s not expected to be a serious consideration. From there, the spotlight turns to Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and the question of whether he’ll offer D’Antoni the kind of deal that might compel him to forget about the hard feelings that came before. Sources say there have been no contract negotiations to this point.

While D’Antoni and Feritta have had a good run for most of their three years together, their failed contract extension negotiations in late May 2019 left hard feelings on both sides that might ultimately determine how this winds up. Specifically, it’s the frayed dynamic between Fertitta, Morey, CEO Tad Brown and D’Antoni’s agent, Warren LeGarie, that will have a lot to do with the outcome. If D’Antoni departs, sources say former Knicks coach and TNT analyst Jeff Van Gundy is expected to be a serious candidate.

In that unsavory Game 6 of the first-round series against Oklahoma City, when Westbrook was just one game into his return and fans and media alike wondered why Harden wasn’t more assertive late in the 104-100 loss, sources say Westbrook repeatedly broke off plays and tried unsuccessfully to force his way back into the action when it mattered most. But the flip side of that coin is this: Harden let him, if only because he knew he would need Westbrook to find his way if they had any chance of accomplishing something special. And D’Antoni, the 69-year-old whose deft handling of the complicated Rockets stars was so apparent to anyone who watched closely, was the man in the middle who continues to inspire support from the organization’s two most important players.

A couple of proven coaches with Rockets roots have been mentioned often inside the league as potential replacements for D’Antoni: ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, the Rockets’ coach from 2003 to 2007 who maintains a home in Houston; and former Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, the Rockets’ director of player development during the first season of Morey’s tenure. Another name to watch: New Orleans Pelicans associate head coach Chris Finch. His résumé as a head coach includes championships won in the British Basketball League and with the Rockets’ G League affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

With his contract up and his season over in a loss that hurt, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni considered his future and was sure of two things. Whether he will be back as Rockets coach was not one of them. D’Antoni knew he wanted to keep coaching and he knew how much he enjoys coaching the Rockets. The rest remained to be determined. “I got to let this one sink in a little bit. We have a great organization, great city, great fans. The team’s great. I mean, everything’s good here. We’ll see what happens, but I couldn’t ask for a better situation than I had for four years. Hopefully, it keeps going, but you just never know. Everything is good on this side, for sure.

Daryl Morey: Mike D'Antoni coming back is super important

Though the Rockets’ championship fortunes also largely rest on James Harden and Russell Westbrook, general manager Daryl Morey sounded firm about D’Antoni’s importance after coaching Houston to a 217-101 record in the past four seasons. So important that Morey did not mince words when assessing whether he considered it the team’s top priority to sign D’Antoni to a new deal after his contract expires at the end of this season. “It’s probably No. 1 That’s a fair way to put it,” Morey told USA TODAY Sports. “We have all our key players signed. I think Mike coming back is super important.”

Morey described this dynamic as “a media creation” and added that “it’s convenient for agents to focus on it.” Still, coaches in professional sports often feel their authority diminishes within a front office and locker room if they have lame-duck status. D’Antoni has dismissed that idea with as much conviction as he has that offenses should center more on outside shooting and floor spacing and less on plodding big men. “The moment is too big to get distracted. We’ve been through a lot. I’ve been through a lot in all kinds of different ways,” D’Antoni said. “Everybody has something to fight for, but it’s a little bit bigger than that. It’s what we’ve done all year together and trying to build a team and trying to get to where we want to get at. That supersedes everything.”

Yet, it is D’Antoni who has navigated through those changes with grace even when he entered the final year of his contract amid uncertainty. It appears unlikely he will have to worry about such a reality whenever the season ends. “99.7% of America don’t even have a contract for one day, let alone multiple years,” Morey said. “I think it’s his West Virginia background. He’s a hard working guy. We all come in to work and do a good job. If you do a good job, it takes care of itself.”

According to LeGarie and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, it’s a non-issue. D’Antoni will still be the coach until this season’s end — whenever that might be. (In a follow-up conversation, Morey further clarified that the deal does not expire until the season comes to a conclusion) “Mike is somebody with a lot of integrity and you make a commitment and you fulfill the commitment — regardless of if it goes past (the length of the deal),” LeGarie told The Athletic. “It’s obviously something we have to work out, but he would never, ever walk away from what he feels is a moral responsibility to see it through with his team and especially with his players. He would never abandon somebody because of a technicality.”

To hear Morey tell it, the contract will not have to be re-worked in any significant way. If at all. “I don’t want to go into any specifics, but I think that there’s not much needed (in terms of his contract),” Morey told The Athletic. “That’s not always the case with everything during this (sort of) time. I know the league lawyers are having to work on a thousand things with different legal aspects, and the Players Union and stuff. But in this case, I think things are pretty straightforward.

As for how D’Antoni and the Rockets got to this point and the outlook beyond this season, that’s a discussion for another day. “Mike refuses to get into that (conversation), because right now the focus is on 1) Restarting the season and 2) Seeing the job through,” LeGarie said. “That’s all he’s focused on. As Mike said earlier, that’s all he wants to do is to make sure that he finishes this season as well as possible, and that’s his only focus. The contract stuff becomes a distraction, and he has no interest in even entertaining anything like that at this moment.”

Nets, Rockets interested in Tom Thibodeau?

The Post reported in February that Thibodeau would be on Leon Rose’s short list and looked to be a favorite if the new team president chose not to bring back Mike Miller as head coach. While his reputation took a hit with the failure in bringing Jimmy Butler to Minnesota and allegedly mishandling young talent, sources told The Post the Nets and Houston will have strong interest, too. Houston’s Mike D’Antoni will be a free agent.

So many moving parts have hovered over this Houston Rockets franchise, and it does not just include Darryl Morey’s tweets about the Hong Kong protests, Russell Westbrook’s arrival and James Harden’s initial shooting struggles. It also includes coach Mike D’Antoni, who will patrol the sidelines without any assurances on where he will coach after this season. “It’s not going to change the way I coach or how I feel trying to compete,” D’Antoni told USA TODAY Sports. “So then we’ll see next summer with what happens.”

Perhaps the Rockets become more amenable toward offering D’Antoni more security next summer after seeing whether they can finally advance out of the Western Conference finals, let alone win an NBA title. Then again, D’Antoni might field interest from other teams after seeing how he helped the Rockets become the lone Western Conference team in the last two years to seriously threaten the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs. Either way, D’Antoni does not consider it fair to have those developments hover over his players. So when both sides could not agree to terms this summer, D’Antoni entered this season willing to have lame-duck status. Usually, coaches balk at that idea, considering it could weaken their authority within the front office and locker room. D’Antoni insisted he does not think that way, however, for a simple reason. “I got a great group of guys that I don’t think care. They won’t be affected by it,” D’Antoni said. “I won’t be affected by it. So it’s a non-issue.”

The Western Conference is truly wide open. The Warriors are no longer kings. Harden is coming off another career year and is now paired with a superstar he likes and respects. If you forget that D’Antoni is coaching for another contract, this is actually the most promising scenario he’s faced since he first started walking the home sideline inside Toyota Center. Asked if he had ever faced a situation comparable to this in his career, D’Antoni answered, paused, reaffirmed his answer, then laughed. “Naw, not really,” he said. “Naw.”

That’s the thing with D’Antoni. At 68, he’s lived a few lives, so optimism and appreciation for the moment always return. How long does he want to keep coaching? “Forever,” as long as he bounces out of bed before his 6:30 a.m. alarm clock, with the feeling that he can’t wait to get to the arena and connect with his players. Italians have a saying, the Rockets coach said: A feeling of the skin. “The skin tingles,” D’Antoni said. “And when it tingles, you know what? There’s nothing better.”

Q: Mike’s contract has gotten a ton of attention You did have contract negotiations with him, indicating you wanted him under contract beyond this season. For a team so determined to align the contracts of core players, why not with the coach, too? Does it need to get done?” Daryl Morey: I think everyone wants it to be longer. It takes two to tango to come to terms. We haven’t. At this point, he’ll coach this season and we’ll figure out how to keep Mike around after. Q: So there’s no chance to initiate talks again? Daryl Morey: The plan now is to pick it up after the season.

So I look at your summer, and the decision to do the Russ move, and the decision – after going back and forth – to have Mike finish out his contract when you guys couldn’t come to terms. Then there’s the decision on Eric’s extension, which is pretty unique, to offer a guy who has a nonguaranteed in the final year (that financial carrot). You seem to be extremely incentive-based. As you know, it doesn’t necessarily jive with the NBA norm. You’ve talked about ‘lame duck’ status of coaches and how you don’t agree with that kind of thinking and terminology. Is there a common thread there? It seems like you’re setting up the team and the organization in a way where you want everybody to be as sharp as possible, maybe a little bit on the edge, as you try to get to the top of the mountain here. Tilman Fertitta: You know, I don’t know about keeping anybody on edge, but I believe that when you perform well you should make more money. I do like incentive-based contracts. I’ve built my company on incentive-based.… The successful people in the business world are incentive-based. These guys that play basketball love playing basketball, but don’t think that they’re not motivated by money. If I’m doing well, I want everybody to do well. And that’s just the way I feel.

Well, I was fascinated by the “lame duck” one, because it has been a generally accepted belief that unless you really don’t like your coach you don’t let him go into the last year of a deal. But in the real world, that certainly happens. Tilman Fertitta: Well, I can tell you this, I really like our coach, ok? I really like him a lot. And if I’m a betting man, I bet you he’s here again the following year, ok? But it’s ok. He’s going to play out this contract, and he and I will sit down and both of us will walk out of the room happy.

Fertitta failed to mention the buyout language that guaranteed D’Antoni only half of his base salary if the Rockets fired him before the extension began. That was the primary sticking point for D’Antoni, who hoped for a commitment of two more seasons beyond this contract and never seriously considered a half-hearted offer of one more year. Five days later, Fertitta boarded his private jet along with Morey and flew to West Virginia to smooth things over with D’Antoni. The Rockets’ executives returned to Houston believing they had a handshake deal. “I feel very good about it, and I’ve always felt good,” Fertitta told ESPN the following week. “I’m disappointed that it got talked about in the press, and I’m disappointed I responded in the press.”

As an olive branch, Fertitta offered $2 million in incentives tied to playoff advancement in 2019-20, the remaining season on D’Antoni’s current contract, if they worked out an extension. He also agreed to remove the buyout language, claiming LeGarie hadn’t made it clear it was considered so problematic. D’Antoni told them the reworked offer sounded good, but they needed to iron out the details with LeGarie. “I have not heard from them since that trip to visit Mike,” LeGarie says. “Mike is prepared to coach out his contract.” LeGarie insists that a second year and a higher base salary are musts to sign an extension with the Rockets. He was annoyed D’Antoni, a client for more than three decades, came across as agreeable to a lesser proposal without consulting him.


Rockets general manager Daryl Morey clarified Monday that the team’s offer to coach Mike D’Antoni for the 2020-21 season never would have paid him less than the $5 million base salary Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta had described last week. Morey had previously confirmed a Houston Chronicle report on Friday that D’Antoni would be paid $2.5 million if the team failed to make the playoffs or if he was fired during that season. D’Antoni’s agent Warren LeGarie said the coach would not get the full $5 million if that were the case. However, the $2.5 million would only be if the Rockets did not bring him back for the 2020-21 season.

The $2.5 million, in the event D’Antoni was not brought back for 2020-2021, would not have an offset should he then choose to coach another team. In such a case, he would make the $2.5 million from the Rockets plus whatever he would earn from another team. D’Antoni, who had rejected the extension offer, will coach the 2019-20 season in the final year of his original four-year contract. That is not changed by the negotiations for an extension last week. D’Antoni is set to make $4.5 million next season. The Rockets extension offer included a $1 million bonus for each round of the playoffs the team won as D’Antoni’s agent said Friday and Morey confirmed.

The contract offer made to D’Antoni was considerably smaller than the $5 million that had been depicted by owner Tilman Fertitta and general manager Daryl Morey in a hastily called news conference Thursday, according to D’Antoni’s agent, leading to the decision to turn it down and coach next season in the final year of his current contract, which pays $4.5 million. Warren LeGarie said that the Rockets’ offer would not be worth $5 million in the 2020-21 season if the Rockets failed to make the playoffs or D’Antoni was fired during the season.

“I’d like clear up some inaccuracies that were stated about the offer made to Mike,” LeGarie said. “The reported $5 million is really $2.5 million because it comes with contingencies. One, it’s only $5 million 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 $2.5 million. 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 was in no way “insulted” by the offer. “We’re not here to criticize the offer,” LeGarie said. “We’re here to choose whether or not to accept it. We chose based on the current market for coaches of his stature as well as what he has done for the Rockets, the offer did not make sense for him, though I’m sure it makes sense for the Rockets. We don’t consider the offer insulting. It’s still real money. But it is our right not to take it.”

D’Antoni said a lot of work has already been done toward completing a contract extension. “It’s a good ways (into it). I don’t do it. That’s my agent. He takes care of that stuff. They’ve been discussing it for a long time now. It just hasn’t been a couple weeks. It’s been awhile that they’ve been talking. So they’ll figure it out. “Everybody likes security. It’s just a matter of okay this is the direction the organization wants to go. I want to be a part of it. It’s just normal business and we just got to take care of business.”

The Rockets picked up their option on the final season of D’Antoni’s contract, keeping him under contract through the 2019-20 season. But Morey said he would like to work on an extension for D’Antoni in the offseason. “He’s such a critical factor,” Morey said. “Speaking for myself only, I would love for him to be here for as long as he wants to be here. He’s so critical to everything we’re doing here. Hopefully, that’s something we can work out at the right time. I think the right thing for everyone is those things are done in the off-season.”

Newly hired Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has signed a three-year contract in the $15 million range with a team option for a fourth season, according to a source. D’Antoni’s contract is similar to that of New York Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, who, according to ESPN sources, signed a three-year deal for $15 million on Wednesday. Unlike D’Antoni, Hornacek doesn’t have a team option for a fourth season. In the past two years, Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has distributed significant money to coaches. In December 2014, Alexander gave Kevin McHale a three-year fully guaranteed contract extension worth $12 million.
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