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Culture / Sporting Life

Inspired Mike D’Antoni Hire Puts Jeremy Lin Back In Play for the Rockets

Owner’s Power Play a Godsend

BY // 05.30.16

Les Alexander swung his big stick and the Houston Rockets somehow ended up with one of the most creative and innovative coaches in NBA history. Mike D’Antoni is an inspired choice — and by far the best option available to the New York billionaire who owns the Bayou City’s off-the-rails NBA team.

It matters little that the loud, ever-crying majority of Rockets fans cannot see this. These are the same people desperately rooting for a Golden State Warriors’ playoff “collapse.” (As if this would somehow make up for the Rockets’ pathetic season.) It also matters little that most of the Houston media cannot see D’Antoni’s strengths, either. This is a collective group that cast Patrick Beverley as an NBA difference maker (at least, until this season) and supported Kevin McHale’s absurd decision to start Beverley over Jeremy Lin.

The track record of the people disparaging D’Antoni today is only slightly better than Robert Kardashian’s when it comes to seeing the truth and assessing a man’s character. And that group includes Daryl Morey, the general manager whom Alexander continues to employ and smartly overrule.

For all indications coming out of Toyota Center are that D’Antoni is Alexander’s choice above all. The owner vowed he would be much more involved in this coaching search — and he delivered the type of strong coach that it’s hard to imagine a controlling Morey ever hiring on his own.

Think it’s coincidence that all of Morey’s coaching hires were overmatched limited thinkers (see Kevin McHale and interim pick J.B. Bickerstaff) or retreads who’d be desperately grateful for another head job (see Rick Adelman)? Please. Morey’s always operated like he wants his analytics-based “genius” approach to be the force steering the franchise. D’Antoni embraces analytics as a tool — he’s too forward thinking and open-minded to dismiss anything. But he’s also much more his own man than any other coach the Rockets have had under Morey’s watch.

There is no longer any huge power gap between the general manager’s office and the coach. D’Antoni comes in at least on equal footing with Morey. For now, Morey will have to lose the puppet strings.

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This gives the Rockets a fighting chance to try new approaches and perhaps even actually grow into the model franchise they already think they are. It will be fascinating to see how D’Antoni uses James Harden, an uber talent with the work ethic of a mob crony at a no-show job. It will be just as fascinating to see if his arrival in Houston brings Lin back.

Yes, Jeremy Lin as a Rocket again is very much in play.

Jeremy Lin looks different than he did in Houston, but there's much more to the story. (Photo courtesy Hornets Online)
Jeremy Lin returning to the Rockets is no longer farfetched.

D’Antoni is the coach who benefitted from Linsanity‘s run on Broadway — and the Rockets are in desperate need of legitimate point guard who can push the pace. You cannot play any version of D’Antoni’s famed Seven Seconds or Less Offense with Beverley as the lead point guard. Lin’s a free agent again after a very successful season in Charlotte that erased any of the stink Lakers coach Byron Scott tried to stick on him. The 65-year-old D’Antoni could really use Lin and the other league situation with an unquestioned Lin-believing coach (the Brooklyn Nets) does not offer the chance to win anywhere close to the level Mike D’Antoni could in Houston.

There is no doubt the Rockets — and Morey in particular at the very end — treated Lin with complete disrespect in his last Houston go-around. The general manager putting Lin’s No. 7 Rockets jersey on Carmelo Anthony in a ridiculous, doomed-from-the-beginning campaign to lure Anthony away from New York represents the ultimate bush league move. It still reeks years later.

So sure, there are plenty of reasons for Lin to be hesitant about Houston. But D’Antoni trumps all those. Lin and D’Antoni kept texting each other long after both left New York, and their bond remains strong. Sports have seen much more surprising twists than Lin returning to Houston. This is the playground where the unexpected happens, one where money and opportunity routinely create the most unlikely of bedfellows.

With Harden and Lin, D’Antoni would have the chance of creating the NBA’s most dangerous offense. Again. The notion that D’Antoni is guaranteed to run into trouble with Harden rings hollow. Harden’s reputation has been soiled to such an extent that Khloe Kardashian’s ex-boyfriend has no choice but to listen to D’Antoni and follow the new coach’s vision. If Harden had any last doubts about how low he’s fallen, surely the news that he didn’t even make third-team All-NBA (rightly so) demolished them.

Harden now needs D’Antoni as much as D’Antoni needs him. People forget what D’Antoni did for Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and many more. This coach represents Harden’s best chance to turn into a true, winning superstar. But Harden needs help — and Lin is one of the most realistic free-agent options available to give it to him.

Kevin Durant is not leaving Oklahoma City or Russell Westbrook to join an inferior star in Houston. But Lin might.

Harden could lead the league in scoring in D’Antoni’s offense. And Jeremy Lin could lead the league in assists.

D’Antoni instantly makes the Rockets one of the most exciting offensive teams in the NBA. His defense in Phoenix — the last time had a legitimate full-strength NBA roster — never was even close to as bad as its reputation, either. Rockets fans should be thanking Alexander for his power play.

Houston got the right coach. Now, D’Antoni just needs the right players.

Which is why the new coach needs to bring back the point guard who never should have been driven away. Put D’Antoni, Harden and Lin together and tell Morey to get out of the damn way.

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