Mike D’Antoni stepped down as Rockets coach during flight back to Houston

Shortly after being ousted in the Western Conference semifinals by the Lakers, it was announced that Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni wouldn’t be returning next season. While the writing was on the wall throughout the season, considering he and the franchise failed to come to an agreement on an extension in May of 2019, and the constant reports of this season being a championship-or-bust for D’Antoni, it was a little surprising to find out that it wasn’t the Rockets who decided he wouldn’t be returning, but the coach himself.

On Sunday, just a day after losing in Game 5 against the Lakers, D’Antoni informed the team that he wouldn’t seek a new contract, and would rather test the open market that, with four possible coaching vacancies (not including the Rockets). A decision this big, would seem like it would take at least a few days to mull over, especially after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said that re-signing D’Antoni was a “top priority” for the franchise this offseason. However, the 69-year-old already made his mind up before getting on the Rockets plane to take the team back to Houston, per The Athletic’s Kelly Iko and Sam Amick.

Sources say D’Antoni and GM Daryl Morey met for a late dinner Saturday and conversed before returning to their rooms. By that evening, before D’Antoni went to bed, he had talked with everyone about the team and the season — players and management — but sources say he still hadn’t heard from owner Tilman Fertitta. There was an expectation of a phone call from ownership about the season and a plan to discuss his future upon returning, sources say.

The team packed the next morning before the afternoon flight that would take it 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.

D’Antoni took it as a sign of “disrespect” from Fertitta, and in the end it appears as though the rocky relationship between the owner and coach was a major factor in his decision to not return. While D’Antoni’s agent delivered the news to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski to break, the innovative head coach told Morey on the plane of his decision, who was upset, but understanding, per Iko and Amick, and proceeded to tell the rest of the players and staff on the plane with him. 

By the time the Rockets touched down in Houston, everyone in the basketball world knew of his decision, leaving the Rockets with a huge decision to make before the start of next season, and D’Antoni with what will surely be many offers for some of the league’s top head coaching positions. 

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