Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni informs team he won’t return as head coach

Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has told the franchise’s ownership that he will not return as head coach and will look to be a free agent. 

D’Antoni officially made this decision less than a day after the Los Angeles Lakers eliminated the Rockets in the Western Conference in five games. Afterwards, D’Antoni publicly kept his options open. 

“I’d like to coach. It’s not always up to me,” D’Antoni said. “But I want to continue coaching.”

ESPN first reported on D’Antoni would not return for the 2020-21 season.

D’Antoni released a statement Sunday, saying, "It's with tremendous sadness and gratitude that my wife, Laurel, and I announce that our incredible journey in Houston has ended for now and that we'll be moving to a new chapter."

After D’Antoni and Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta failed to agree to an extension last summer, D’Antoni willingly entered the season with lame-duck status for two reasons. After challenging the Golden State Warriors in eventual playoff losses for the past two years, D’Antoni remained optimistic about the roster’s potential. Though most coaches worry about their diminished authority within the front office and locker room, D’Antoni also had confidence his players would still buy into his coaching. 

Mike D'Antoni won't return as the Houston Rockets head coach next season. (Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told USA TODAY Sports last week that “Mike coming back is super important.” Morey added such a move is “probably No. 1” in offseason priorities since James Harden and Russell Westbrook remain under contract. When asked if he wants D’Antoni to return, Harden also offered strong support. 

“Of course,” Harden said. “Mike has done some unbelievable things here.”

Still, D’Antoni has interest in the league’s other head-coaching vacancies, which include the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers. D’Antoni also has increased concerns that Ferttita would not commit toward spending on a roster after pressuring the front office to make cost-cutting moves in recent seasons to avoid luxury tax penalties. 

D’Antoni finished with a combined 227-102 record in four seasons with the Rockets, which included one trip to the Western Conference Finals and three appearances in the conference semifinals. He also oversaw the Rockets’ being one of the most elite offensive and defensive teams during his tenure, while enabling Harden to expand his game.

"Our time here was among the most memorable experiences of our lives," D’Antoni said. "From the dear friends we've made, the incredible partnerships with civic minded-leaders and city officials, to the wonderful nonprofits and the clients they serve, Laurel and I will be forever indebted to this community for embracing our family."

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