Mike D'Antoni will return for Rockets, owner still has sights set on Western Conference finals

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/teams/houston/" data-ylk="slk:Rockets">Rockets</a> owner Tilman Fertitta's sights are still set on the Western Conference Finals, and hopes to keep coach Mike D'Antoni in Houston for a long time. (Getty Images)
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta's sights are still set on the Western Conference Finals, and hopes to keep coach Mike D'Antoni in Houston for a long time. (Getty Images)

The Houston Rockets fell to the Golden State Warriors in six games in their Western Conference semifinals series earlier this month, marking yet another early exit for a Houston organization with its sights set on a championship.

Houston had plenty of opportunities to knock off the Warriors throughout the series, too, all of which it failed to capitalize on. Golden State was even without star Kevin Durant for the final game and a half of the series, but it didn’t matter.

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The Rockets still didn’t have enough, something owner Tilman Fertitta called “unacceptable.”

“We put a team together that should have gotten to the Western Conference finals,” Fertitta told the Houston Chronicle.

Still, he’s not ready to change things up and rebuild. He wants to keep the Rockets core together next season, even if that means having to pay the luxury tax.

“We’re here to win. We’re not here to be just OK and make it to the playoffs,” Fertitta told the Houston Chronicle. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to be a championship-style team every year. I will make moves to always extend our runway. I’m not a rebuilding guy to go collapse for three years to get draft picks. I want to keep us at as high a level as we can.”

Mike D’Antoni will return to Houston next year

Despite falling short of the mark yet again, Fertitta insisted that coach Mike D’Antoni will be back next year for the Rockets, too.

“Mike will be the coach next year,” Fertitta, who said he’s set to meet with D’Antoni in the next several weeks, told the Houston Chronicle. “He’s not a lame duck to me. That’s just a media term. ... We’re more concerned with making our team better next year. Mike will be here. I like Mike. I think he’s a very good coach. Players like playing for him.

“I keep being told, free agents want to know who the owner is and they want to know who the coach is. Mike and I do well together. Hopefully, we’ll continue to win and Mike will be here for a long time.”

The Rockets picked up the fourth-year option on D’Antoni’s contract before the season started, though Fertitta did not specify if he would attempt to extend D’Antoni’s deal this summer.

D’Antoni has compiled a 173-73 record over three seasons with the Rockets. He has reached the Western Conference semifinals in all three years at the helm of the organization and reached the Western Conference finals last year, though lost to the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of that series.

Consistently reaching the playoffs is no easy task. Fertitta, though, was asked if D’Antoni is a championship-caliber coach and ready to take the next step.

“We don’t know,” Fertitta told the Houston Chronicle. “We don’t know if I’m a championship owner.”

Regardless, Fertitta is happy with the direction he’s led the franchise since taking over in 2017. He’s not planning to take a step back, and will do “whatever it takes this offseason to improve ourselves.”

“You can’t say ‘I’m going to go win the championship.’ Or, ‘I’m going to go win the Western Conference or Eastern.’ All you can do is put a team together to be one of the top four teams,” Fertitta told the Houston Chronicle. “Then … you need luck, from (avoiding) injuries to hitting a last-second shot. You want to always set yourself up to get to the conference finals.

“I’ve directed my people to get better next year — anything we can do, from ownership to conditioning and training, all the way to that level. If we can make our team better player-wise, we’re going to make our team better. If we can make our team better coaching-wise, we’ll make our team better.”

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