Mike D'Antoni is one of the oldest remaining NBA head coaches at 69 years old, and as such, there had previously been some concern as to whether or not he would be able to coach the Houston Rockets in the bubble. Fortunately, according to ESPN's Tim MacMahon, his medical screening raised no red flags, and he was on the team's flight to Orlando on Thursday. He plans to coach the Rockets as normal at Disney, but will wear a mask, according to MacMahon.
D'Antoni is one of three coaches above 65 years old whose teams were invited to the Disney bubble. New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry was cleared Wednesday. Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News reported that Gregg Popovich, 71, will coach the Spurs in Orlando as well. The coronavirus is especially risky to those 65 and older, but the NBA's medical screening process was comprehensive enough to make decisions based on more than just age.
D'Antoni's agent, Warren LeGarie, had previously suggested that coaches forced to miss Disney would see their future prospects risked. That would be especially true of D'Antoni, whose contract with the Rockets expires after this season. Rumors have suggested that D'Antoni will need a lengthy playoff run to save his job in Houston, and with no coronavirus vaccine imminent, finding a new job would have been difficult if health restrictions had limited his availability.
Not on the Rockets team plane Thursday were stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania. No reason was provided for their absence, but both are expected to join the team in Orlando shortly. Thabo Sefolosha is the only Rockets player to have opted out of playing at Disney.
Although Sefolosha was a fairly minor loss, D'Antoni would have been a significant one. The small-ball Rockets have been built in D'Antoni's image, and winning without their coach would have been a very tall order. Now Houston will be able to enter the Disney bubble with its core intact ready to compete for a championship.