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Discerning Morey’s Philosophy – Part 4

The Rio Grande Valley Vipers had a marvelous year, snagging the D-league title and boasting a record-breaking nine call-ups on the season.

Yet it is a unique relationship forged with the Houston Rockets which makes them so intriguing.

The Rockets were the first NBA team to adopt the NBDL’s new “single affiliate partnership model,” an arrangement where a D-league team maintains responsibility of its business operations while one lone NBA franchise assumes complete control over all of its basketball decisions, from coaching, to offensive philosophy to even distribution of playing time.

Naturally, the partnership piqued my interest because of the parallels to a known practice of the Oakland Athletics.

**

In our email conversation, Sam Hinkie, Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations and head of basketball analytics for the Houston Rockets, explained the motivations behind the team’s investment:

We’ve been interested in minor league basketball for many years now. We spent a lot of time looking to create options to deeply evaluate more players and have a stronger hand in developing our own young players. But under the current rules, we wouldn’t actually own the NBA rights to those players in the NBDL. That puts a natural limit on the amount we wanted to invest, as the value of our work to identify and develop that talent is not guaranteed to accrue to the Rockets. So we looked for other alternatives to outright ownership that would meet our goals of broadening our basketball pipeline.

Indeed, the team truly is taking advantage of the arrangement to develop its players.  The Vipers run sets from Rick Adelman’s playbook, not only giving prospects a chance to acclimate to the big-league offense, but also providing the Rockets opportunity to test out new wrinkles in an environment with lesser stakes.

The relationship brings to mind the control the Oakland Athletics imposed upon their minor league affiliates.  A’s former general manager Sandy Alderson held a firm belief that “the organization as a whole functioned well only if it was uniformly disciplined.”  Thus, Alderson strictly enforced his unique beliefs on hitting, leaning on the organization’s minor league coaches whose teams were not walking enough.

To be clear, the Rockets’ is a gentler reign with the team maintaining awareness of the Vipers’ needs.  Still, the striking similarity is a cognizance of the value of uniformity.

In Moneyball, Michael Lewis goes on to describe how the Athletics’ organizational philosophy was ingrained into players.  To persuade them to be patient and to work the count and wait for the pitcher to make a mistake, the belief that strikeouts were not necessarily bad was drilled into their heads.

The Rockets had instituted their playbook.  But for an organization that so highly values the benefits of individual preparation, I wondered if, like the A’s, they stressed the importance of any specific individual practices at the lower levels.

Of the five players that spent time between both the Rockets and Vipers this year, Hinkie responded, delicately, that he would “hope those players saw many similarities in the larger philosophies and the way they prepare for a game,” adding that “they realize that the Rockets value similar things on both teams.”

**

In the Morey era, the Houston Rockets have been known to use purchased second round draft picks upon European talent, then stashing these players away abroad for further development.

While these prospects typically have higher ceilings than their American counterparts from that level of the draft, many have expensive buyout clauses and the investment does not pay dividends for some time.

Now having the ability to develop players in a controlled environment, with the option for immediate in-season call-up, would the new relationship with the Vipers shift the organization to prefer American players?

“Not really” responds Hinkie:

In the draft, we’re looking for who will be the best players over the long term. Any team that feels good about their ability or willingness to develop young players might have slightly more interest in acquiring young players in need of that development. But I think it’s a pretty small consideration overall compared to just evaluating who has the best chance to be a good player over time.

**

The Houston Rockets’ partnership with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the first of its kind, is just another example of the club’s attempts to optimize its use of its resources.

Much has been made of the experience young stars such as Aaron Brooks have gained in the D-league.  But it’s the subtle payoffs that are overlooked.

In a sport where mere possessions can mark the difference between winning and losing, a reserve’s increased familiarity and comfort on any given play could determine the outcome of any given game.  It’s for this reason that the Houston Rockets have sought yet another avenue to gain a competitive advantage.






About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

in essays
Craig
Craig 5pts

You answered the DLeagueDigest.com's grading system question 3 months in advance. Morey has his team, management, fans, and BLOGGERS ahead of all of the other teams!

Morey makes everyone better! :)

Jon L
Jon L 5pts

I also should add that the Utah Flash run Jazz sets even though they're not directly affiliated with the Jazz (the Celtics and Hawks have shared affiliation with the Flash in the past). I'd also assume that the Maine Red Claws run some Celtics sets since they're coached by Austin Ainge. I know the Erie BayHawks and Cleveland Cavaliers have a close relationship, but I don't know if that extends to their offensive plays (derisive comment about Mike Brown's offense). Bottom line, the unique-ness of the Rockets/Vipers arrangement is on the financial side, not the basketball side.

Jon L
Jon L 5pts

The idea that the Rockets' minor league affiliate runs their plays isn't actually the unique part of it - the Spurs already do that with the Austin Toros and the Oklahoma City Thunder with the Tulsa 66ers. The Los Angeles Lakers did it with their affiliate the LA D-Fenders, but they're suspending operations for a year. The difference is that all of those NBA teams own their affiliate; the uniqueness of the Rockets/Vipers arrangement is that the Vipers are in charge of the business side, although they take input from the Rockets, I'm sure. This arrangement was put forth by the D-League because NBA teams were concerned that they'd lose money if they were responsible for the finances of their D-League affiliate.

rahat_huq
rahat_huq 5pts

It's a great revolving door that allows the team to maximize every roster spot.

Stephen
Stephen 5pts

Sorry about double-post,didn't realize I'd done it.

I meant on the every few yrs is that when a players rookie contract is up the team should have a potential replacement starting the process,making it easier to keep the supporting cast's salaries down.

Stephen
Stephen 5pts

If the Rockets are successful going forward they will be drafting in the late 20's routinely. W/their control of the Vipers the team is able to draft players w/the tools and give them the chance to develop them in a manner the Rockets can control. Using the MLE to sign 2nd Rd players to longer contracts allows the team the time to let a player work on his game. We'll prob see going forward the team routinely keeping a rookie in RGV and developing him.

The team doesn't need for the player to develop into a star-altho that'd be nice. They just need a solid role player.
Just for kicks I looked up Adelman's Sac and Port teams leading scorers. In his 11 full seasons Rick had more than 2 players ave 18ppg only 3 times. One when Webber only played 23 games to injury,another when Webber was traded at the deadline and once in Portland,when none of the three ave'd 20ppg. Usually there were two high scorers and another half-dozen or so averaging @9-16ppg.(Wing/PF lead 7 times,Wing/PG lead 3 times,Wing/C once.) While the supporting cast could go off,they were relied upon to contribute,not carry the load.
The Vipers allow the Rockets to obtain inexpensive roster fill,coach 'em up to be useful rotation players and when needed repeat the process every few yrs.

Stephen
Stephen 5pts

If the Rockets are successful going forward they will be drafting in the late 20's routinely. W/their control of the Vipers the team is able to draft players w/the tools and give them the chance to develop them in a manner the Rockets can control. Using the MLE to sign 2nd Rd players to longer contracts allows the team the time to let a player work on his game. We'll prob see going forward the team routinely keeping a rookie in RGV and developing him.

The team doesn't need for the player to develop into a star-altho that'd be nice. They just need a solid role player.
Just for kicks I looked up Adelman's Sac and Port teams leading scorers. In his 11 full seasons Rick had more than 2 players ave 18ppg only 3 times. One when Webber only played 23 games to injury,another when Webber was traded at the deadline and once in Portland,when none of the three ave'd 20ppg. Usually there were two high scorers and another half-dozen or so averaging @9-16ppg.(Wing/PF lead 7 times,Wing/PG lead 3 times,Wing/C once.) While the supporting cast could go off,they were relied upon to contribute,not carry the load.
The Vipers allow the Rockets to obtain inexpensive roster fill,coach 'em up to be useful rotation players and when needed repeat the process every few yrs.

rahat_huq
rahat_huq 5pts

bob - agreed. better to send guys down now than let them rot away on the bench in the big league.

3rdcoast - that would be a great idea; similar to baseball when pitchers work their way back in the minors to shake off rust after injuries.

thirdcoastborn
thirdcoastborn 5pts

The D- league was a great idea. Jermaine Taylor played well with them, he got gametime experience he would not of got if he was on the roster. I think players coming back from a major injury should be able to play the D- League, no matter how long they have been in the league. This would speed up the process of them getting back in game shape, create some buzz and sell more tickets for the d- league if he is a star player. Our roster is pretty set, not including a trade,so our draft pick will most likely play in the D league, or let them play overseas alittle longer.

RFWC
RFWC 5pts

Any thoughts on how Morey will use the Euro:dollar exchange to the Rockets' advantage?

Rubio's buyout just went down by 50%, will there be an influx of European talent this summer?

Rockets should load up on Euro for sure.

bob schmidt
bob schmidt 5pts

Among those subtle payoffs, every Viper team member knows that every aspect of their experience is analyzed by the Rockets because of the shared duties of Rocket's staff with the Vipers. On a daily basis, every Viper is auditioning for the big club and immersed in the culture of becoming a Rocket.

As the upcoming draft brings in new talent to the organization, it is probable that the Vipers will have a larger role in the development of the newcomers. That is, after all, the point and purpose of Houston's investment in the RGV Vipers.

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  1. […] of the unique partnership the Rockets have entered with the Vipers, we are really looking forward to this coverage. Add a […]

  2. […] GM in the league. I’m going to leave it to real Rockets bloggers like The Dream Shake and Red 94 to go into all the details of just how much smarter Morey seems to be than every other GM in the […]

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