Discerning Morey’s Philosophy – Part 2

This post is a continuation of a series entitled ‘Discerning Morey’s Philosophy.’

On Draft Night 2006, I had described news of the Battier-Gay trade as “the moment I had completely lost faith in the competence of management.”

It’s rather humorous to consider just how much my tune has changed.

After a decade of mismanagement, the team appears headed back in the right direction under the guidance of Daryl Morey.

Morey’s is an unprecedented approach.  Yet still, so little is known of his philosophy.

If success is borne from some madness, does this not beseech the quest for its method?

More Questions to Ponder

A natural starting point for our discussion is Daryl Morey’s decision to continue building this team around Yao.  Prior to his latest setback, the center had already had an extensive injury history.  Even more troubling were the odds he faced – most ‘giants’ in NBA history have had their careers shortened by foot problems.

Daryl Morey was certainly aware of this and had had the opportunity to trade Yao last year while he was in good health and for his full market value.  Yet he still retained him.  Why?

On the surface, this does not seem like a rational decision.  Every time Yao Ming steps onto an NBA court, his value depreciates because his risk for injury increases [with the added wear.] It’s certainly possible that Morey felt that because dominant low post scorers were so scarce and valuable that this risk was justified.  Still, I have a difficult time accepting that a mind like Morey’s would invest such a significant proportion of his cap space into such a volatile asset.

The more plausible explanation points to the lucrative Chinese business partnerships Yao’s presence on the roster affords to owner Les Alexander.  If the call to retain Yao was ownership imposed, this stands as the closest comparison in our study to the financial constraints placed upon Billy Beane.  In a league with no limit, Beane had no money.  Through keeping Yao, Morey might just have been forced to operate with less in a sport with a cap.

With the decision on Yao backfiring, we are brought to the strategy for replacing him.  In the 7’6 center, the team lost its only shot blocking and low post presence.  Yet Morey’s response was to sign a jump shooting Australian rookie and insert the 6’6 Chuck Hayes into the starting lineup.  Wouldn’t common sense dictate that he at least try to acquire an established inside presence?

Speaking on the loss of slugger Jason Giambi, Billy Beane once said that “the important thing is not to recreate the individual….the important thing is to recreate the aggregate.”

With the limited resources at his disposal, Daryl Morey could have never found a player that could duplicate all of Yao’s talents.  Rather than trying to replace Yao with a similar but inferior player, perhaps the most efficient solution was to put a premium on the attribute of Yao that most critically needed to be replaced?

The numbers suggest that Yao’s greatest impact was on the defensive end.  It could very well have been determined that extending defensive specialist Chuck Hayes’ minutes was the one route which would most significantly impact the team’s expected total output.

Whatever the case, rather than trying to mimic the recipe from last year, Morey decided that things would have to be done very differently this season.

Speaking of last year, I should also touch on the decision to trade veteran point guard Rafer Alston in midseason.  Few general managers would have had the gumption to deal their starting point guard in the middle of a playoff run.  One might surmise that the Rockets had mailed it in upon the announcement of McGrady’s surgery, but were that the case, the team surely would have also dealt the soon-to-be free agent, Ron Artest.

Alston had been the starter for four years while his eventual replacement, Aaron Brooks, was still being confused with the former New Orleans Saints’ quarterback.  Unless Alston was just that bad, maybe what we revere as ‘experience’ really isn’t as critical as conventional wisdom would suggest?  After all, what exactly defines experience?  How does one quantify its benefits in relation to the production brought by a younger, more talented player?

If we’re delving into basketball existentialism, then now would probably be an appropriate time to ask what exactly is a ‘shooting guard.’  No other general manager would start both Trevor Ariza and Shane Battier in tandem at the wings.  The two are unequivocally the worst ball-handling swingman duo in the league.  Daryl Morey knows this.  Does this decision illustrate contempt for the traditional basketball roles?

Might there be a belief that what is typically expected to come from one particular source can simply be replaced in the aggregate from other avenues?  Perhaps Ariza and Battier’s combined defensive impact was projected to offset the sacrificed expected output of an average conventional ball-handling wing?  This line of reasoning would render the traditional basketball role obsolete.

One could again counter that the team’s decision to start Trevor and Shane in tandem was rooted in apathy; that they didn’t care to compete in this lost season.  But were that the case, wouldn’t Morey have simply dealt Battier for younger players?

So we must now explore the decision to retain veterans such as Luis Scola and Battier while simultaneously ushering in this era of rebuilding.  It reeks of confidence, but would the team have not been better off in the long run by selling off its aging parts and positioning itself for a higher lottery pick?

Perhaps Daryl Morey is saying that lottery picks are overvalued commodities; that they are not worth their price of acquisition: lost time.  Perhaps the odds of finding a contributor later in the draft are comparable to the odds of finding one in the late lottery?

If you feel that the odds of landing a ‘star’ player through the lottery aren’t relatively high, and you know that using your methods, you can find a contributor at a later draft slot, is it not rational to place a higher premium on the culture developed through competitiveness than on the slim chance of landing a ‘star’ by ‘tanking’?

Finally, we’ll close with the issue of that which we call a ‘star.’  No team in the modern era has boasted a roster wherein each player’s production proportionately correlated with his earnings.  But does precedent in a changing game serve as a sufficient ideological deterrent?

Intellectual competitive advantage in an inefficient market might make the prospect of winning through unconventional means as probabilistic as ultimate success through the sacrifice of time in the quest for a true ‘star.’

We don’t know if this is the case, but of course, with our subject, Daryl Morey, so very little is truly known.

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

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