The Spurs and Daryl Morey

In light of tonight’s game between the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs, I discussed how the league’s best front office of the last decade compares to the new front runner with Tim Varner of San Antonio Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell.

TV: What Daryl Morey has accomplished in the short few years since landing with the Houston Rockets is something of a revolution, wouldn’t you agree?

RH: It is. Using a stats-based approach, he completely remodeled his franchise in a strikingly short amount of time. In fairness, there are a few others adhering to the same unconventional model (ie: Pritchard, Presti.) However, there is an (oft-overlooked) key distinction that distinguishes Daryl Morey from his counterparts in this managerial renaissance. Pritchard and Presti were afforded the luxury of annual lottery picks. Morey built his program from the ground up, finding value without the benefit of preexisting assets with which to barter. He now has his team positioned for a return to contention next season.

TV: Do you agree with my assessment that the Spurs were the model of front office excellence for the last decade?

RH: I do. Winning titles with what was essentially 2 different lineups was a very impressive feat. By placing emphasis on scouting and the draft, they were able to reload on the fly and most impressively, control team spending. They didn’t have to overpay for talent because they knew they had a set philosophy in place which was conducive to a revolving door.

TV: You’ve described “the revolving door” in this way: “In the modern CBA era, perhaps the most pragmatic approach to personnel oversight entails, rather than the construction of one static team for the long haul, the planning and creation of separate teams in succession, wherein management continuously reloads, retaining flexibility and allowing the franchise to stay competitive in perpetuum.” Can you tell us more about the Morey philosophy?

RH: It hasn’t completely come to light, but we really learned a lot at the deadline. First, there seems to be a real aversion towards long-term contracts and this was probably intensified by some of the rumors about the new collective bargaining agreement. Most importantly, it would seem that “selling high” was the preordained course of action. The team sold off Carl Landry and was on the verge of swapping veterans Shane Battier and Luis Scola in the 11th hour for Suns forward Amare Stoudemire. Daryl Morey will not be blinded by the false hope of immediate returns on the strength of “chemistry.” Assembling a core of premium talent is the primary consideration.

TV: In what ways, if any, do the Spurs exemplify aspects of the Morey model?

RH: Well, the Spurs are that ideal manifestation of the conventional model – it’s the complete opposite of the Morey model. You can’t take anything away from the Spurs’ front office achievements because they really did a fine job at assembling those title teams, but having a trans-generational talent like Duncan really is a complete game-changer. A guy like Duncan lets you fill roles and give weight to luxuries like ‘chemistry’ because he himself is the framework. The Rockets have to waste years establishing a foundation before they can even begin to give thought to the finer concerns.

TV: In the second installment of your series, the concept of replacing the aggregate vs. replacing the individual struck me as a crucial distinction…I guess I should ask you to explain to our readers what were talking about.

RH: It’s basically the idea that you don’t necessarily have to replace a player’s exact contributions to have the same overall team output. For a simple example, let’s say you lose a great rebounding power forward. Rather than trying to replace that production with an inferior power forward of the same mold, you might find that it would be easier to recreate the previous year’s total team output by adding a great 3 point shooter whose shooting efficiency makes up for the rebounds lost. Focus on the whole rather than the individual parts.

TV: Older evaluators of talent were difficult to reproduce–Jerry West’s intuitive eye was unique to him. What he knew he knew. But it strikes me that the Spurs and Rockets (Morey) represent highly reproducible models. Kevin Pritchard commented somewhere that what he learned in San Antonio was the value of following a set of processes. And any team, in theory, is capable of vetting their personnel the way the Spurs do. The only thing teams can’t reproduce is the luck (winning the lottery, selecting Ginobili in a moment of coin toss decision making), but the rest is reproducible. Is the same true for Morey. Math is math is math is Morey. Is that right?

RH: Not at all. These stats the Rockets are using in their analysis aren’t exactly shared public property; they’re proprietary metrics. Anyone can aggregate a database of numbers. It’s the ability to discern and place emphasis upon the correct elements which keys the success of Morey’s approach.

TV: Good point, Rahat.  It’s the ability to interpret the metrics and combine that interpretation with what we’re seeing with our eyes that counts. I suppose that’s a kind of intuition too.

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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