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.

in conversations
  • thirdcoastborn

    Chase and Blair have turned out to be great draft picks by the Spurs and Rockets. Ariza and Jefferson have not been such great additions so far. Our team with Yao is better then a healthy Spurs team, they are still good, just the core players are old and beatup. Morey has made some great moves, as well as picks, but with a healthy Yao and team he will start to be judged for what he has constructed.

  • Kade

    “Our team with Yao is better then a healthy Spurs team” < I don't see how you can make a statement like this. Are you assuming when/if Yao ever is able to play for a solid entire season and playoffs? Are you assuming Yao when/if he becomes a clear cut leader? Yao is a career 20/10 player and can't stay healthy nor can we assume he'll ever be an injury free player going forward. I'm just curious to that statement you made since the Rockets have never been better than the Spurs since the Yao era.

  • Bill

    @thirdcoastborn,
    Chase Budinger wasn't drafted by the Rockets, he was given away by Joe Dumars to Morey for a bag of beans and some shoelaces. Still, great move by Morey. Again!

  • thirdcoastborn

    Yes that what I am saying.Big Z had this same surgery nine years ago and he never had a problem again. I am not talking about the past seasons when either McGrady or Yao was hurt. I am talking about next year.With this current roster, or possibly adding Chris Bosh with a Yao we are competing with the Lakers and Dallas. San Antonio is on the decline and even Stevie Wonder can see that. There key players are old and injury prone, our roster is young and with first round picks we got from the Knicks, it will be even younger.

  • thirdcoastborn

    Everybody knows going into last years draft we had no picks. Actually our great owner Leslie Alexander believed Morey enough to pay six million for Jermaine Taylor and Chase.We gave those teams cash we got their pick, so yes we drafted them. We got both players in the second round, and the Spurs got Blair in the same round. Questions about Blairs knee and Chase's toughness is why they fell to the second round. Its not about Joe Dumars, but about how teams under valued them, Blairs has played all year and Chase shows he is tough and can create his shot.

  • Kade

    You are assuming that Yao will come back 100% and somehow no longer be an injury liability which I don't see how you can assume that. San Antonio still has a better record than us and looks like a playoff team while we do not. Big Z also isn't as huge as Yao so if you are hoping that because one player (thinner) had surgery and was fine that automatically Yao will be as well I wouldn't hold my breath on that. I hope I'm wrong and hope Yao comes back and no longer faces long injuries but that's wishful thinking on anyone's part until his body can show it can take the stress and wear.
    I like Chris Bosh but we need an alpha dog on our team, one who will demand to put away teams in the 4th. Can Bosh be that player? I have doubts. We have enough players who are solid and productive but in order to win a championship you must have at least one clear cut “ride my shoulders” kind of player.
    San Antonio compared to their championship teams are not as good but they have shown to also get solid players and still have Duncan who is still a solid player. You are also assuming that SA all of a sudden will not try and get better which given their history is not a valid assumption.
    As for the picks we MIGHT swap first round picks this upcoming draft but the Knicks could get the #1 pick and it'll be two years to get their 1st round pick, if they get Lebron/Wade/Bosh, etc that pick won't be a high one and even so that's another year down the road.
    When it comes down to the Rockets there's a lot of hopes that they'll get better and I am the biggest Morey fan out there but the facts are this:

    1. No alpha dog even if Yao comes back 100%
    2. Yao's injury history is a major concern and can't assume it'll suddenly be resolved

    I am a huge Rocket / Morey fan and have hope that like the fact that unlike 95% of the other GM's out there we have one that knows how to draft and set up a team but until we win a ring and resolve Yao's issue that's putting all your chips on a player that has proven his body can't stand the wear and stress.

  • Kade

    Dumars has shown he's clearly one of the worst GM's out there. Ruined that franchise and Billups is one of many horrible mistakes he's made. That said, Morey probably understands this and takes full advantage. I think Morey is great at getting to know other GM's and the ones who aren't as astute and takes advantage of that which he should.

  • thirdcoastborn

    Yea Yao does not have that killer instinct every game, and every play, but when he fights for position he can't be stopped. I have watched Yao go up against center after center and dominate them.Yao may weigh more then Big Z back then but nine years have passed, which means medicine and surgery has gotten better. Yao never was that athlethic, so he cant lose that. The Spurs are terrible on the road and mostly beat the weaker teams. Yes they may be a seventh or eight seed if they hold on, they are still out the first round. And I am talking about next year, if we don't go after Bosh and just resign Lowry and Scola we are better. Yea they can make a move but we have players we can trade as well. And if the Knicks do not sign any major star then we get the pick, and it will be a high pick who can come right in and contribute. Yao got his foot worked on to keep all that force off his ankle. It has been no setbacks since the surgery .

  • Mike

    id like to take this time to say that spurs have the absolute worst commentators ever, every time im forced to watch a game with there commentators it just makes me want to blow my brains out. Fuck the spurs, seriously.

  • thirdcoastborn

    Yea Yao does not have that killer instinct every game, and every play, but when he fights for position he can't be stopped. I have watched Yao go up against center after center and dominate them.Yao may weigh more then Big Z back then but nine years have passed, which means medicine and surgery has gotten better. Yao never was that athlethic, so he cant lose that. The Spurs are terrible on the road and mostly beat the weaker teams. Yes they may be a seventh or eight seed if they hold on, they are still out the first round. And I am talking about next year, if we don't go after Bosh and just resign Lowry and Scola we are better. Yea they can make a move but we have players we can trade as well. And if the Knicks do not sign any major star then we get the pick, and it will be a high pick who can come right in and contribute. Yao got his foot worked on to keep all that force off his ankle. It has been no setbacks since the surgery .

  • Mike

    id like to take this time to say that spurs have the absolute worst commentators ever, every time im forced to watch a game with there commentators it just makes me want to blow my brains out. Fuck the spurs, seriously.

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