The last three years have been a torturous Groundhog’s Day for fans of the Houston Rockets. Where we currently stand as another season has come and gone, two (or one) more marginal difference makers are scheduled to join the squad after this month’s NBA draft. Last year, Houston begrudgingly accepted the 14th pick. The year before that? The 14th pick. This year they have the 14th and 16th selections.

The overwhelming emotion for anyone who watches this team on a regular basis is frustration. The Rockets aren’t stumbling, they aren’t bursting forward into a hopeful future, and they aren’t making noticeable changes. Despite a slew of trade deadline deals—not including a blockbuster preseason trade that was aborted by the league—and a shrewd draft pick, the end result for this team is dangerous preservation. When patience hits a brick wall, excuses aren’t tolerated. The only question worth asking is “How do we get better?” [read more…]

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This post is Part 2 of a three-part assessment of Daryl Morey’s performance in 2012.  Part 1 can be accessed here.  It is also cross-listed within the Morey series, an evaluation of Daryl Morey’s overall tenure with the Houston Rockets.

Awaiting verdict: Marcus Morris

Most people following this team would define Marcus Morris as a bust and one of Morey’s biggest blunders.  I don’t quite understand how that conclusion is reached regarding a guy who played a total of like seven minutes the entire season.

First, as just stated, it’s silly to form conclusions off such a limited sample size.  Marcus Morris could be a bust.  But it’s just too early to tell.

Second, let’s stop pointing to Kawhi Leonard—whom the Rockets took a white version of in the second round—as evidence of some blunder.  Leonard’s been fantastic for the Spurs.  But he’s also gotten a chance, unlike Morris.

The Spurs start slowly each year because they sacrifice games in taking time to integrate new pieces.  In the Kevin McHale assessment, I discussed ‘agency cost’ whereby agents of a corporation may not necessarily have motives in line with the best interests of the corporation itself.  Poppovich enjoys lifetime tenure with the Spurs; McHale must scrap for every win to prove his worth.  Consequently, the latter decided not to take the risk of playing Morris.  That Morris did not get playing time is not some indictment upon Morris’ abilities.

Furthermore, to contest the above point, critics of the Morris pick point to Chandler Parsons.  “If Parsons as a rookie was able to get playing time, then the theory that McHale didn’t play young players has holes,” went the argument.

What the critics fail to understand is that Parsons and even Patrick Patterson don’t have those weaknesses that require most young players years to overcome.  In that sense they’re anomalies – there was no reason for McHale to not play them.  They are both mentally strong and smart, like veterans.  Their weaknesses are physical limitations.

Morris, on the other hand, has physical gifts.  It’s in the mental adjustment where he’s lacking, as is customarily the case.  Coaches under fire can tolerate players being too short or slow; it’s missing defensive assignments that really grinds their gears.

Lastly, the Rockets began the season as one of the worst defensive teams in the league, coming off a season when they boasted one of the best offenses.  McHale needed defense and Parsons provided it.

When assessing a pick, one needs to consider the thinking that went into the selection.  The same critics that dismiss Morey as overly conservative fail to realize the thought process used last June.  The Rockets know they need impact players, having a team of role players.  They could have taken a cookie-cutter positional type, like Leonard (whom the critics retrospectively pine for), and gotten nowhere.  Instead, they took a gamble.  There isn’t impact talent available at 14.  But the thinking went that envisioning Morris as a future ‘3’—identifying a potential market inefficiency—was the best bang for the buck; it was the best chance at ‘impact’ that low in the draft.  It could have been a complete waste – we don’t know.  Time will tell.  But the point is that it was a calculated risk and that it’s too early to reach a verdict.

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This article has been broken into three separate installments to be published on different dates.  It will also be cross-listed within the Morey series simply due to the relevance in subject matter.

Grade: B+

What we need to remember is that assessment should be driven by process, not solely results.  If a patient comes into the ER, deathly ill and profusely bleeding, and then dies on the operating table, is the surgeon a failure?  Context matters.  Did the surgeon take the right steps to mitigate horrendously unfavorable circumstances?  It’s not enough that the desired end was not achieved.  How did he do within the framework of the hand he was dealt?

I gave Kevin McHale a C+ because of process.  Sure, he failed in the end.  But it wasn’t that failure which determined the grade.  It was the way he failed, losing six consecutive games in the same identical manner.

For many, this is a difficult concept to grasp.  That’s why there exists “count the rings!” and other over-simplified verbiage in our discourse.

To wit, sports is entertainment – it’s meant to be simple.  We’re not exactly dealing with monetary policy in developing nations.  But if we’re committing time and resources to media coverage of sports institutions, our evaluation and discourse should at the least be informed and intelligent.  Otherwise, this is all just a waste of time.


I established in the last installment that the edict to “win now” came from ownership.  Inference from subsequent statements by Morey in the media only further cements this point.  In fact, this is almost accepted truth amongst close observers of this team.

It is crucial to stay mindful of this context.  There were certain decisions made by Morey this year with which, if in a vacuum, I would have strongly taken issue.  But I’m not evaluating him in a vacuum; I’m evaluating him within the framework of the order he was given.  From therein, the grade of B+ is derived.  I believe that while certainly not exceptional or outstanding, Daryl Morey did about as good of a job as could reasonably have been expected of him this year.

In a vacuum, the bad: 

These are the moves (or non-moves) that Morey made that I hated but that I can forgive because of his orders.

1. Signing Samuel Dalembert:

I hated this from even back when rumor first got out of the two parties’ interest.  A move like this is what perpetuates the mediocrity treadmill.  Why?  Because it’s non-transferrable production.  Adding a stop-gap veteran like Dalembert improves the team enough in the present to preclude being “bad” but then, because he’s not a part of the long-term solution, his production and impact can’t be factored into future team growth.

Think of it like this: You’re in Calculus.  You have four quizzes which make up, in total, 20% of your grade.  The other 80% of your grade is derived from a final exam.  The quizzes are leniently administered, so much so that it’s possible to bring in a cheat sheet.  On the other hand, it’s impossible to cheat on the final.

A friend breaks into the teacher’s filing cabinet after class and steals each of the quizzes before the respective administered dates and then pays off a nerd to provide him the answers on a cheat sheet.  (I’m using this example because I actually knew a guy who did this in computer science back in high school.  I still don’t understand how the teacher never caught on.)  He gets A’s on each quiz.  But because he’s cheated, hasn’t learned anything, and can’t cheat again on the final, he gets a 17 on the final.  He fails the class.

You, on the other hand, opt to do your own work.  You study hard, engrossing yourself in the material.  It isn’t easy.  There are sleepless nights.  You do very poorly on the first two quizzes.  But you learn from your mistakes and know what kind of effort success in the class will require.  Your grades trend upward and from this, not only can you measure yourself, but you gain confidence.  As the final is cumulative, because you’ve built a solid foundation, despite the early growing pains, you’re prepared and know what to expect.  You get an A on the final and an A in the class.

Signing Samuel Dalembert is like cheating on the quizzes.  Because he filled the team’s single biggest hole (interior defense), they weren’t forced to deal with the reality of their foundation.  Irrespective of win shares—and his first half offcourt/oncourt +/- figures serve as proof—I contest that this team would have been significantly worse without Dalembert.  If he isn’t brought back over the long haul, or even next year, what benefit did it serve?  The band-aid was artificial growth – it doesn’t carry over, and it prevents the team from really looking in the mirror and making the structural changes it needs to realize its ultimate goal: winning a championship.

Still, while in theory I detested this move, I can’t fault Morey too greatly.  He was given an order to stay competitive and this move achieved that end.

2. Not trading Luis Scola:

I had been advocating that the team trade Luis Scola for some time now, but the decision to not yet do so might have caught up to Morey.  The 32-year-old, still owed roughly $20 million guaranteed over the next two-years, had the worst numbers of his career, across the board.  His PER went down three points and his total rebounding %age declined by over two full points.  He shot under 50% for the first time in his career and looked worse than ever defensively.  At this point, I’m not sure the Rockets would be able to find a taker for Scola even if they tried.  It’s safe to say he’s begun the gradual descent players at his age experience.  It was argued that his lack of reliance on athleticism would indicate longevity, but his numbers would seem to imply otherwise.

On keeping Scola: think of it as having a tractor.  You plan on selling off your farm and all your equipment and moving to the city.  Furthermore, this year’s harvest is not expected to be good as a drought is on the forecast.  Rather than selling off the tractor—and the other equipment—and cashing in now, you hold on for this season.  You get little in the way of crops due to the drought, but worse, after further usage, the tractor’s resale value has diminished even further after another year of usage.  (For those attorneys out there, let’s forget about tax depreciation for the moment.)  You’re overall worse off.

The Rockets gain really nothing from playing Luis Scola.  They’re not winning a title any time soon.  But every additional year that they keep him, because of his age, his asset depreciates.  Had they traded him sooner, they might have gotten some pieces that could help them in the future.  Instead, like Dalembert, despite his statistical drop-off, his present production is hindering their ultimate end.

Again though, despite my contention in theory, I can’t fault Morey.  He has to “win now” and Scola is still a good player.  The nixed Gasol trade is at least indication that he is trying.

3. Not trading Kevin Martin:

Not much to say here.  Like Scola, I pushed for the team to deal Martin prior to the season for younger parts.  Now it looks like they’ll have to do so regardless, but for .25 on the dollar.  However, again, I can understand the decision, because of the need to win.  And unlike Scola, Martin will still certainly hold some value – his is an expiring contract.

In part 2, I will discuss the Marcus Morris selection, Patrick Patterson’s regression, and why Jeremy Lin is irrelevant.

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Reacting to the lottery

The lottery is such a funny exercise. The fate of a franchise that’s normally attune to watching its business decisions play out among the world’s greatest athletes on a basketball court, gets decided by ping pong balls popping in a secluded room in the Tri-State area.

More often than not, mysteriousness like this can give berth to controversy, and last night’s events are no different. I understand why people cry conspiracy when a team that was recently purchased from the league in slightly desperate fashion is rewarded with the first overall pick, but please, let’s be serious. The draft lottery isn’t rigged, and the same people who believe it is could concoct similiar arguments had several other teams won it instead (most notably Sacramento and Brooklyn).

If the ping pong balls were drawn 100 times, there’s a good chance the Rockets still wouldn’t win, so conspiracy or no conspiracy, Houston had no shot. But you’re smart enough to know that. Here are some of my thoughts on last night’s lottery, and how what transpired could impact the Houston Rockets as they head into their extremely interesting offseason.  [read more…]

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Gasol revisited

I don’t watch as much basketball as I once did.  I catch every Rockets game, due to my duties here, but I no longer subscribe to League Pass.  That’s why I was left almost speechless the few times I caught a Lakers game towards the end of the year.  Oh I had read and heard all the quips about “hero-ball” and how the Lakers needed to get their big men involved.  But I had imagined it as random ‘heat checks’ from Kobe or ill-advised shots in succession from time to time.  But I could never have conceived that what I later saw in reality was actually possible.

This year, under Mike Brown, the Lakers at times go entire stretches of games playing what almost seems some primitive form of streetball with 4 men watching stagnantly as one takes on an entire defense.  It’s so bad at times one can only marvel at its occurrence.  Kobe will receive the ball at the top of the key and jab-step beautifully to brilliantly aesthetic jumpers with defenders draped in his face, or he’ll receive in the post and fade away off of double teams.  He’ll hit a few in the course, only reaffirming his belief in the plan.  Rinse and repeat.  In the midst of these spectacles, Pau Gasol has been reduced to a bystander; I think I saw him as the post-entry passer a few times, at the most, hilariously…

[read more…]

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