Discerning Morey’s Philosophy – Part 3

2010 February 11
by rahat huq

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

In Part 2, I mused on the value of lottery picks, theorizing that perhaps they aren’t worth their opportunity cost if procured through contrived means.

But what if rebuilding itself isn’t worthwhile?

While etymologically a euphemism, rebuilding carries a romantic connotation in our lexicon. I’m not just referring to the process of tearing a team down – that’s necessary in many cases.  By rebuilding, I’m speaking of the glorious fantasy to amass young talent, establish a so-called foundation, and then recline while enjoying a ten-year window of maturation.

I’m not so sure our attraction to this is rooted in practical considerations.  It’s more likely that our conditioning dictates a desire for long-term affinity to and identification with a static group of players.  Moreover, youth affords the vehicle to envision the group’s successful evolution.

Granted, I do concede that in theory, when successful, this process is the absolute ideal scenario – think Portland getting healthy and realizing their potential en route to four titles.

With that said, I don’t think it is wise to chase the utopian when recent history shows such a high rate of failure.  Too often, teams force the process, trading quality vets for unknown commodities, or even worse, locking up young players to underserved contracts, simply for the sake of establishing a foundation.

The fall-out can be catastrophic.  Perhaps it’s time to rethink the model.


This brings us to a discussion of present relevance:  the rumors pertaining to a possible acquisition of Andre Iguodala or Caron Butler.

Iguodala is not really much better than Butler.  He’s a better defender and better in the open court, but Butler has the more refined offensive skillset – Caron is far superior at creating off the dribble.

Yet our collective consciousness prefers Iguodala.  He fits neatly into that rebuilding vision.  He’s just 26.  Acquiring Andre Iguodala is a subconscious enabler: we now have a young nucleus; a young nucleus that can grow together.

On the other hand, Butler is a letdown.  A 30 year old.  Merely another mercenary.  This is not a guy you can build something with for an era.  Does it not seem myopic?  Does Daryl Morey have no foresight?

Our definition of foresight is flawed.

Foresight is not exclusive to the construction of a set foundation.  Foresight pertains to the health of a franchise and is inclusive of all future considerations, most importantly, the flexibility to escape from unsuccessful situations.

Caron Butler does not contribute to a foundation.  But getting Caron Butler would vastly improve this team, ensure competitiveness for the next two years, but also provide an escape route.

Butler has just one year remaining on his contract, owed a very reasonable $11million in 2010-2011; Iguodala will be due $16million in 2013-2014.

(This is not even mentioning that the poison pill that is Sam Dalembert’s contract would likely be attached to any Iguodala deal, pushing the Rockets into luxury tax hell for next season, likely prohibiting them from resigning their own free agents or addressing other needs.)


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.

Now, naturally, youth is preferred.  Young players possess certain desirable attributes and are less likely to become injured.

However, the distinction is between preference and outright discrimination.

In the new model, you prefer youth, but you don’t place a premium upon it.  Rather, you simply acquire talent, old or young, keeping assets in play, and maintaining competitiveness.

Each separate team would have a three-year half-life before the ushering of the next retooling.

This would eliminate the need for painful rebuilding, when gate receipts suffer as teams struggle both on the hardwood and in the market to unload undesirable long-term contracts.

The rebuilding vision is really a self-fulfilling cycle.  Each group is torn down in lieu of the next crop until things go awry for them too and hopes fade into reality.

Just look at the Sixers: they moved Iverson to usher in the Iguodala era but are back once more in the same rut, shackled by exorbitant contracts.    Does the vision ever bear fruit?

The new model would signal a radical departure from philosophical norms.  We’re  accustomed to the ten-year-windowAssemble them, give them time, it will come together.

Too many GM’s have lost their jobs putting all their eggs into one basket.


There are two dilemmas:

1. Chemistry – there is merit to the argument that a revolving-door philosophy isn’t conducive to chemistry development; that chemistry is a factor of longevity.

    I would present this current Rockets team as my counter.  They have arguably the best chemistry in the league yet have not been together for very long.  I think that if a robust team philosophy is firmly entrenched, as is the case with Houston, and a premium is placed upon high IQ athletes, as the Rockets have done, this potential pitfall is avoided.

    2. The greater dilemma would be confronting the throes of the fan base.  The masses would never sign off; they’re stuck on primordial affinities and emotional attachments.

      This would certainly be a concern.  But in the end, winning heals all, and as the adage goes, if you win, they will come.

      If any consolation, through even fleeting success in any odd year, teams would collect the revenue they would not have earned had the “all-in” approach failed and they were mired in mediocrity with no escape.


      On a different note, in Part 2, I touched briefly on the issue of stars. I still feel they are necessary to win at the highest level.  But they’re difficult to acquire.  Is it wise to force it?  There really are very few stars in this league and most of them were acquired through the draft.

      Is Andre Iguodala worth his price-tag when he’s not really a true star?  Is his acquisition worth taking on the chaff that is Sam Dalembert’s contract?

      Rather than forcing through a bad trade for a pseudo-star, perhaps the ‘snowball’ approach is more advantageous: placing managerial emphasis on smaller moves, collecting small assets, while rolling along in competitiveness, until you can make a clean trade.

      Case in point: While fans were upset, in want of immediate help, the Bonzi Wells – Bobby Jackson trade was what enabled the clean swap for Ron Artest.

      Morey dealt off Wells and Jackson, taking back no chaff, rolled along, and did his diligence in the draft, maneuvering to acquire a prospect in Donte Greene whom other teams would find attractive.

      Had Morey blown off the draft – like his predecessor – or forced through a bad deal for immediate help, the clean swap for Artest would not have been possible.  Take back a little good without taking back any bad, and keep rolling.

      While a team’s record might end up slightly worse, it probably stands the same chance at winning a title with no stars as it would with a pseudo-star; but it retains flexibility for future improvement.

      Taking back Iguodala and Dalembert would push the team far into the red for next season.  But imagine a more low-key McGrady trade – one where the team takes back only expiring contracts and a much less glamorous player than Iguodala.  The team would retain financial flexibility and go into the summer with a shopping cart of assets to put to bid in a sign&trade deal for a real star like Chris Bosh; a real star worth his market rate.

      Overpaying for a pseudo-star really makes little sense.

      There’s a common criticism in existence that Daryl Morey “overvalues his players.”  I’m not quite sure I understand the sentiment.  I think it’s a lot more accurate to say that he simply properly values other teams’ players.


      Everyone is on edge in anticipation of The Trade.  The Big Splash.  Daryl Morey’s signature moment; the acquisition of the latest franchise corner-stone.  Caron Butler would certainly not fit that bill – he’s nothing but just a very good role player at this point.

      We don’t know what will happen at the deadline.  Morey could very well surprise us and take back Dalembert.  Or, he could trade away McGrady for just expirings, taking back a young low-key asset in return.  Another asset to put away in the pocket.

      Whatever the Rockets decide to do this deadline, it most likely won’t be flashy; it won’t appeal to what fans had been hoping for since last summer.  It most likely won’t activate the glorious vision of rebuilding or adding to a foundation.

      On the surface, whatever the Rockets do may not make sense, but we can rest assured, it will be part of some plan.

      It’s anyone’s guess what Daryl Morey will do but, big or small, whatever he has in mind, it will tell us more about his managerial philosophy than any transaction to date.

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      • David A
        Rahat - This is probably a stupid question, but have you read Moneyball?
      • thirdcoastborn
        Caron is the better fit, we have enough forwards. He can take defenders off the dribble, post up, and of couse run the fastbreak. He only has a couple years left on his contract also. He would take pressure off Brooks, and help Ariza by letting him move over to his natural position. The McGrady trade should of already been made, i think egos got involved. The first trade offer was better with us getting Butler,Foye,and Miller, now it sounds like we are only getting Butler, and Haywood plus another team involved.
      • Easy
        What I agree:

        1. Flexibility. Overpaying pseudo-stars long term is suicidal.

        2. Youth is not necessarily better. And I may add, youth is relative.

        3. Chemistry does not need a long time to build. The key is not time, but temperament and compatibility.

        What I don't agree:

        1. The problem is the "static" foundation model. I don't think the problem is with the model. The problem is with the incompetence in talent evaluation. The high rate of failure you mentioned is not so much of the fact that they tried to build a young foundation, but the fact that they build it with the wrong players, or with the wrong contracts.

        (BTW, when I say "talent" I mean not just basketball skills and physical abilities, but also include the so-called "intangibles" that are so important to success. For example, is Iverson a "star"? You have to say yes if you only look at physical talent. But is his talent conducive to winning in a team sport? That, IMO should be part of talent evaluation. Another thing in talent evaluation is compatibility. Do the talents fit well as a team?)

        2. Assuming correct talent evaluation is in place (which I believe Morey has in his possession), the only thing totally unpredictable should be injuries. That's what flexibility should kick in. I think with advanced tools, the duration of the rookie contract should be enough time for a fairly accurate prediction of a player's career success barring injuries.

        3. This is more about taste than absolute truth. As a fan, I want a stable team, not a revolving door team. I know different people see this differently. A lot of people (I assume you are one of them from what you wrote) care only about team success. What players make up the team are quite insignificant for them. Their emotional attachment is by and large to the team, not to the players. I recognize this and I do not object to this for other fans.

        But to me personally, player stability is essential for my identity as a fan. A revolving door policy would greatly reduce my interest to the team success. And I suspect that Morey is inclined to that sentiment too, from what he hinted in the past. To me, following a team is not the same thing as playing fantasy games where everything is just a number.
      • rahat_huq
        David A - Yes, I have.

        thirdcoast - I think they are just waiting till the deadline for the best offer

        Easy - is there a particular quote to which you are referring when you say: "A revolving door policy would greatly reduce my interest to the team success. And I suspect that Morey is inclined to that sentiment too, from what he hinted in the past."
      • Easy
        This is the quote I had in my mind:

        "Yeah, I guess, but I don’t think of them as pieces – they’re people. That’s the other reason trades don’t happen that often. These are people who are part of the community, part of everything. So even though we have all those things, it’s going to take a lot for us to say, ‘Let’s break apart this really solid group.’ It’s going to have to take All-Star like talent coming our way for us to say, ‘This is something we want to break up.’ We like how our guys are growing together. We like how our guys are progressing. We think some of the guys on our team could develop into All-Star level players. So I think it’s going to take a lot and that’s why I think there’s probably not a lot that’s going to happen. It will take a lot for us to break this up."


        Of course, being a GM, Morey's job is to improve the team, and he is not going to let sentimentality get in the way. What is significant about that quote is that he reject the idea of seeing players as just pieces of asset. I don't know if that is just GM talking up his prices. He did say outright that it makes pulling the trigger to trade some of our players more difficult.

        And I also remember him saying that Adelman liked player stability.
      • physicsgeekandrocketsfan
        Great post rahat. Was Morey the one who sent gay to memphis for battier? I think this is a perfect example of avoiding this whole "we're young and rebuilding mentality." I have often wondered why so many teams (in lots of sports not just basketball) decide that the whole slate needs to be wiped clean? I mean take a look at the current wizards, is it really necessary for them to dish out all their talent and push the reset button? What im trying to say is just because two pieces in a puzzle don't fit doesn't mean you have to take the whole thing apart and start over
      • rahat_huq
        easy - ah yes, i remember that quote, but would take it with a grain of salt

        physicsgeek - yes, that was morey who made that trade. as far as washington, i do think in their case rebuilding is necessary as they need a clean slate financially as that team is a mess. the contention is how they go about trying again AFTER the clean slate
      • Melechesh
        Best piece I've read on this site. I'm waiting for a surpring move like that Lowry trade last year which turns out to be really good.
      • rahat_huq
        that's what i'm most looking forward to as well. that small move that you overlook at first - thats how he's building this team. in subtle steps, not with that big swoop. its possible we may not ever see that big blockbuster.

        one thing i left out in the piece due to space constraints is the flexibility butler affords you. you're still close enough to the tax line that you can absorb someone like bosh in a trade in the summer, and you don't feel as bad about giving up major pieces to do it because you have butler in tow. with iguodala, you'll be too far over the tax to be willing to absorb another max guy, and with no trade at all, you probably don't feel as good about giving up multiple assets to get back one player.

        with all of that said, yahoo's latest report about a possible swap between boston and washington has me concerned. unloading both jamison and butler should be the goal, so that offer really trumps ours. the only way i see the wizards taking our offer is if they have something lined up with someone else to unload jamison separately, that way not only unloading those contracts, but also getting the young assets that they wouldn't in a celtics deal.
      • Mike B
        Hit the nail on the head. Iguodala might be the sexy trade, but that could very well put the rest of the Yao era to waste. We should keep holding out for that big name...and a trade for Butler allows us to do that and get better in the short run.

        But with the Wiz seemingly getting more offers for Butler and Jamison, the likelihood of that is dwindling. My guess is that deal Mcgrady solo (or with Cook) for a young, very unknown player (plus some expiring/short term contracts to fill) just like we did with Lowry last year. Speaking of Lowry, it's hard to believe he's only been here a year. It feels like he's been a Rocket for much longer.
      • rahat_huq
        i think its astonishing to think that he's maybe this team's second best player and he was acquired for one of its worst, last year.

        i think there's a high likelihood of something like what you mentioned happening. walsh seems resolute about not giving up douglas or hill, so you could see some sort of 3-way where the rockets would take back just expirings and an unknown young player from someone else. fans will call for morey's head, all while the team improves and keeps its flexibility.
      • bob schmidt
        I am liking the idea of something unexpected such as Tyrus Thomas and Brad Miller from the Bulls for McGrady and Dorsey. Salaries work, and Miller's contract expires at year's end. Thomas is at just over 6 million next year, and has a lot of upside. Just a thought............
      • thirdcoastborn
        I dont see how they are waiting on the best deal when the same three teams are stilled involved. New York, Philly,and Washington are still the teams that have been stated they are interested in working out a trade with us.. Now Dallas is trying to move in and steal Butler like last offseason when they tried to steal Gortat, after we made an offer. They also have too many forwards, and Caron would make there lineup more traditional like he would do ours. This shows how disgusted the Rockets are with McGrady and how they never invisioned him playing a major role on the team this year. Just because he gets mad about not getting more minutes they cut ties with him completely, to me hurting the team. By the Rockets supposedly waiting for the best deal, before the deadline they did not think about other teams moving in to mess up their plans. Its no way we afford Joe Johnson so next year we still have a forward playing the two guard. Butler,Foye, and Miller was the best deal that was offered, because we were just giving up McGrady and with the extra pieces we could have possibly made another deal for a big.
      • mikol13
        Well, Butler and Haywood are out of the question now. After much thought between the two supposed deals, Iguodala and Sam with philly and Caron, Haywood with the Wiz I wanted Morey to make the Washington deal. The reasons being yes it would have helped this year, but I wanted to collect more assets to hopefully be a player in a possible sign & trade this summer for a "star" player. Now it's still possible to collect assets in another deal, but I feel like the Rockets may lose some leverage if teams feel like the Rockets have less options.

        I really don't want to buy McGrady out for the simple reasons stated above, collecting assets. To be honest I really don't think Mac deserves to go where he wants either, so I would be disappointed if a deal is not made.
      • Mike
        Because of the new CBA, it would be wise to trade Mcgrady for expiring contracts who can give some help this season whom we can let walk, or for a two year really good role player, or for a sure-thing(sure-thing being a franchise player, not that such trade would happen). If all only deal is for iguodala don't do it.
      • rahat_huq
        kind of interesting that stoudemire will apparently be had for just hickson. we could easily put together a better deal than that, so that kind of reveals some of the thinking there.

        i don't think theres any chance they buy him out. they can just as easily just trade him to NY for expirings to get under the luxury tax threshold, so theres no motivation for that.
      • Stephen
        Roster limits.
        To trade McGrady for multiple players there has to room to accept them. Either an equal # of players is involved or Temple has to go first.
        I,ve thought ever since the divorce that a buyout was going to be the end result. Anyone who thinks that McGrady will help out the Rockets by agreeing to a sign-n-trade this summer after the Rockets denied him the chance to play is extremely optimistic.
      • physicsgeekandrocketsfan
        Butler's going to the Mavs... Ouch
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