Morey’s Moment

2010 February 18
by rahat huq

This was Daryl Morey’s finest hour.

In landing Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill, and two future Knicks draft picks, the Rockets GM may have cemented his place at the pantheon of sports management.

I’m still in utter disbelief.

It was a long and strange process, even surreal at times for the unyielding exposure. The sides talked, neither budging, implicitly knowing of the stakes.  This was NBA theater at its finest.

For the Knicks it was about hope, fulfillment of a plan, and the chance at refuge from perpetual mediocrity.

For Houston it was patience, with Morey preying on a premium from his predatory perch.

One could almost picture the Houston GM unmasking the poker face, smiling at his foe, and issuing the challenge Walsh had no choice but to accept.  Eternal salvation.

To have been a fly on that wall.

Talks fizzled before word broke last night of Kevin Martin’s acquisition, reinforcing the dictum that a Morey deal is never leaked.

Landry for Martin. A good deal, but for Morey, shocking – paying full has never been his cup of tea.

There seemed to be something more, something missing.  The other shoe would surely drop.

Then came the slew of tweets.  My jaw drops.  Yahoo! and ESPN, simultaneously.

Houston has received both Knicks picks.

Minutes, seemingly hours later, the correction:

The trade was not correctly reported – Jordan Hill too has been sent to the Rockets.

When it later became known that the picks were lightly protected, the significance became clear.  Morey had reshaped his franchise in one swoop, somehow avoiding trash in the process.

Yes, this was Daryl Morey’s finest hour.  His signature move.  The splash I had warned would not come.  The splash upon which our hopes had clung.


This deal is so beautiful that in its assessment, I am struck by disbelief.

In Landry, the team surrendered the man I had described all year as its best player.  But through his trade, it got back so much more.

Martin is the cornerstone upon whom we can build.  He has a sensible contract and an even more pleasing stroke.  [3yrs at an average annual $12mill is great value for a player of his production in the modern CBA era.]

He’s not the creator for whom I have desperately pled, but his shooting skillset fits this motion offense to a tee.  In that respect, there probably isn’t a 2-guard better suited for that role in our league.  [Martin’s career TS% of 60% is beyond jaw-dropping as explained in this piece.]

Then there is Jordan Hill.  The 8th overall selection in last year’s draft, while a disappointment thus far, could very well one day replace Landry in this outfit known for its reclamation of power forwards maligned.

But the real coup, what made this deal special, are those picks.  So lightly protected (top 1 protection in 2011, top 5 protection in ’12), they could one day become the pieces of this team’s future foundation.

Or flipped this summer for something more.


Jared Jeffries was the pill.  For a thorn, one could hardly do better.

Slated next year at a gross $6.8million, he will make things difficult on the books. But just a 1 year burden, this is not a player without merit.

Taking Jeffries was the cost for this haul and it was well worth it.  You could hardly do better for an albatross than Jared Jeffries.


This trade was not made for today.  The team may not have even improved its cause for the year.  This deal was about value, and extract it they did.

First, on the court:

The rewards may not be immediate.  This year, Martin may only offset the loss of Carl.

That will change in ’10 when Yao receives the touches once allotted for Landry.  Martin will start next to Brooks, pushing Ariza to his more natural 3, and finally giving this lineup conventional balance.

Still, as composed, this team will not be a contender.  But that could quickly change.

On Thursday night, ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that the Rockets had made a late push for Amare Stoudemire, offering Shane Battier, Luis Scola, draft picks, and Brian Cook in the 11th hour.  ESPN’s J.A Adande later reported that it was the Rockets who backed away as Phoenix wanted to waive the requisite physical examinations.

What the report reveals is the team’s intent.  Armed with a shopping cart of assets—the picks, the expiring contracts of Battier/Jeffries, Scola (in a sign&trade), and young talent galore–Morey will likely offer a similar package to the Raptors and Suns in attempts to reopen talks for their coveted power forwards, this time for a sign&trade.

The team has obligations of roughly $58million in player salaries for next year.  If resigning its free agents and draft picks, it could be looking at close to $75million in player salaries.  While Morey said in his press conference that he has been given allowance to resign his own guys, a better value will be a max free agent.

And with this deal, he now has all the bait.


Unknown it is how this will all unfold.  The team could strike out in the summer, and New York could crown its King, dashing the dreams of Red Nation.

Still, nothing will have been lost and for the hope will we all have gained.

This is a lesson for patience, to never again doubt.

In some ways has this been poetic.  It is the divorce from an era but the dawn of a new day.  It is the close of a saga but the birth of tomorrow.

This could be the moment it was all built for the Houston Rockets.

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  • kevin
    The great thing about this trade is that no one saw it coming before it happened.

    I read tons of trade proposals and imagined trades on Clutchfans and the internets, but no one had the Rockets getting this much back. I knew we could trade Mcgrady's for a good player + bad contracts, I knew we could trade Mcgrady to the Knicks for picks, I didn't know we could do both, that just seemed to greedy.

    After Stein's report of a 3 way trade, it dawned on me that we could take Jefferie's contract and get some of those picks, but it still seemed the dream scenario. Why would Sacto do it? What are the protections for those picks? It's truly impressive that Morey got all that done. I also believe that announcing the Martin trade forced Sacto's hand, they were committed to the trade and weren't backing out.
  • philip
    I know this is highly improbable. What happens if the knicks win the lottery the first year and then the year after have a top 5 draft pick. Do the Rockets get the next years pick?
  • durvasa
    If Knicks win 2011 lottery, their #1 pick is protected. It is not totally clear yet, but it looks like the Rockets would just lose the right to swap picks (it does not get deferred).

    As for the 2012 pick, the Rockets will get it as long as its not top 5. Otherwise, it will be deferred (up to 4 times), and then after that it becomes two unprotected 2nd round picks. That's how it was described in the Chronicle.
  • rahat_huq
    my understanding is that the pick is then deferred to the next year without any restrictions.
  • rocket_fan_in_santa_barbara

    Great article, as usual. I was struck by your comment that even with the trade and Yao coming back, "this team will not be a contender." That struck me as unduly negative, and I'm curious as to what you see as next year's Achilles's heel. A line-up of Brooks, Martin, Ariza, Scola, and Yao has strong inside/outside scoring, great quickness at point guard and small forward, and solid rebounding. The front court defense looks strong. We'll struggle against teams with big, physical guards, but Yao's ability to fill the middle and alter shots will help there as well. We should also have a very strong bench, especially if Hill develops. If all the pieces mesh as expected, it seems to me that we could very well be one of the top teams in the West. Where do you see the weakness?
  • rahat_huq
    it will definitely be a good team. if healthy, they will win 50-55 games. but as composed, i'm not sure i see them competing with the lakers for a title. (keep in mind, i may be underestimating the dynamic with martin as we have yet to see how that goes.) but i still feel that they're missing just one more element. this team doesn't have an alpha dog that can carry a team to a title - yao, brooks, and martin are not that. that's fine, you don't necessarily need to win a title that route. but if that's the case, they're still missing one more major weapon, IMO. fortunately, that should be pretty easy to acquire with our assets.
  • rahat_huq
    mikol/bigyul/bob - thanks, glad you liked it.

    JW - yes, but wasn't worth wasting much space over...

    physics - it's true that he doesn't make anyone around him better, but is that what we need? we would have had a 4-headed monster with yao/martin/brooks/amare, not to mention a system that fits the talents of role players like budinger and lowry beautifully. we wouldn't be asking him to carry this team like a traditional superstar. we would just be asking him to play his role and fill it up from the '4'.
  • physicsgeekandrocketsfan
    Personally, I'm glad the Stoudemaire deal didn't go through. Scola will keep getting better ( I feel like you have to give foreign guys at least 3 years in the NBA before really assessing their ceiling) and even though Stoudemaire is an amazing player, does he make the people around him better?
  • JW
    Wasn't Hilton Armstrong also sent to the Rockets? I haven't heard much as to that.
  • DowJones
    He's an expiring and nothing more...
  • bob schmidt
    Good stuff in this article Rahat. I enjoy your analysis because you are an excellent wordsmith as well as "on top of it" on everything dealing with the Rockets. Kudos to Morey, RA, and the Rockets front office for a job well-done. Also, hope that Landry, Dorsey, and McGrady find success in their continuing careers. They will all be missed by true Rockets fans.
  • bigyul
    Good Article - and I agree Daryl has an eye towards the future. How are defenses going to collaspe on Yao with Kevin and Aaron on the 3 point line, and maybe we will get to see Ariza at his finest as a slasher next year. Amare would have been the coup de gras but if Phoenix was trying to wave a physical then there must be something to it and the Rockets did not bite, especially with a guy who probably ownt resign with the team. Rest of the year will be fun to watch and will definitely miss Carl, but I think it was obviuos his game declined when defenses paid more attention to him, but he will be a great fit in Sac-town. For the Rockets this is all about joining the elite class without paying elite dollars, and I look foward to next year in the return of the Yao, but happy to see how things will transpire with a new set of teammates the rest of this one. Two Number One picks, a marquee player under contract for four years - it can't get any better.
  • mikol13
    This is absolutely an amazing piece rahat. The Rockets future looks as bright as ever. Something tells me Morey will reel in an even bigger fish this offseason, to once again make us contenders
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