Discerning Morey’s Philosophy – Part 6

I haven’t updated this series since October 15, 2010, a gap of close to two years. There’s no point in trying to rehash all that we’ve learned during that span – too much has happened.

But there was a pretty interesting development over the weekend, at this year’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which merited some documentation of sorts.

Since the fall of Yao, and the end of any realistic hope of title contention, many had wondered why management refused to allow evolution to take its natural course.  When the life of good teams runs its course, they get bad, get high draft picks, and build back up.  Even when the pick itself isn’t kept as part of the team, it’s usually used as part of a trade to bring in talent (see: the rebirth of the Boston Celtics.)  High lottery picks are the currency of NBA markets.

The Rockets lost out in their pursuit of Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams because they didn’t have blue-chip prospects (Galinari, Favors.)  Eric Gordon was the piece the Hornets coveted for Chris Paul.  To date, opposing general managers haven’t cared for the Rockets’ assets.  In this market, one rare, prized commodity is worth far more than numerous ‘good’ ones.

So why has Morey refused to, for lack of a better term, ‘tank’?  Samuel Dalembert isn’t a long-term option.  Yet he was signed for basically one-year (it’s a 2 year, partially guaranteed deal).  Without Dalembert, the Rockets aren’t in the playoff race.  Luis Scola also probably won’t be around when the Rockets again are relevant, and his value is slipping by the day, but he too has been held onto. Why?

Some, like myself, believed that a numbers man like Morey, if he had his choice, would race straight to the bottom, for a quick rise to the top.  It only made sense. Too much was said at last year’s SSAC about the undesirability of mediocrity for the Rockets to willfully ignore.  The decree had to have come from Les.

Others posed a counter-argument.  I spoke to some people last week who felt that Morey himself was behind the plan.  They thought that Morey had weighed the odds, and that too many teams had been stuck in the lottery over the years, waiting on failed picks, to risk that route.  They theorized that Morey felt that the odds of building a title team through small incremental improvements were higher than taking a chance in the lottery.

While I disagreed that this was Morey’s belief, it was a compelling counter-argument and seemed plausible.

Over the weekend, interviews with Morey himself and former Rocket head coach Jeff Van Gundy, on Bill Simmons’ podcast, shed enough light to possibly put an end to the speculation altogether.

I wrote about the Morey interview on March 2:

1. Hearing that interview, in concert with other public statements made by Morey over the past few months, makes me almost positive that the decree to ‘keep a foot in both doors’ and try to rebuild while remaining competitive came down from Les.  Listening to Morey, assessing his tone, I think you’d have to infer that were he to have his choice, he’d take the path of least resistance and sink to the bottom for a quicker rise to the top.  He says to Simmons, regarding the ‘dual-approach’, that “it’s actually frankly never been done.”  Later, while responding to Simmons’ supposition regarding avoiding the middle path, Daryl says, “we’re adding a degree of difficulty to our turnaround,” though adding “I do think it can be done.”

Then, in a TrueHoop TV interview, Van Gundy says, about Morey:

He’s done a remarkable job. Making small, smart decisions may not have put them where they want to be, but it certainly has put them into position to try to get where they want to be given their ownership’s thought that they don’t want to get bad to get good which is the easiest way to do it.

The statements, in concert, seem to put the issue to bed altogether.  Why is this important?  Because it adds perspective on how one should evaluate this front office.

Things have not worked out too well for this team, and for the most part, the media at large has seemed to turn on management.  But it’s pretty tough doing a task when you have both hands tied.  Right now, Les is dictating this team like the bald guy holding on with a combover rather than shaving it all off.

If Morey were allowed to let nature run its course, he could get that high draft pick.  Most lottery picks flop, you say?  Doesn’t matter.  They still hold value and could be dealt for the veteran star Morey covets.  Instead, the Rockets cling today to the 8th seed, one game in front of a third straight year of the #14 pick.

In light of Les’ orders, one can understand why that nixed Gasol trade was so crippling.  Despite their circumstances, they had found a scenario that would allow them to contend without having gotten bad.  Their assets would have been enough for Gasol, and with their cap space, they would have signed Nene.  It’s unlikely the stars ever again align in such a way.  While they can possibly still deal for Gasol, there’s no attainable free agent on the market the caliber of Nene.

We’ll see what they do next week with the trade deadline looming.  Perhaps they’ll strike lightning and pull off the miracle, even in the summer.  If they do, they should be lauded.  They’re fighting the odds in following orders.  It can be done, but things could have been much simpler.

This entry was posted in essays and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • All-time Keepers

    A collection of our best from over the years.
  • Archives

    • 2012 (398)
    • 2011 (428)
    • 2010 (461)
    • 2009 (49)
  • Categories