Darryl Morey has proven to be right about a lot of things this year. Even if the Rockets come up short against the Warriors, Morey still has won. First, James Harden will get his first ever MVP. Darryl Morey plucked him out of the Thunder bosom when he was a sixth man and no one thought to give him his own team. Harden has made Morey look like a genius. Whle it took years for Morey’s math to kick in, he has the right amount of shot makers with an offensively brilliant coach to pull a championship rabbit out the hat. The Rockets have been the best team in the league this year, no one comes close. He has made the Chris Paul gamble work. Really, Morey’s only glaring Rockets failure was Dwight Howard and that is forgotten in all the Houston success.
The beauty of Morey is his honesty. He tells you his truth. He said he was obsessed with the Warriors and why shouldn’t he be obsessed if he wants to beat them?
He knows: the Warriors have iconic three point scorers everywhere while Morey only has one in James Harden . Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Gerald Green, are good shotmakers but not necessarily money shotmakers. The playoffs will tell us everything we need to know about them. After the playoffs will tell us something too.
To reel in LeBron James, to make it possible with a James Harden max contract and a Chris Paul max contract, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela have to go. Ariza will be a free agent and off the table unless he wants to play for the minimum. Gerald Green doesn’t make enough for it to really matter.
But is Morey willing to gut the beauty of D’Antoni ball. James Harden and Chris Paul score almost 50 points. But the Rockets, as a team, score 114 points. So where is the other 64 points coming from if they get rid of all of their offense, meaning 55 points from Ariza, Capela, Gordon and Anderson. Three max contacts means role players earning the minimum. A Big Three and nothing else, kind of a like a OKC Thunder prototype. Yes the Rockets can get LeBron James. No, they can’t keep Clint Capela.
The complexity of Morey is often missed, and he gets a bad rap, even in this the greatest year of his Rockets career. Often, Morey is reduced to a nerdish scientist character. But, Morey is more than his numbers and his binary obsessive nature. He has a deep affection/infatuation for superstars. There is no bigger superstar than LeBron James.
But what I like about Morey is that resilience is his calling card. He doesn’t brood over failure, or perhaps he doesn’t attach himself personally to what he does wrong. He rescued Mike D’Antoni’s legacy, saved him from his failed shadows of New York and Los Angeles. Like nerdish seniors at the back table of the prom writing on paper napkins, here was the strategy. Sign Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, turn James Harden into a point guard so he can stop his death march of a dribble. Bring in defense with P.J. Tucker. Develop Clint Capela. Add an unemployed Gerald Green who can’t defend a paper bag but can shoot the lights out the gym until the last two minutes when the pressure is on. Rescue James Harden’s frozeness with Chris Paul. It may not be the Warriors but on offense they are 1A.
Or, maybe not. Morey still hasn’t come up with a plan as to how to defend the Warriors in a 7 game series when they are dialed in. They lead the league in three point shot making. They will bury you. So how do you defend them? There are mismatches all over the floor. Ryan Anderson is a mess when facing teams like the Warriors. He can’t guard Durant or Draymond. Clint Capela is nice but he’s still doesn’t have the body or the experience to handle the Warriors off ball.
The NBA needs Daryl Morey. He is polarizing. Either you believe in analytics or you don’t. Either you think the 3-point shot is a gift from God or you don’t. Either you believe in data sets or you believe in the eye test. The credibility problem with Morey’s attachment to his mathematics is that Houston has never won anything with him in charge. They have lost in the first round of the playoffs four times. They have missed the playoffs three times. Their one Western Conference Finals appearance was as much about the Clippers choking than the Rockets dominating and in the WCF they were meek and no match for the eventual champion Warriors.
D’Antoni was never going to be a defensive gatekeeper. Morey accepted that. But what he could do with the offense, with the numbers Morey believed in, was craft a special season. Same with Chris Paul. He is the best point guard of his generation. He is a leader. But he scatters bodies. He fatigues teammates with his perfectionism and need to point out wrongs. Everyone is still in a honeymoon phase in Houston but wait until the pressure is really on in May.
Not to beat a dead horse but teams shoot 46.7% against the Rockets (20th). That’s worse than last year. The best thing the Rockets do on defense is guard the three, but they are 12th in the league. They don’t block shots and/or rebound at an elite level.
The best thing the Rockets do is score. It sucks for them because the best thing the Warriors do is score. And if Steph Curry isn’t enough to make the obsession catastrophic, the Dubs are number three in shooting defense. To play them is to suffer.
Suffering is what this obsession is for Daryl Morey. It doesn’t mean results, not yet. Only regular season pats on the backs. But regardless what happens with the Warriors in the playoffs, waiting in the wings is the kid from Akron. If Morey could get him, people would start to put him in the same sentence as Pat Riley and not constantly think of Morey as the architect of a gimmicky offense.
If the Rockets get LeBron…what a dream that would be. But. If the Rockets get LeBron, what is left of the team that has eviscerated the league with their two-headed Paul/Harden monster? Is two years of LeBron worth saying goodbye to 23 year old Clint Capela? When the Warriors got Durant, they gave up no one. Steph’s friendly second contract made it possible. The Rockets don’t have that luxury. To get LeBron the best team in the West has to be dismantled.
Tearing things apart is not what Morey does best. He’s a builder.