After a decade of running the show for the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey and his precious analytics had a perfect marriage in 2016-17, even as he once again fell short of a NBA Fnals trip. But the complexity of Morey is often missed, reduced as he is 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, and to that end, he chased whoever he could and it wasn’t necessarily clear if it was for analytical reasons to better the team or for financial reasons to better Morey.
Stars fill the seats. Morey was turned down by Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. LeBron James wasn’t interested and neither was Kevin Durant. His colossal failure in Dwight Howard was more Morey’s fault as a traditional GM than any of the numbers he crunched. Anyone who watched Dwight play in Orlando figured out exactly who he was: a role player on offense, a fading star on defense. Furthermore, Howard had a fragile psyche that would often derail him and cause friction, and, oh yeah, he had a history of not getting along with shooting guards. Still, Morey pulled the trigger and it ended in disaster.
The tough year of 2015-16 was humbling for Morey. He had to fire his coach and then deal with the team dysfunction centered around Howard but James Harden wasn’t a picnic either. Harden didn’t come into camp in shape and before they could say we got issues, the Rockets were down hill. At the end of the year, when his star shooting guard- only Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler are arguably better than Harden- didn’t get enough votes from writers for a place on the All-NBA team, it was a catastrophe on all levels.
Morey pivoted. Resilience is his calling card. He doesn’t brood over failure, or perhaps he doesn’t attach himself personally to what he does wrong. Bring in D’Antoni. Save 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. At the deadline add another shooter in Lou Williams. It may not be the Warriors but on offense they are a 1A. Or so Morey wanted to believe.
But Morey’s critics point to the same thing. Who is going to defend scorers? Who? After Pat Beverley, the pickings are slim.
Morey in his brilliance or mad scientist, created a bombshell by stealing Chris Paul out of Los Angeles. Paul is all defense because of his grit and toughness. One of Paul’s issues in L.A.: he was the team’s toughest player. On the Rockets, he is the team’s toughest player.
It was laughable when Morey was trying to line up his role players against the Warriors during an appearance on PTI. He tossed into the convo household names like Nene and Eric Gordon and Clint Capela as almost All-Stars. Sorry but I hardly think Kevin Durant and Draymond Green have legitimate fear. The Rockets made a huge Chris Paul splash but they need up front scoring help.
The Rockets pathetic defense aside, 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. Great in Chris Paul’s case means never leading his team to the WCF so how great is he really? Particularly when he had Blake Griffin. Particularly when he choked a series away up 3-1 and the Rockets added to his playoff swoon.
Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey are kindred spirits. It has taken Morey a long time to find a coach that matches his basketball soul. Both have to demonstrate they care about defense, that scoring in the regular season can translate to scoring and defending in the post season. Houston gave up 109.6 points per game (26th). Teams shot 46.0% against them (23rd). The best thing they did was guard the three, they were 4th in the league. But they didn’t block shots and were an average defensive rebounding team. They need frontcourt help.
But this still boggles the mind. For a math geek like Morey he must wonder why, as good as the Rockets were in 2016-17, securing a top four seed in the West, a tough thing to do with Harden turning into someone else, with an exciting game to watch, the Rockets were 21st in home attendance. Their games were 94% capacity while the other top seeds in the West, the Warriors (100.0% capacity), the Spurs (99.2% capacity) and the Clippers (100.1% capacity), have a passionate base willing to come to games on a nightly basis. The Rockets are envious. In sheer numbers, the 76ers draw a bigger home crowd than the Rockets.
Chris Paul isn’t the type of talent that sells tickets. He is the type of talent that wins games and that sells tickets. But even on PTI Daryl Morey admitted this may be a one year and done Chris Paul deal.
The summer of 2018 is a year off. It may be a reset with Paul, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George and possibly Russell Westbrook available.
In other words, it will be Xmas in July in Houston for Daryl Morey.
photo via llananba