It’s now or never for Morey. Mandatory credit – USA TODAY sports
Daryl Morey is one of the league’s most proactive GM’s. His successes have been documented extensively, ranging from the James Harden acquisition to the successful transition of the franchise between 2009-2012. During this time Morey assumed control of a transitional phase after the retirement of Yao Ming and departure of Tracy McGrady.
Morey branded this phase as ‘competitive rebuilding’. The Rockets did not dip below .500 during this transition. Morey’s innovation saw James Harden and Dwight Howard land at the Toyota Center in consecutive off seasons, and within the space of two years Houston had emerged from transition into championship potential.
Since his tenure from 2007, the Rockets have not dipped below 40 wins (except for the shortened 2011-2012 season, where the Rockets still achieved above .500).
Yet Morey is still an unproven quantity when discussing the NBA’s premium GM’s. His reliance on analytics and creation of ‘moreyball’ is an unproven ideology he has implemented at H-Town. ‘Moreyball’ relies heavily on perimeter shooters and lay ups close to the basket. In effect this system eliminates the need to take mid range jumpshots.
Whilst in theory this sounds rational, the Rockets crashed out of the playoffs to the Oklahoma City Thunder (2-4) in 2013 and then repeated the dose against the Portland Trailblazers in the 2014 playoffs (again 2-4).
Why? The increased pressure of the playoffs led to below par shooting performances in both series losses across the board. Unfortunately for the Rockets GM, ‘moreyball’ had and has no secondary game plan to fall back on. The Rockets inability to escape the first round of the playoffs however is not just a byproduct of ‘moreyball’, but also its coaching.
Mar 20, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale argues with referee Brent Barnaky (70) during the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports
Morey appointed Kevin McHale as the Rockets Head Coach 1 2011. The NBA Hall of Famer assumed control from Rick Adelman, who departed after his contract expired. McHale has been serviceable, but is he the coach the Rockets need to realize their full potential?
After the capitulation that was the playoff series loss to Portland just this year, it would seem not. That is to take nothing away from the Trailblazers, who were superior to claim the 4-2 series win. Despite Portland’s play, McHale’s relaxed personality is perhaps manifesting itself on court, where the lack of defensive rotations and variable offensive plays ended the team’s championship run in April 2014.
It is hard to draw solid conclusions on a coach or game plan after one bad series loss. But the Rockets can not afford to waste what precious time they have in the championship window. The pairing of James Harden and Dwight Howard realistically has 5 years left at most, with 2-3 of those with Howard in his prime.
Morey’s over zealous pursuit of a third star to pair with Harden and Howard backfired, with Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh leaving the Rockets high and dry.
It is conceivable that he could pull off a trade for Eric Bledsoe or Ricky Rubio before training camp, but it seems highly unlikely giving the Rockets lack of tradeable assets.
Instead, Morey should abandon the big three model and fill out the roster around H-Town’s two stars. To Morey’s credit, in the wake of striking out on several big names, he has done that. His recruitment of players such as Jason Terry and Kostas Papanikolaou will provide both experience and a certain skillset off the bench which should prove invaluable.
There is no doubting Morey’s desire or goals, but if this upcoming season is a replication of the past two years, then it would have been another long season wasted. In that scenario, hindsight would be a wonderful thing, McHale’s contract should have been paid out after the Portland series loss and Morey would have conformed to a more conventional style of offense which incorporates easy open looks from the elbows and mid range.
But for now nothing is a certainty. Morey has transitioned the Rockets from a crippled franchise into a recognized western conference force. Whatever happens in Space City over the next season or two will define Morey’s legacy, and ultimately it is up to him what he wants it to be.