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Houston Rockets Daryl Morey: The ‘Moneyball’ Man of the NBA

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Since 2007 every man, women or child that cheers for the Houston Rockets are familiar with the name Daryl Morey. Moreover, with the rapidly increasing trend of what is called “Moneyball” directing how sports businesses operate Morey quickly became the face of this practice in NBA circles.

In the past 8 years have you ever said the phrase “In Morey we trust“? Well you’re not alone. And now, in retrospective of his latest interview, it looks as if  we’re finally there. This article follows Daryl Morey’s trends of doing business in the NBA on his journey to bring a ring during his tenure to Clutch City. And if we’re to believe our GM’s own words: “This is the first time I feel like, without any changes, we’re good enough to win it.

Sep 29, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey poses for a photo during media day at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Today’s NBA offers General Managers who use a variety of styles:

Sam Hinkie Style:  Hang onto your season tickets for years watching woefully poor basketball and hopefully strike gold in the draft. We might argue it’s not an effective style if you repeatedly use this method for years on end, but Hinkie may be pretty close to achieving his goal after one more losing season.

R.C. Buford Style: Drafting and signing rather unknown players and then developing those players under a very well defined role taking into account the needs of the team.

Doc Rivers Style: Locking yourself  and the team up with a player until he re-signs with you and poaching players who used to play for you previously on other teams.

Vlade Divac Style: Desperately overpaying anyone who remotely fits your team roster needs while purging potential youth who just need to be developed (Stauskas).

In comparison to those GM’s Daryl Morey is much more refined. Granted he still hasn’t reached the success levels of a Buford or a Pat Riley, but he’s consistently improving. Morey keeps trying to succeed even when the odds are clearly against him. If we could use one word to describe Morey’s way it would be flexibility.

This is the first time I feel like, without any changes, we’re good enough to win it.” – Morey

Morey managed to build a team capable of winning more than losing in each of his eight seasons at the helm. Although the Rockets suffered 3 years out of the playoffs in a row  it’s not indicative of the whole story.

When you take those teams into account the commonality is his somewhat failed experiments (which anyone on this level is bound to have) and bad luck with injuries.

The key for him is being versatile, in that when he does not achieve his initial move he adapts. For example he adapted this summer having to let the Chuck Hayes signing go and quickly locking up K.J. McDaniels when Josh Smith accepted a deal with the Clippers.

The Draft

Morey’s style is specifically well suited to the yearly draft. For Morey the draft has been fruitful, as opposed to his former partner Hinkie. Morey uses it as an asset, a way to attract business to form or sweeten a deal. In his 8 years, Morey only traded a main player once for a draft pick, and mostly because he was forced to: Omer Asik.

Overall, Morey tries to keep the Rockets picks but if not: that’s moreyball. Not to say he doesn’t take the draft seriously, but when necessary – he stashes. When something special is presented – he integrates.

In the Morey era the highest pick the Rockets have had is 14, so it’s more about finding players that are able to help the Rockets right now – players that fit the philosophy – and less about digging for the next All-Star.

In his 8 years as Houston’s decision maker he’s drafted some nice role players as was the case with Aaron Brooks, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Terrence Jones, and most recently Clint Capela.

He’s also managed to find great talent in the 2nd round in the form of Chandler Parsons (let’s pretend for a minute that he actually didn’t take that Maverick’s offer) and although he has yet to play in the NBA Montrezl Harrell already looks like a steal.

In truth some of those prospects managed to fit in nicely as role players:

  • Brooks filled the Rafer Alston gap when it was clearly not working anymore
  • Parsons replaced and was a vast improvement over Chase Budinger
  • Terrence Jones keeps getting better each year
  • Patrick Patterson while no longer a Rocket may end up as the starting power forward for the Raptors this season
  • And Clint Capela is cementing his place as a reliable substitute for Howard with potential to become the starter in the future

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While Morey has done well with drafting prospects where he has truly shined is in free agency and orchestrating trades, perhaps that’s how he got his nickname “Trader Daryl”.  First and foremost, let’s not forget the other great thing that came from the Alston deal: was the move to secure Kyle Lowry.

When the Rockets lost out on Artest he quickly signed Ariza (in his first stint in Houston) in his place. When the Ariza experiment didn’t work out, he again adapted and tried to make the most out of it and brought Courtney Lee in as well as exchanging an aging injury prone T-Mac for Kevin Martin.

A Look into the Future

May 25, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale reacts during the first half against the Golden State Warriors in game four of the Western Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs. at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The 2009-2010 season was the turning point for Morey and the Rockets. For the first time in many years there wasn’t a single All-Star on the team. Tracy McGrady was headed to New York after playing only 6 games for the Rockets and Yao Ming was struggling with foot and ankle injuries which kept him off the court all year.

By the end of the season coach Rick Adelman was gone replaced by Kevin McHale and the Rockets were in desperate need of a reset. It came during the lockout season .

After three under performing seasons the Rockets GM knew he had to make impactful changes and he now had the commodity so desirable to accomplish that task – – flexibility. With the chance to go for it, he gambled hard, and it paid off.

First he amnestied Luis Scola in a play to get salary cap relief to sign Dwight Howard, when that didn’t work he turned his draft asset Jeremy Lamb along with Kevin Martin into securing the NBA’s current MVP runner up in a trade for the ages (Harden).

Next after losing Lowry and Dragic, his play was to find someone to pair in the back court and make the Rockets competitive again. It  was a bonus Houston could also please its massive Asian fan base when he was able to secure Jeremy Lin as that starting point guard.

Then deals came for Donatas Motiejunas and Omer Asik. All those players were joined by Chandler Parsons in his sophomore season and the Rookie Terrence Jones. The culmination of these moves, trades and free agent additions positioned the Rockets for another title shot with an incredible young starting core of: Lin 24, Harden 23, Parsons 24, D-Mo 22 and Asik 26 (who later was traded).

The rest is history. Morey waited for Howard’s relationship with the Lakers to go sour and signed the dominant center. Opportunities came for Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and more recently LaMarcus Aldridge. The Rockets were in contention for all those names. Why? Flexibility.

The same reason Morey passed on the opportunity of re-signing Chandler Parsons after the 2013-2014 season also made it easier for Morey to take a chance on young ferocious K.J. McDaniels instead of an aging and often troubled, however massively talented Josh Smith.

Morey never fails to surprise us, not because he can pull great deals seemingly out of thin air, but because he has the ability to do so by not compromising the Rockets future or at too steep a price. He’ll never pass on talent, but he’ll go as far as it takes to maintain financial stability to allow the Rockets room for growth.

That’s why Ty Lawson is here, that’s why he’ll keep finding ways to maneuver his roster in order to be again in contention for Kevin Durant next year. And that’s why we don’t have to worry and freak out when it looks like there’s apparently no urge to make a deal or to match an offer. When the time comes, he’ll be there.

What do you think of Morey’s aggressive style? Do you like his style of managing and is he moving the Rockets in the right direction? Make sure to hit the comments section below and share your opinion with us.

Remember to make Space City Scoop a daily stop to keep abreast on everything Houston Rockets and don’t miss our Player Profile Series or our Round Table Sessions preparing you for the upcoming regular season.

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