Why Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey had to make the Russell Westbrook deal
The Houston Rockets and General Manager Daryl Morey have reset the narrative around their off-season with the acquisition of Russell Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Wow! Just when I thought Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey lost his ability to do something meaningful in the offseason, especially after last offseason’s debacle, he goes and pulls a stunner. By now the basketball world knows that the Houston Rockets traded Chris Paul, their first round picks in 2024 and 2026 plus swap rights in 2021 and 2025 for Russell Westbrook.
While some may question his fit with James Harden (a separate story), I want to focus on the fact that Morey did something he had to. He found a way to make the best out of what was going to be and eventually turned into, a horrible situation.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have agreed to trade Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, pick swaps in 2021 and 2025, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 12, 2019
When the Rockets traded for CP3 in the off-season of the 2017-2018 season, Morey did so with, what was widely reported, a handshake deal to give him a max contract when his Clipper contract expired. This was done without the blessing of new owner Tillman Fertitta who had just paid a record 2.2 billion for the franchise.
Morey’s thinking was that CP3’s partnership with James would bring a much needed 3rd title to Houston, even if the fit wasn’t perceived to be seamless. The Rockets turned in their best regular season ever with 65 wins and if it weren’t for a Paul injury in Game 5 of the 2018 WCF against the Warriors, I believe they would have hoisted the O’Brien. They didn’t, and Morey had to make good on the contract promise to CP3 when he traded for him.
He did so the following offseason, fully knowing, I believe, that the contract wouldn’t age well and probably even Chris himself. He saw what happened in Game 5. He knew his injury history, but paid up anyway, even having to convince his highflying, gambler of an owner of his plan along the way. He may have even had to convince himself of the same. That same off-season, with the new CP3 albatross contract in tow, the Rockets let go of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute from that 65 win team to sign Michael Carter Williams and Carmelo Anthony.
10 games into this season, the Houston Rockets banished Carmelo and attempted to remake the roster with under the radar, but solid, signings to make up for his disastrous offseason; which some think were spurred by Tillman miser like behavior. The season ended with disappointment again as Chris played the same 58 games as the previous season, but this time he didn’t play with the same fire and passion as he displayed in the 58 and postseason from his first season with the team.
Chris picked and chose his opportunities to play with max force and at the end of the season, he was ornery and prickly in what was originally a wonderful pairing with Harden. Rumors were flying about his and James’ relationship and if they could continue to co-exist. Daryl even went out of his way to address those rumors as mere gossip and unfounded at its core. What else was he going to say? Despite the brave face, he knew he had to make a change. He just needed an opportunity.
Kawhi’s power move breathes new life into Houston offseason and season
When Kawhi Leonard pulled his unprecedented power play in leveraging his 2019 free agency with a full-on recruitment OKC’s Paul George to get both to the Clippers, Morey was given one. OKC was now in full rebuild mode. Westbrook, for all his bravado, was loyal to OKC, and they wanted to be loyal to him.
They signed him to what was viewed at the time as a nod toward said loyalty with his supermax contract in 2017 and wanted him to go to a team that he would be agreeable to. Enter Houston. For two first-round picks four and six years into the future, and the right for OKC to swap first-round picks five years apart starting in 2021, Morey was able to move a contract and player deemed untradeable.
It may be viewed as one horrible contract for another, but the Rockets just received a top 15 player in his prime, without losing any of their rotation or anyone on its roster for that matter. I didn’t see this coming and just like Kawhi’s move neither did anyone else; at least not the package in which the Rockets acquired Russ. The Rockets now have a new life with two top 15 players with contracts that will age together. The roster as it was constructed before this trade wasn’t winning a title with CP3 a year older and his pairing with Harden deteriorating daily.
Daryl Morey has proven to be one of the best GM’s in the league in terms of seizing opportunities while correcting his mistakes, even if he was forced into them. He did that last offseason remaking his roster after the admitted failure with Carmelo Anthony and after not resigning Ariza and Mbah a Moute. We can discuss what Russ’ contract does to their salary cap flexibility another day, and I still think he was some additional work to do with the roster, but the heavy lifting is done. Well done Daryl and welcome to the Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook!