Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey is such a great GM that we oftentimes forget about some of his worst on-court decisions.
The Houston Rockets have one of the league’s best general managers in Daryl Morey, as he has seemingly turned the team into a contender overnight with his brilliant moves. With Morey’s greatness, it’s worth taking a look at the worst decisions he’s made during his time at the helm as the General Manager. It’s worth noting that Morey became the team’s General Manager prior to the 2007-08 season, and there have not been many decisions that he’s made that have hurt the team on the court.
It’s also worth noting that the recent China/Hong Kong scandal won’t be included on the list, as it was an off the court issue and had nothing to do with the construction of the Rockets’ roster. Although there will be ramifications of the incident on the court, it simply didn’t have anything to do with trades, signings, or contract extensions.
Morey is one of the five longest tenured basketball executives, behind only Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, Pat Riley of the Miami Heat, Danny Ainge of the Boston Celtics, and John Paxson of the Chicago Bulls. It goes without saying that Morey wouldn’t have lasted this long if he weren’t one of the league’s elite executives, but even he has had several basketball decisions backfire. Let’s get started with the top four mistakes he’s made on the court!
Next: No. 4
4. Chris Paul contract
The Houston Rockets sent a collection of assets to acquire Chris Paul in 2017, which was to be expected for an all-time great. The Rockets sent away Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker, a first round draft pick and more to get Chris Paul. The results were immediate, which was the goal, as the Rockets were in win-now mode as they were trying to fend off the superteam Golden State Warriors. This drew instant negativity, as questions immediately arose on how a CP3/James Harden pairing would work considering how they each needed the ball in their hands. The Rockets were able to dismiss the negative talk, as they won a franchise best 65 games and secured the top seed in the West.
As Rockets fans know all too well, the Rockets made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals but were eliminated within seven games, as Chris Paul suffered a series-ending hamstring injury in Game 5, which forced him to miss Games 6 and 7.
Because CP3 opted into the final year of his contract prior to making the trade, the Rockets surely gave him a “wink-wink” handshake agreement that they would pay him the full max one year later. Because of this, they didn’t really have a chance as Paul chose not to opt out of his deal to essentially help the team financially immediately upon acquiring him. It’s necessary to lay the landscape and establish the backstory, because the Rockets had to honor their commitment if they made such an agreement with him.
The Rockets had to pay Chris Paul for the season he had during the 2017-18 campaign and also pay him for what they thought he could do for the team if fully healthy. So CP3 ended up landing a four-year deal worth $160 million, which was a lot of money for a then 33-year-old point guard who was surely at the point of diminished returns. Paul had reached his peak and was surely on the decline, which is exactly what happened the following season as he had career lows in points per game and field goal percentage.
As a result, Rockets owner Tilman Fetitta immediately began expressing regrets over CP3’s contract, as the Rockets were going to be forced to send a sweetener just to get a team interested in a potential trade. Not only that, the Rockets were forced to take on a package or player with equal or matching salaries.
This is why the Rockets were essentially forced to trade for Russell Westbrook, which was a good remedy for getting rid of CP3. The Rockets never would have been in this position if they didn’t give CP3 that gargantuan contract, because it left them financially hamstrung.
Next: No. 3
3. Including Montrezl Harrell in CP3 Trade
When the Houston Rockets traded for Chris Paul, they were forced to send a desirable package as they were bringing in one of the best point guards of all time. Morey built a package around fan favorite Patrick Beverley, reserve forward Montrezl Harrell, and sixth man Lou Williams, who the Rockets had just acquired from the Lakers that season.
It goes without saying that the Rockets could have used Beverley’s defense and his tenacity, but the Clippers weren’t going to just send CP3 away without getting significant value in return, as that’s the price to pay when a team is trying to add a star. The Rockets also could have used the offensive firepower Lou Williams provides, but again, you have to give up something to get back something significant like a star guard.
Williams had one year left on his contract at the time of the CP3 trade, so it became a no-brainer to include him in the outgoing package. However, Montrezl Harrell is someone the Rockets could have really held onto. Harrell was 23 years old at the time of the trade and was still developing, as he went from nine minutes per game to 18.3 minutes per game and increased his numbers across the board from his rookie year to his sophomore year in the NBA.
Harrell averaged 13.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per 36 minutes as a rookie and improved his production to 17.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. Since trading Harrell away, Houston hasn’t had much depth at center behind Capela. Morey uses an analytics-driven approach, and the advanced analytics said that Harrell was trending in the right direction of his development.
By the second year of the CP3 trade, Harrell blossomed into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, one year after averaging 23.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per 36 minutes. During the 2018-19 season, Harrell averaged 16.6 points per game, which was higher than the 15.6 Chris Paul averaged during the same season. In addition, Harrell had 17 double-doubles compared to the 18 double-doubles CP3 had.
In the end, the Rockets made the right decision to trade for Chris Paul, but they should’ve included a different player in the deal and kept Harrell.
Next: No. 2
2. Ryan Anderson contract in 2016
In 2016, the Rockets signed Ryan Anderson to a four-year contract worth $80 million, which seemed egregious at the time. In the eight seasons prior to Anderson’s signing with the Houston Rockets, he averaged 13.56 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. That’s a far cry from a player deserving $20 million per year.
The Rockets signed Anderson because the stretch four position had become highly valued and coveted, and Anderson shot 37.7 percent from distance in his eight years prior to landing in Houston. Despite this, Anderson was significantly overpaid on that contract, as he was the second highest paid player on the Rockets behind only Harden during the 2016-17 season. Anderson finished fourth on the Rockets in scoring that season and fifth on the team in rebounds, and was a defensive liability. This is partly why Ryno was fifth on the team in minutes with 29.4 minutes.
During the 2017-18 season, which was the first season after the Rockets acquired Chris Paul, Anderson was the third highest paid player on the team behind Harden and CP3, yet was the seventh leading scorer and fifth leading rebounder on the team. Anderson saw his minutes decrease from the previous season down to 26.1 minutes per game, as he fell out of the rotation.
To that point, Anderson had lost his starting spot by the time the playoffs started, as he didn’t start any games during Houston’s 17 post-season games that year. At the conclusion of that season, the Rockets traded Anderson away as he had no longer become useful or worthy of his $20 million cap number.
Next: No. 1
1. Drafting Marcus Morris over Kawhi Leonard in the 2011 NBA Draft
In the 2011 NBA Draft, the Houston Rockets drafted Marcus Morris with their 14th pick in the first round. Morris has carved out a good NBA career, although his tenure in Houston was limited to only 71 total games, which spanned over the course of two years. Morris averaged 7.1 points per game on 36 percent shooting from deep over the course of his Rockets tenure.
The biggest mistake in making this draft pick is that Kawhi Leonard was still on the board, as he got drafted with the 15th pick, which was obviously one pick after Morris was selected. Kawhi has become one of the best players in the league, as he has won two NBA championships and two NBA Finals MVP’s with different organizations. In addition, Kawhi has won the Defensive Player of the Year while also making three All-Star teams.
It’s painful to think the Rockets could have had Kawhi to pair with Harden, who they acquired one year later, as Kawhi would have fit perfectly with the Rockets. It’s also worth wondering whether the Rockets would have won a championship with Harden and Leonard on the same team. It’s especially tragic for Rockets Nation to realize the player they chose over Kawhi was someone they would have for less than two full seasons.
Not only that, Leonard and the Spurs eliminated the Rockets out of playoff contention during the 2016-17 NBA season, which would have gone entirely the other way if Leonard was on the Rockets. Granted, there is no guarantee that Morey wouldn’t have traded Leonard early into his Rockets career but that’s essentially the same thing Morey and the Rockets did with Morris anyways.