Why Daryl Morey is the reason the Rockets are awful

N.B. Lindberg
Orlando Magic v Houston Rockets
Orlando Magic v Houston Rockets / Tim Warner/GettyImages
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Why the Russell Westbrook trade was the beginning of the end

The most consequential decision Morey made to the Rockets of 2023 was the acquisition of Russell Westbrook. It’s unclear who was the driving force behind the decision to move off of Chris Paul and onto Westbrook, but it was obviously a disastrous trade in retrospect and pretty obviously a disastrous trade at the moment. 

(As a quick aside, I write for Space City Scoop because of that trade. I submitted an article titled “Houston we have a problem: How the Russell Westbrook trade was a disaster from the start,” and they thought I was a Rockets fan. I am not. I am a Wizards fan.)

Going from Paul to Westbrook never made any sense. While Paul was older, all the advanced metrics believed he was still better than Westbrook, and his basketball fit next to Harden made far more sense than Westbrook. Harden had perfected the heliocentric spread pick-and-roll attack, and Paul was an elite second option next to him as a creator and floor spacer. Westbrook, unlike Paul, couldn’t space the floor and, to this day, remains at his best when he is an offense’s primary engine. 

Taking a step back to reload is fine, but the Rockets also sent the Oklahoma City Thunder three first-round picks and a swap in the deal. The Westbrook trade, in terms of outgoing assets, needed to be a massive upgrade to make sense but was instead a step back. Another general manager would have seen the writing on the wall and blown up the roster to start from scratch, but Morey isn’t wired that way. Instead, he went all in to try and maximize the roster. 

Westbrook’s inability to shoot made playing with a traditional rim-running center a problem. The areas where Westbrook and Harden needed space were now clogged, as either Clint Capela or Westbrook’s man could sag off and protect the paint. NBA offenses can survive without five shooters, but having two non-shooters and P.J. Tucker as a corner-three specialist meant the Rockets’ spacing, once a strength, was now a weakness.