Daryl Morey Gets Real
The Rockets’ GM is seeing red. Well, kind of.
by Adam Sweeney
He’s been called many names. The Billy Beane of basketball, Dork Elvis (though he jokes that he prefers to be called Dork Cat Stevens), the smartest general manager in the NBA, and I like to think of him as the anti-Isiah Thomas, if he were still around. Don’t laugh. He may be, if the rumors about him going to the L.A. Clippers are true.
Nearly every journalist left the Houston Rockets for dead after Yao Ming announced he would miss this season to recover from foot surgery. Add Tracy McGrady’s slow but necessary recovery from microfracture knee surgery and you had the recipe for disaster.
Little did we know the Rockets had all the ingredients they needed to play true team basketball. Using the momentum from last year’s deep playoff run, the Rockets rank up at the top of pleasant surprises this NBA season, in no small part because of Morey. If Isiah showed us the worst way to run a team, Morey is taking us to school the right way.
He filled a roster with hungry underrated players who have rallied around each other, happy to step up when their number is called.We got the chance to chat with the GM who is changing how teams are run. He offered the skinny on the T-Mac situation, Yao’s recovery, his thoughts on the lack of any Rockets All-Stars and other topics.
SLAM: As we head into the All-Star break, what would be your assessment of how the Rockets have been performing this season?
Daryl Morey: I think overall we’re happy. We came in trying to do a lot of things. We had to change our overall style of play and compensate for the loss of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. We had lots of players taking on new roles. It is Aaron Brooks’ first full year as a starter. Trevor Ariza has had to step up. Carl Landry is a go to guy, which is a new role. Everyone had something new to do, so it’s a testament to the coaches and players that we’ve kept it above .500. We’re the only team in the League above .500 without an All-Star.
SLAM: How disappointed are you that Aaron Brooks or Carl Landry didn’t make the All-Star team?
DM: Well we thought Aaron, Carl or Luis Scola would get some consideration. I mean we’re the only team above .500 without an All-Star, which is tough. But I think it will happen for them in the future.
SLAM: The Rockets have probably played the best team ball, in the truest sense, since the Detroit Pistons of 2005 and they had four All-Stars. It’s interesting.
DM: [Laughs] We don’t reward team play any more, I guess.
SLAM: We’re going to talk to David Stern about it.
SLAM: Actually, maybe you should talk to him about it. You probably have a bit more pull than us. Just a guess.
DM: Maybe you can put our whole team on the cover of SLAM. [Laughs]
SLAM: [Laughs] We’ll see what we can do. You’re headed toward the free agent period. Where are you in terms of talks with Tracy McGrady?
DM: It’s going to take until the trade deadline if anything happens. We’ve started to figure out who are going to be involved in terms of buyers and sellers. There are deals we would do and there are some that teams we are talking to would do, but right now things are pretty far apart. Odds are that it will take until the deadline.
SLAM: You said something to Jason Friedman of Rockets.com that was interesting. These players are people and not just little pieces that you can throw around.
DM: Well the way I described it was if your senior editor walked in and said, ‘hey, we’re moving you to Boise.’ (Laughs.) It’d be a little disconcerting if you knew that could happen any day. It’s a tought situation. They’re obviously well compensated to be in that position but it’s not fun for them or their family.
SLAM: That would be tough to hear. ‘Hey, we’re moving you to Boise for two junior columnists who aren’t as good as you, but their upside makes us think they will be better in three years.’
SLAM: How is Yao progressing?
DM: He just got his final cast and boot off, and he got onto the court doing work this week. He’s not doing much basketball stuff, just light movement and shooting.
SLAM: That’s good news for a team that needs a number one player. In your opinion, what are the Rockets missing in order to make a title run?
DM: It’s really what Yao Ming brings to the table. He brings so much on offense and defense. We’ve been able to compensate a little bit for the loss of Yao with an up tempo offense and the emergence of Carl and Aaron. Luis has played well. On the defensive end, that’s where we have had trouble compensating. The rim protection Yao brought is tough to overcome.
SLAM: It’s tough to replace a 7-6 All-Star down low.
DM: Yeah, for all our perimeter defenders, and we have a lot of good ones, It’s tough mentally for them. If there was a mistake or if they wanted to take an aggressive line to go for a steal, they knew they had the help of Yao. Without them it has trickled down both mentally and to the point where our defense has fallen down significantly. We’ve been a top five defense for the last three years and I think longer than that really. We’ve fallen off a bit.
SLAM: There is a lot of money coming off the cap for your team at the end of this season. Are you looking to make a big push in the off-season?
DM: Yeah, the money that’s coming off with McGrady, if we don’t trade him, is money we’re authorized to spend by Mr. [Les] Alexander. The salary cap will make it hard to spend directly so a trade or a sign-and-trade will probably be the best way for it to happen.
SLAM: How would you describe the ’09-10 Houston Rockets?
DM: We’re fun to watch. The players are developing into championship caliber players, meaning they could fit on to a championship team. We have a chance this year to make a trade that could really help us make some noise in this year’s playoffs. We’re still trying to make the playoffs this year but even if we don’t, which is a possibility, we feel we’re setting ourselves up to have a great team in the near future.