A Damning Defense of Daryl

Would appreciate your take on my thoughts on Daryl Morey being his own worse enemy and media victim. It's up at but I'll just post the whole thing here.


In Damning Defense of Daryl

Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey is, at the same time, his own worst enemy and a victim of the media. Like many subjects that the media has tackled over the years, Morey was initially regarded too highly, and since he didn't match those too-lofty expectations, he's being discarded too quickly.

When Morey took over the Rockets, the media rushed to gush over his new school approach towards the game. He approached team building like a Mathlete, breaking down numbers to a degree that most of his peers couldn't even begin to understand. Moneyball had finally made it to the NBA. A new day was dawning.

Once he started working, Daryl proved the pundits correct because every time he made a trade, he seemed to come out ahead. But what people slowly started to notice is that while Morey came out ahead in the trades, the Rockets never moved ahead as a team.

The first issue that those writers overlooked was the fact that, unlike baseball, the NBA is a league driven almost completely by The Superstar. If a GM can't land a superstar player, he's basically destined to spend the rest of his career mired in mediocrity or trying to become the exception to the rule. And the main ways to land a superstar player is via luck or location - either you draft a star like Tim Duncan or Kevin Durant or you are based in a big media market (LA, NY) or a warm weather state with nice tax laws (ORL, MIA).
Daryl Morey couldn't draft a superstar because the Rockets were always good enough to avoid the top of the lottery. He couldn't convince superstars to sign to Houston because, well, it's Houston. So this offseason, Morey has decided to go after a superstar, one way or another. The problem for Morey, or rather the thing that the media has made into a problem, is that the "one way" is a complete 180 from "another" and the media can't handle that kind of change without thinking someone is to blame.

In short, Daryl Morey opened the offseason by trying to take the assets he'd compiled in Houston and trade them for Dwight Howard, the one superstar available who could, overnight, make the Rockets a contender. Unfortunately for Daryl, he didn't get Dwight Howard so now he has apparently decided to tank this season. He's recycled Houston's current assets into potentially better assets. He's likely looking to move his veterans for more youth. He's starting over.
Now for most people, this is logical. Try for a superstar via trade, if that fails, see what the top of the lottery might get you. Rockets fans tired of first round playoff exits years ago so I doubt they'd be appeased by a mere playoff appearance so it's better to go all-in on the rebuild.

But that's too benign a storyline for the sports media. For the media (and they eventually convince many fans of this), the cardinal sin for a GM is to promise the playoffs and then aim for the lottery. The most recent example of this was the Golden State Warriors - coach Mark Jackson promised the playoffs but, midway through the season, the team switched course and tanked in order to salvage their lottery pick. To many in the media, this was unacceptable. Nevermind the long term benefits, this type of retreat was a sure sign of failure and failure must be met with punishment. And for sportswriters, that means calls for one's job and/or snarky chastisement.
(Note: Not that staying the course would have been received any better. If Morey had dealt his current assets for a lesser player, be it Pau Gasol or Al Jefferson, the media still would have likely given him crap for banishing the team to mediocrity.)

That fact of the matter is that Morey did what most teams stuck in the middle of the pack should do - swing for the fences first, if that fails, start over. He did his best at the former and now he's going with the latter and shouldn't be damned for it.

He should be damned. Just not for that.

What he should be damned for is being exactly what people had once praised him for being.

Daryl Morey's great failure is his purported greatest strength. Morey was hailed as a stat geek supreme but the fact is that when you focus too much on stats, you miss everything else that matters. If the NBA was a crime show, Morey would be the geeky CSI who always gets shown up by the slovenly detective who goes with hunches or his gut. Morey treats player as if they are pawns and kings and has been touted as someone who played chess while his peers played checkers; the problem is that what he needed to focus on was chemistry. Human beings are unknown, unstable compounds; there's no statistic that can really predict how we'll react when thrown together in a group. Stats can tell you what a player did, it can't tell you how a team will perform when said player is added into the mix.

This is the second issue that writers who hailed Morey's metrics failed to recognize.

Take, for instance, the acquisition of every NBA Mathlete's favorite player at the time, Kevin Martin. Martin looked like an All-Star when you looked at his advanced stats but what the numbers didn't show was that his game included bogging down the offense and killing the flow of many plays, he didn't play much defense, and, most importantly, did nothing to make his teammates better, wasn't a leader, and was paid too much for what he actually delivered outside of his stats. So while sports writers crowed about what a great trade Morey made when he landed Kevin Martin for Carl Landry, the team essentially did nothing but spend more money for similar team results.

Similarly, when it comes to my Celtics, heading into last year's offseason, I think most everyone would have preferred getting OJ Mayo instead of Keyon Dooling or Mickeal Pietrus. Mayo is a better player, younger, higher ceiling. But he also has a crap attitude and whereas Dooling and Pietrus played huge roles in salvaging what had been a deteriorating Celtics locker room, Mayo might have been the straw that broke Ubuntu's back.

So has Morey learned his lesson? Judging from his draft, I'd say no. The Rockets are heading into the tank and added two players with questionable motors (Jeremy Lamb and Terrence Jones) and one guy with a major anxiety disorder (Royce White). Not only is tanking probably not going to bring out the best of these guys but two of them (White and Jones) play positions in which the Rockets are stacked which means the only real competition for the players will be for playing time and having guys going at one another isn't really the best way to build team unity.
Talent-wise, Morey had a heck of a draft. Results-wise, well, those three guys aren't going to change anyone's mind that it's time to start tanking.

Now, obviously, the offseason has barely even begun so all of this could change but, for now, I think Morey's past failures are his own fault but his current level of vilification is another example of the media making a mountain out of a molehill and then acting shocked and chagrined when said mountain turns out to be a molehill. For me, I'd take Daryl Morey on my team's front office in a heart beat; I just would never have him actually be the guy running the show.

No cursing in title. No pirated material, such as links to online game streams. Do not cut/paste entire sections of content from other websites. Thanks.

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