To get to the point: Despite everything that is fantastic and perfect and weird and totally fitting about this, it is certainly the best Morey "interview" I've seen, maybe ever. Leave it to Reddit to bring out the best in our favorite MIT stat whiz, but whatever works... works, I suppose. Morey answered questions that I wouldn't totally expect him to answer and was fairly candid in doing so. Here are the highlights — everything is SIC — although there are plenty of answers that I left out that you should view for yourself.
What is your view on the idea that teams need to build rosters with 2+ superstars to succeed? Do you honestly think you can compete for a championship with a roster similar to what you have in place now?
You definitely need at least 1 elite player in the top 10-20 of all NBA players (all-star level) to win the championship.
There are no counter examples of this. We are not championship contenders right now. All our moves since Yao Ming went down have had the specific goal of acquiring a top level player since that moment. Each change on our team has been designed to acquire players who either have a chance to be an all-star or give us the cap room or trade flexibility to acquire an all-star.
Are Asik and Lin all-star superstars? or even trade-able assets to acquire one?
Lin played at an all-star level last year. Even if he does not maintain that level (likely), both he and Asik increase our flexibility and get us closer to our goals. I also like that Lin has already played for a small yet not insignificant stretch at an all-star level. This increases his odds -- up and down the roster that is the primary thing we are trying to do -- increase our odds of developing or acquiring an all-star level player.
Do you believe that our current roster has playoff potential? Are there any meaningful moves to be made before the start of the season?
We definitely have a chance at the playoffs. It is a stretch goal but it is a realistic goal and would be great for the franchise as it would likely mean that 1+ of our players have developed into all-star level players.
SEA/OKC was dreadful for three years which allowed them to acquire Durant, Westbrook, and Harden in the Lottery. Every other contender is in a major-market destination city where high-profile FAs flock to. How will Houston compete with this by consistently being just ...OK
Being an extremely crappy team is definitely a well worn path to success in the NBA. Each year, the NBA hands the most valuable asset in the game (a scale wage top 5 pick) and hands it to the most mismanaged teams.
We could go with this approach (in fact the Rockets invented it long ago) but we think our approach can succeed as well and can succeed faster even though it is more difficult.
So, what WAS your offer for Dwight Howard? And how pissed were you with David Stern blocking the original Chris Paul trade that would have landed Pau Gasol in Houston? Of those two moves, which trade would you rather have had go through?
We would have been thrilled for either of these moves to go through which should hopefully make sense in the context of my other answers that we want to obtain a top player. I guess this will have to be AMAA as I hope you can understand I would never reveal the private trade conversations we have had with other teams. We thought we made a very good offer in both circumstances and in both circumstances the team decided to do something else.
Why did you push so hard to trade for Dwight Howard in the offseason when he did not include the Rockets as a team he wanted to sign with long term? Did you think he might change his mind after playing in Houston for a year? Or did you think that you would be able to get enough assets in a sign-in-trade next year to justify the cost?
We thought it was low odds that Dwight would sign here long term but even low odds at a top 5 player in the league are better than the odds we can get anywhere else, including being crappy . Also, we would have been very good for the season we had him.
I've heard Royce White, a current player of yours, has a major fear of flying. How have you handled this situation, and what will you do in the future when traveling far for away games?
Royce White has an issue with anxiety that is more common than people talk about and he has done a good job to bring awareness. It did not affect his ability to fly for games last year and we don't expect it to this year. It certainly did not affect him last year where he was unquestionably one of the top players in the country and the best player on the floor in the Kentucky-Iowa State NCAA tournament game.
When Dikembe Mutumbo would speak to you, would you sometimes just nod and say yes?
Yes. And then I would ask him to follow up with a txt of what he wants on one of the 4 cell phones he always carried.
How's Yao Ming in person?
I think the quality he has as a person that many don't know about is that he is extremely funny. He was by far the funniest person in the locker room. Most jokes I cannot print there is one time I remember I can talk about. During the pre-season required drug testing, all the players were lined up to pee in a cup and Yao Ming looking to all of them and said, "why am I the only one not nervous"?
Can you dunk?
This is embarrassing to admit but I am 6'4" and unlike reddit fave Woody Harrelson, I cannot dunk. In my youth I could get a tennis ball through.
Would Bill Simmons actually make a good NBA GM?
I think he would make a good GM. He really knows the game. He obviously is a friend so take my opinion for what you will but I have found his knowledge of the game to be very high over the many years we have known each other. The only time I think he would struggle is handling owner input as he is very independent minded (which has made him successful in everything he has done).
What do you feel has been the biggest hindrance to signing a star to Houston?
Nothing. Houston is a huge asset in helping us in free agency (weather, income tax, large city, etc...). We are not the top destination city in the NBA but we are near the top. The reality is only a extremely small number of the top 10-20 players change each off-season (sometimes zero) and they also rarely change via free agency (vs trade) so the number of chances is extremely small and when those chances come up the number of potential destinations is very numerous. Long way of saying that the odds are stacked against every team and we just have not overcome those long odds. Has nothing to do with Houston.
When Lowry was traded away and Dragic signed with the Suns you guys went from two starting quality point guards to none. From an outside perspective it looked like fairly inept managing, what was going on internally during this time. Were you confident you could get Jeremy Lin? Were you rolling the dice?
First, I would refer to my #2 answer here [Morey's Harvard Business Review article]. Each move makes sense under this lens. The guaranteed lottery pick we received from Toronto for Lowry is more valuable in acquiring an all-star level player. Dragic wanted a player option (that Phoenix gave him) which greatly harms a players value and will almost always lead us away from #2. A player option essentially guarantees that a team ends up with either a free agent (not valuable) or a player who the league thinks is not valuable and blocks your salary cap flexibility.
We were rolling the dice on getting Jeremy Lin but taking smart risks is what we have to do up and down the roster on every move. As only 1 team out of 30 gets to win, you cannot play it safe. A fund manager who beats more than half his peers and beats the S+P 500 is considered pretty good. We have won more games than we lost the past few years (beaten our peers) despite losing our franchise player Yao Ming and it has been appropriately considered disappointing despite the fact that most teams win around one-third of their games after losing their franchise player. We need to keep taking on more smart risk.
What do you think of the trend of "small ball"? Do you think this trend will continue, and is there still a place in the league for the traditional dominant big man?
For sure in the regular season, the general rule of thumb to help you win is put your 5 best players on the floor as much as possible. Because of scarcity, the smalls are generally better than the bigs and also more numerous. This is why "small ball" works.
If they made a movie about you (or perhaps Jeremy Lin), which actor would you like to play the role GM for the Houston Rockets?
Why didn't T-Will pan out the way we all had hoped?
He is very talented. I think he may still have a productive career. Many factors for it not working but Chandler Parsons emerging was a big one.
Do you have a favorite memory in your time with the Rockets?
22 game winning streak. Tougher to do than win the title. That is what I tell myself when I get depressed at all the work we still have to do to get back to being championship contenders.
Did you always want to work in the NBA? Did you feel that you were at a disadvantage without an elite basketball background? And besides the popular sites like basketball-reference.com and 82games.com what other resources are there for advanced statistics that are available to the public?
I always wanted to be a GM. When I could not get a job in sports after my time at STATS, Inc. I resolved to earn enough money to buy a sports team. About year 8 into this plan (which was very slow going) I got fortunate enough to work with Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca while I was at Parthenon. Wyc and Steve gave me my first shot in the league and hired me at the Celtics. After a few years working with Danny Ainge (a great GM and mentor), Mr. Alexander (owner of the Rockets) gave me my big chance as GM by hiring me away from the Celtics. Mr. Alexander had developed the blueprint for everything we are doing now before he hired me. I am still amazed by that. I hope I can live up to the belief he showed in me by getting him and Rockets fans another LOB trophy.Basketball Value is great for raw PBP data. We don't need it as we can get the data ourselves but everyone in public domain uses it so I am told.
What do you think is the best publicly available defensive metric?