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Mitchell: Daryl Morey a reason why NBA teams should be wary of hiring 'analytic' GM's

John Mitchell thinks that the Philadelphia 76ers made the right call by avoiding an analytics-thinking GM. He uses Daryl Morey's story to tell us why.

Bob Levey - Getty Images

A few weeks ago, the Philadelphia 76ers passed up on Sam Hinkie, Tom Penn, and Jeff Bower in order to hire Tony DiLeo as their general manager, a somewhat surprising promotion from within. Though DiLeo had a longstanding history with the club, most expected them to select a more analytic-thinking mind, which made candidates like Hinkie all the more appealing.

Today, John N. Mitchell, writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, defended the selection, using Daryl Morey as a cautionary tale for those interested in an "analytic general manager." Here he goes:

Morey, who inherited a 52-win team in 2007, is the poster boy for reasons not to position an analytic as the basketball-operations rubber stamp, and further proof that the Sixers, still looking to add an analytic in a significantly smaller role, made the right decision in hiring DiLeo rather than the next would-be boy genius.

Excellent start. Ignore the fact that the team he inherited had Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady on prohibitively large contracts that the Rockets got almost zero return out of, and the fact that the Rockets won 42 games instead of 52 games looks a lot worse. Let's see where he goes from here.

Under Morey, the Rockets have won just one playoff series and finished out of the playoffs three years running. But the moves he made this summer - from gutting his roster in the failed hope of landing Dwight Howard to the drafting of Royce White with one of the three first- round picks - are legitimate reasons to doubt whether the MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management is properly equipped to be a top-tier NBA decision-maker.

Now, we're getting somewhere. Step one: Trash Morey for failing to bring the Rockets to the playoffs the last three years. Step two: Criticize him for "gutting" this same roster that had finished out of the playoffs for three years in a row. Step three: Profit?

It's perfectly reasonable to attack Morey for waiting too long to blow up the roster. In a way, I'm in that camp. But to crush him for three mediocre seasons in a row and then criticize him for the fact that he blew up the roster this off-season is just illogical. The obvious goal was to acquire Dwight Howard and the Rockets' failure to do so was disappointing, but in the end, what did Morey have to lose? Are Samuel Dalembert, Luis Scola, Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee, Kyle Lowry, and Goran Dragic going to carry the Rockets to a championship? I don't think so.

We'll get to the discussion of Royce White later.

Next, he addresses the Rockets' pursuit of Dwight Howard.

This past summer, Morey purged a roster that finished above .500 for the third year in a row. The stated goal at that time was to make Houston an attractive destination for a superstar, namely Dwight Howard. Other teams backed away from the fickle former Orlando center when it became obvious that Howard, in the last year of his contract, wanted to be traded only to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Dallas Mavericks, or the Brooklyn Nets.

That cued most teams that the risk-reward ratio for Howard was too high. They understood that acquiring Howard would require a roster purge that would fetch Howard, only to see him leave next summer as a free agent.

Morey did not seem to understand this, and now Houston has a roster mostly of power forwards and players who do not fit very well with each other.

Oh now, the roster composition is a plus? But besides that, this paradoxical method of criticism that we saw earlier comes up here in the discussion of the Dwight Howard case.

He declares that the risk-reward involved in a Dwight Howard pursuit was way too high because of the unlikelihood that Howard would stay with the Rockets. That's a fair statement...if the Rockets had acquired Howard. I understand that the fact that the Rockets went to extreme lengths to try and acquire Howard is also playing into his calculus, but would Morey have really done anything different if Howard had not been on the market?

Honestly, I doubt it. Lowry had one foot out the door when he made his trade request public, Dragic was gone the second Phoenix offered a fourth year player option, and Dalembert, Camby, and Budinger didn't have roles on this team. Perhaps the Rockets would've tried to keep Courtney Lee around, but is the cost of letting Lee go in free agency really all that significant?

Regardless, Mitchell seems to indicate that Morey had no idea about the risks of acquiring Howard. "That cued most teams that the risk-reward ratio for Howard was too high," he writes, following up by saying that "Morey did not seem to understand this."

Huh? Does he not consider that the risk of losing Howard with nothing to show for it potentially factored into the Rockets' decision not to top Los Angeles' four-way offer for Howard? Throughout the entire process, the Rockets were reportedly unwilling to part with all their young players and take on contracts from the Magic, and logically so. If the Rockets believed that Howard was likely willing to stay for the long-term, they would've upped the offer.

Anyway, getting back to the subject of Royce White, Mitchell has apparently decided that White is already a bust.

White, the 16th player selected in last June's draft, may be talented. But his anxiety disorder - he has an acute fear of flying, something that may make an NBA career impossible - forced him to miss training camp as well as the team's first two preseason games.

Morey's best solution for getting White from town to town is putting him on a bus. That's something that might have proved successful when he was in college, but it is a laughable remedy at best in a league where teams regularly travel hundreds of miles overnight to play back-to-back games.

Indianapolis center Roy Hibbert tweeted "some1 is gonna get fired in the org 4 giving the go ahead" to draft White.

This is a gross misrepresentation of the situation and shows a complete lack of understanding on Mitchell's part. Personally, I was disappointed to see how White handled the situation with regards to his special accommodations (in that he waited to the last minute to discuss the subject with the team), but to say that the Rockets plan with him is a laughable remedy just doesn't make sense.

White is capable of flying, but gives him anxiety that could potentially negatively impact his play. If the Rockets can find a way in order to minimize the amount of time he has to spend flying, what's the downside? It's not as if White is going to be missing games because he can't make it on the road in time, but if a game is close enough that it is within driving distance, why force somebody with a legitimate illness to suffer through a painful experience when it isn't necessary? If White, his doctors, and the Rockets agree this is a good solution, who is Mitchell to say that Morey doesn't know what he's doing?

At least he has a voice of authority on his side. Because players are always the best evaluations of talent.

Morley's [sic] signing of point guard Jeremy Lin to a $25 million deal this summer is a head-scratcher, especially when one considers that Morley [sic] waived Lin, then an undrafted, cheap free agent fresh out of Harvard, right before the start of last season.

Because nothing changed in the evaluation of Jeremy Lin in the last year.

Morey has made 32 trades over the last five years. Under his direction, the Rockets have made a trade at every trading deadline except in 2010. To his credit, he has stockpiled future draft picks that may one day prove to be wonderful assets. And in the five years that he has run the team, Houston has never finished with a losing record.

This approach may have worked in Houston. It would not, however, work here. The Sixers paraded a bunch of analytics through their offices at the Wells Fargo Center but ultimately made the right decision to go with a player-personnel veteran.

Today this looks like the right move.

There are plenty of reasons why Tony DiLeo was probably the right selection as the 76ers GM. He paid his dues and seemed ready to step into the big office in Philadelphia.

However, dragging Morey's name through the mud as the example of what's wrong with the analytics community was not only petty but the argument was so full of logical fallacies that it didn't hold water. Yes, Morey is not perfect. He often is too consumed with extracting the maximum value out of his assets that he can lose sight of the situation. He is a bit too callous with players with regards to their personal situations.

All in all, he's a pretty darn good general manager and he appears to have finally put the Rockets on a solid path to rebuilding. The team has a guaranteed lottery pick on the way from Toronto, has a tremendous cache of young players that look good to earn playing time this season, and the payroll obligations are slim after this season. For a team looking to rebuild, they are in position A.

The record hasn't been great the last few years, but it is worth noting that Morey built a squad that won 16 more games over the past three seasons than the 76ers team DiLeo helped construct.