As we look back on Daryl Morey's past moves every Wednesda
With Yao Ming coming back and Aaron Brooks coming off a breakout campaign, there was plenty of reason for optimism in Houston in the summer of 2010. However, given that Yao's legs hadn't lasted him a full season since 2005, the Rockets had decided to limit Yao's minutes, officially announcing the decision in September.
Though the Rockets hadn't committed to cutting Yao's minutes back as heavily as they did in September, they still had a pretty good idea that they needed a legitimate backup plan for Yao, with Dikembe Mutombo retiring after his knee injury against Portland.
Thus, Brad Miller came into play. The reports of the Rockets and Miller's mutual interest had been mounting well before the free agency period, so when the Rockets agreed with Miller on July 18th, it was of little surprise.
Jump as we analyze the move!
This is what Miller had to say about why he signed in Houston:
It's my favorite coach [Adelman] I've ever played for. I know [Martin] real well from our Sacramento days. Luis [Scola] had a heck of a year. And I finally get to play with Yao [Ming] instead of guarding his big butt. The team is pretty solid.
Hearing that Miller had signed was not surprising. What did puzzle a few people was the price: 3 years and $15 million, a figure that seemed a lot for a team that had balked at giving more than that amount to Marcin Gortat a season before.
In his first season with the team, Miller actually played quite well. Some people will tell you otherwise because they didn't appreciate Miller's athletic drives to the hoop that were sometimes unfruitful, but his overall statistical production indicated that Miller was revitalized by the move.
On opening night against Los Angeles, he flashed those passing skills that got him a $15 million contract:
Though he sometimes came to games looking like he had had a few too many of Wendy's chili cheese fries before warmups, there was no denying his contributions. He was arguably the best passer on the team, and he blew up at random intervals, giving the Rockets no choice but to play him. In December, he scored 105 points, with over 40% of them coming in two of the fifteen games that month.
At the end of the season, Miller's individual performance had been quite strong, but it was clear that his future was not with the Rockets. Yao Ming was gone for good, and Miller needed microfracture surgery. With the team looking to get younger, the Rockets flipped Miller, a pair of first round picks, and a second round pick (that they'd later buy back) for Jonny Flynn and the #20 selection (Donatas Motiejunas). Flynn would have an unimpressive season with the Rockets and traded in the Marcus Camby deal.
The more and more we look back at Daryl Morey's history, a pattern emerges that identifies Morey's weakness: free agency. Whether it was Trevor Ariza, Brent Barry, Steve Francis, or Miller, Morey signed a number of deals that look bad in hindsight as he tried to build a solid roster of role players around Yao and McGrady. What is also consistent is that the deals were either not prohibitive long term (Barry and Francis) or Morey cut bait on the deals painlessly to avoid being stuck with them.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but this is yet another example of a move the Rockets made in the context of the Yao Ming era that simply did not make sense without him. That's why Morey was so quick to move him, and why the move was still the correct move then. If Yao had stayed healthy, this team would've needed a legit backup if they wanted to advance in the playoffs, and that's what Miller was.
This also makes me feel a lot better about the Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik deals. Morey is extremely calculating, especially when a deal sacrifices long term flexibility, and you have to believe that Morey knows he can get out of each contract if Lin or Asik doesn't perform. Lin is a marketing dynamo with exciting skills and every contender could always use a big man with elite defensive and rebounding chops.
But for now, let's remember Brad Miller, for his excellent passing, his undying passion for driving to the rim, and most of all, for his amazing variety of camo gear.