OK, maybe worthless is a dramatic overstatement. Let’s go with overvalued, inefficient or not Moreyball... is that a thing, not Moreyball? It is now.
Houston’s 2017 first-round pick was crucial to completing the Rockets-Lakers trade that netted former Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams. The trade sent Corey Brewer and the Rockets 2017 first round pick out the door for Williams.
Rockets fans immediately rejoiced as Morey unloaded the team’s worst rotation player and turned a 23% three point shooter in Brewer into a 38% shooter from deep in Williams. Brewer’s contract had become an ankle weight costing $7.5 million this season and next while the lanky swingman was averaging 4.2 ppg in 15 minutes a contest.
Jettisoning Brewer was a masterstroke from Morey, but the underrated portion of the deal may be using the 2017 first round draft pick as bait. The pick was the sweetener that made the trade happen, but in reality the Morey and the Rockets probably don’t even want the pick, because it’s an inefficient, late first-round pick.
Before tipping off against the Pelicans, James Harden and crew had the league’s third-best record, trailing only the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, and would net Morey the 28th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft if the season ended today.
Daryl Morey seeks efficiency like Adam Sandler seeks paychecks (I watched one of those Netflix movies and it was a disaster) and the 28th pick is simply inefficient.
All first-round picks come with guaranteed contracts. But in the case of the 28th pick it comes with a mandatory guaranteed contract and second round talent. Or in the case of a deep draft, it will at best be a player on equal footing with one available with the first five picks of the second round.
The Rockets have made a solid living in the Daryl Morey era by signing second-round draft picks to favorable contracts: Carl Landry, Joey Dorsey, Chase Budinger, Chandler Parsons, Isaiah Canaan and Montrezl Harrell to name a handful.
Montrezl Harrell is averaging 9 ppg in 20 minutes and has had an enormous impact for a Rockets team that missed starting center Clint Capela for 15 games. His contract: $3.1 million over three years. Let’s refer to that as “a better deal than Brewer’s contract.”
If Harrell was the 2015 draft steal, then Rocket Chinanu Onuaku is the 2016 draft steal. The reserve forward may not play much now. But Morey has him locked in for three years at an average of $800k. Onuaku’s contract is so low-risk it doesn’t hurt the Rockets if he never materializes as a rotation NBA player.
Even further than the Parsons and Harrell deals is how Houston continues to make a living in the offseason of signing second-round picks and undrafted free agents to non-guaranteed contracts, allowing the Rockets the flexibility of keeping the players they want and unloading the ones they don’t with little or no consequence. This season that included Gary Payton II, Pablo Prigioni, Isaiah Taylor and current Rockets Kyle Wiltjer and Bobby Brown.
The need for these players will only increase as the new NBA collective bargaining agreement will allow teams to hold two additional players on their roster. Rosters will expand from 15 contracts to 17 contracts with the two new slots being “two-way contracts.” The new contract designation will allow a player under contract with an NBA team to spend their time with a D-League affiliate.
The “two-way” players can only spend 45 days on an NBA roster and their contract doesn’t count against the a team’s cap sheet.
Has anything ever been more tailor-made for Daryl Morey than this? Probably not.
All of these changes just further contribute to the devaluation of the Rockets’ upcoming first round draft pick. If the Rockets continue their pace and end with a first round pick in the 26-30 range, the mandatory guaranteed contract doesn’t make up for the minimal difference in talent for one of the first five to 10 picks in the second round.
Oh yeah, for the sake of this article I left out the fact that Clint Capela was the 25th pick of the first round. But don’t act like you knew who he was when Morey drafted a random dude from Switzerland.