For the Houston Rockets, every move since hiring Mike D’Antoni has been made with one thing in mind: the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Around the league, pundits call this “win-now” mode. Rockets GM Daryl Morey simply calls it like it is at the 2017 MIT Sloan Conference.
“Over a time horizon of about two to four years, we’re looking for the best chance to win the title,” Morey told TDS in an exclusive interview. “Right now, how we’re built, we feel like that’s our best chance.”
Morey is not delusional. He admits the Rockets are not the best team in the league. But the best team doesn’t always win.
Last summer, Morey was faced with the tall task of hiring a head coach. Looking at the San Antonio Spurs as a model of continuity and consistency, Morey wanted to make sure the next coach of the Rockets would be in it for the long haul.
“We wanted someone who was very experienced, like Mike, because we have James in his prime, but we also wanted to explore sort of a Brad Stevens-type model,” Morey said.
If the Rockets decided to go with a young, up-and-coming head coach, maybe their approach would be different. Maybe they wouldn’t be 43-19, in third place in the Western Conference. Maybe they’d be in rebuilding mode instead of win-now mode.
With Harden in his prime, the window of opportunity is wide open for the Rockets. Adding Mike D’Antoni into the equation just confirmed it.
In a panel titled, “Moneymind: Overcoming Cognitive Bias,” analytics pioneer Billy Beane deduced that all his good teams had great chemistry and his unsuccessful teams had poor chemistry. The thought is intuitive and can be directly applied to the Rockets. In 2015, the Rockets had great chemistry. Last year? Not so much.
Morey responded to Billy Beane by posing the question: “Does winning cause chemistry or does chemistry cause winning?”
This year, without any Kardashians, locker room divides or coaching changes, the Rockets appear to have found something special.
Although team chemistry is one of the main factors in the Rockets’ 2017 success, Morey says that he will not shy away from acquiring more stars, staying consistent with his strategy of getting as much talent as possible.
“[Success] doesn’t change our fundamental philosophy,” Morey said. “If there was an extremely good player that we thought was a good fit for James, we’re always going to add that player,.”
Morey also said that decisions regarding bringing in veterans and leaders has everything to do with “franchise phase.”
“When Yao and Tracy McGrady’s careers were over because of injury, we just desperately needed high-end talent,” he said. “Now that we’re in a good winning situation, the amount we spend on role players having good attitudes, being good locker room presences, is much higher.”