No one knew if it would work, but one else but Daryl Morey had the brains and the balls to pull off this offseason. With the Rockets’ season officially over, one thing is crystal clear: Morey knew exactly what he was doing.
Montrezl Harrell had a nice season on the Clippers, and Patrick Beverley I’m sure would have, if he were healthy. Who knows what will become of Sam Dekker’s NBA future. The Rockets won the Chris Paul trade so thoroughly, and Morey’s execution was so masterful, that many are envisioning him pulling off something similar for LeBron James this summer, while somehow still keeping Paul on the books.
Imagine any other GM doing that. Maybe Danny Ainge could. It’s a short list, and Morey invented it.
J.J. Redick had a great season in Philly, and the Rockets could have used his shooting, but Morey rightly chose to not extend Redick a fourth year in his offer — as Redick said recently on Bill Simmons’ podcast — and instead getting P.J. Tucker for the mid-level exception. Tucker was the Rockets’ most consistent player in the conference finals, and he’s in town on a steal of a contract for the next three years at $8 million per.
Luc Mbah a Moute signed a minimum deal and was a huge reason the Rockets won 65 regular season games. Who knows how differently the playoffs would have gone if he had two good shoulders.
That was just this one summer. Morey’s true genius has always lied in the big picture, and it took years to build to the moment where he could execute a CP3 master stroke. He not only signed Patrick Beverley when any other of the 29 NBA teams could have, but he signed him to a four-year, $25 million contract.
The next year, Beverley was named first-team all-defense and he became the centerpiece of the Paul trade ... along with Montrezl Harrell, drafted 35th overall. After a year developing in the G-League — which the Rockets were among the first teams to adopt, using it to success with Clint Capela, most notably (we’ll get to him) — Harrell became a productive NBA big, good enough that the Clippers didn’t miss a beat when he stepped into Blake Griffin’s role.
Trevor Ariza was signed when Daryl Morey smartly decided not to match the Dallas Mavericks’ poison pill offer sheet for Chandler Parsons, signing Trevor Ariza for 70 cents on the dollar. Ariza is a consummate, durable professional who, while he barfed up an 0-12 game in Game 7, was a huge cog in getting the Rockets to that moment. He put the rock in Rockets over the course of his four-year, $32 million contract.
Clint Capela was a skinny kid playing for a mid-level French team when Morey plucked him with the 25th pick. Rather than stay in Europe, Capela showed early on how fierce a competitor and worker he was, coming straight to Houston. After a year of double-doubles in the G-League, he contributed as a rookie in the Rockets’ first run to the Western Conference finals. As a sophomore, he outplayed Dwight Howard as his backup.
His third year, Capela teamed up with Nene in the renaissance season for the Brazilian big man, signed to a minimum contract, another shrewd Morey move.
Nene has been a steadying influence on and off the court for the Rockets, and the two years, $7.4 million left on his deal is either worth his veteran presence or the perfect size to grease the wheels in a summer or midseason trade.
But we all know what happened with the Swiss Roll. He blossomed into a bona fide stud, averaging a double-double, improving his free throw shooting, becoming one of the league’s best rim protectors and outplaying, thoroughly, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert in the playoffs. This summer, he is due a big raise, and you better believe Morey is comfortable paying it. The work ethic Capela has displayed is great, but his chemistry with the cornerstone of the franchise is the secret to his leap. He and James Harden have a magical connection on the pick-and-roll, and their interplay is the engine of an all-time great offense.
Ryan Anderson is the albatross in all this, one of Morey’s all-time optimistic moves, worth the four years and $80 million only in the best-case scenario. When Ryno has been healthy, he hasn’t been a $20 million player, but he’s been important and helpful. Here’s the thing: the health issues were well-known and well-publicized. Morey may be the best GM in the league, but he is only a man. To err is human.
Luckily, he erred at the same time as one of his finest moves, signing Eric Gordon to a fair contract in the summer of 2016 somehow. Gordon is the Rockets’ clear fourth-best player, and on some nights he’s been their best. He has embodied the best-case scenario, even with his occasional up and down play. He hit dagger threes in the Rockets’ last two playoff victories. He missed so many open ones that it’s hard not to have some rough images still in one’s mind, but he was irreplaceable on this team.
Which leads us to CP3, really the culmination of a decade of Morey’s work. He had always said the goal was to get as many superstars as possible. Dwight Howard was no longer a superstar after his debut season in Houston. Paul still is, although he is also aging and fragile.
But Chris Paul brought the last intangible the Rockets needed from a superstar, something neither Howard nor Harden possesses: an unbreakable will. Harden is the better player right now, but Paul is the better basketball mind, the better leader, the better competitor. The Rockets needed him so often in his first season in Houston that it becomes hard to imagine this team returning to sniff the promised land without him in the next one.
Morey isn’t a shoo-in for Executive of the Year, although he should be. Danny Ainge will give him stiff competition. I could go on for thousands of more words about Morey’s brilliant moves over the years — the world isn’t ready for Zhou Qi to develop — but the fact that he built the only credible contender for the Warriors this year without having a losing record for 13 years is astounding. The only other team with the same track record is the Spurs, literally used as the model organization in this sport and others.
Except the Rockets didn’t tank for Tim Duncan after David Robinson got injured. They got Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, whose bodies betrayed them, and whose salaries handcuffed the Rockets to the middle tier of the NBA. It took almost a decade to break through, until Morey pulled the most consequential NBA trade since the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol and ripped off back-to-back titles (I’m not counting the LeBron-to-Miami sign-and-trade).
He never got hardware for trading for James Harden. Masai Ujiri won that year with the Nuggets. That was the offseason he signed JaVale McGee to a four-year, $44 million contract after trading Nene to the Wizards for him.
I will take nothing away from Danny Ainge, who hired Brad Stevens, traded for Kyrie Irving, signed Gordon Hayward and Al Horford and drafted Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. His resume is great. He won Executive of the Year in 2008 for assembling the Boston Three Party.
But the Celitcs bottomed out to get to the point where they were the two-seed in a soft Eastern Conference, not a 65-win juggernaut. Morey built a juggernaut, and he didn’t need to start Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger at the same time.
He has a tall task ahead of him this summer, and very little is in Morey’s sole control. Maybe he will give CP3 a contract north of $200 million. It’s hard to know if that is a good move at the moment, but it would be a bitter pill to swallow knowing this may have been the healthiest he will be over the course of that contract.
Executive of the Year is the only award not voted on by the media, but by one’s peers. The last four years it has traded back and forth between Bob Myers and R.C. Buford.
Myers ALSO gave JaVale McGee a contract, paid Nick Young an inexplicable amount of money, and his team dipped severely in production and depth from last year. Buford and his team’s superstar might have an unmendable rift between them. They should be out of consideration. Ainge is Morey’s only true competition, but give Daryl the award he has long deserved.
In Morey We Trust. EOY 2018