So often we toss around terms like genius and savant without stopping to check the accuracy of such hyperbolic qualifying nouns. We take brilliant men and women and put them on a pedestal without continuing to make sure their performance in a given field matches the effusive praise. Incidentally, the popular conception of Rockets general manager Daryl Morey as a team-builder of the highest order has only recently started to be questioned.
Earlier this week, in a somewhat salacious piece published on Medium.com, T.D. Williams made the argument that Morey’s savvy as Houston Rockets’ GM has been breathlessly overstated the past few years despite the fact that the Rockets have not been in a position to truly contend for a championship.
Here’s more from Williams:
“Will the heretofore fawning media finally begin to scrutinize Morey’s bonafides as a GM who can build a legitimate title contender? Seven seasons, countless fluff pieces, and annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conferences later, will someone with public sway finally confront the Daryl Morey conundrum: the most-celebrated, highest-profile general manager in recent history hasn’t actually won anything.”
As Williams goes on to catalogue in his piece, Morey has made splashy moves the past two off-seasons that have been good for marketing, good for the Houston fan base, and just good enough to keep the Rockets in playoff position while avoiding a painful and non-lucrative rebuilding process that so many other franchises have suffered through lately in an effort to revamp their rosters.
He deserves a certain amount of credit for this, but it also points to the ever-evolving question of how we measure success in the modern NBA. After all, there is a yawning chasm between being competitive and being a contender, and only a small handful of teams in either conference qualify as legitimate contenders.
For Morey and the Rockets, who have adamantly shunned conventional wisdom when it comes to the rebuilding process, the level of scrutiny Williams is calling for is absolutely warranted, and through a particular lens, it’s difficult not to see the Rockets’ first-round exit to the upstart Blazers last spring as a categorical failure.
To put it into perspective, Dwight Howard won precisely two more playoff games in his first year with the Rockets than he did in his lone, nightmarish season with the Lakers; although, he seemed to have a lot more fun doing it, which as we’ve learned, is apparently what’s most important to him.
Luring Jeremy Lin away from the Knicks hot off the heels of Linsanity and stealing James Harden from the Thunder two summers ago were both major coups for Morey and the Rockets, as was last summer’s aforementioned signing of Howard, but two consecutive early-round playoff exits have left Houston searching for answers.
A star-studded free-agency period this summer was supposed to bolster their chances of moving up the echelon of true title contenders in the Western Conference, but Morey and the Rockets were ultimately spurned by every big name available and sent home empty-handed.
LeBron James was never a realistic get, but for a while, it looked like Morey had a slugger’s chance at landing Carmelo Anthony, so much so that he even prematurely gave ‘Melo his former teammates’ (Lin’s) uniform number in what quickly became an embarrassing flub.
As it turned out, an extra $30 million was (shockingly) too much for ‘Melo to leave on the table in New York, but even if he had agreed to sign with the Rockets, he would have been a dubious fit at best. Sure, ‘Melo would have brought with him a windfall of additional marketing revenue – which history has shown to be high on the list of Morey’s priorities – but pairing him up with two other ball-dominant superstars would have caused all sorts of logistical issues for a Rockets team that already relied too heavily on offensive output.
With Howard’s defensive prowess waning, and Harden practically escorting his defensive assignments into the paint for easy buckets, what the Rockets really need is a two-way player, and it made a lot more sense for Morey and the Rockets to shift their focus over to plan B, i.e. convincing another high-profile free agent, Chris Bosh, to walk away from the rubble in Miami and hitch his wagon to a rising star. But Bosh decided he’d rather be a max contract player and the default number one option in the post-LeBron era in Miami.