Sunday, July 1, 2012

Daryl Morey Covets Middling Forwards, Not Dwight Howard

I’m pretty sick of the Daryl Morey love going on with NBA talking heads.  From Bill Simmons calling him Dork Elvis to all sabermetrically-inclined analysts wetting themselves over Morey’s work, I can’t take it anymore.

Two years ago on The Banter, I wrote this:

As the Rockets' season comes to yet another disappointing close tonight, I am left asking myself a potentially blasphemous question: is Daryl Morey overrated?

On a personal level, I am enamored with Morey. I have met him twice while attending his MIT Sports Analytics Conference (each of the last two years) and came away extremely impressed both times. He's approachable, well-spoken, and genuinely likeable in a Seth Rogen kind of way. Bill Simmons christened him "Dork Elvis" for his popularity among statheads.

Professionally, Morey is credited with revolutionizing player analysis by using quantitative analysis to greatly supplement his and his scouts' views. Many in the industry believe him to be one of the game's brightest managerial stars.

In a recent edition of his "NBA Future Power Rankings Column" (Insider access required), ESPN's Chad Ford ranked the Rockets 10th, based largely on the team's "management." In fact, of all 30 teams, he rated Houston second best in this category. Granted, this category takes into account more than just the GM, but Morey clearly steers this ship.

So, where's the problem?

Simple. The performance of a GM's team, not his academic credentials (Morey received his MBA from MIT), should do the talking, and in this case, I am not wowed. Despite inheriting a 52-win team, Morey's teams have won only one playoff series in his three years.

Let's look at Morey's history.

Less than two weeks into his new role as front office boss in Houston, Morey fired head coach Jeff Van Gundy on May 18, 2007 (after the team's third first-round exit in four seasons under JVG) and replaced him with Rick Adelman. Aside from JVG's disastrous 2005-6 season, these two coaches have had virtually identical success in Houston. A lateral move for the most part - although ESPN greatly benefited since JVG has proven to be a great TV commentator.

Under Adelman, in the 2007-8 season, the Rockets finished with the sixth best record in the Western Conference and lost to the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs.

In the 2008-9 season, they finished with the fifth best record in the Western Conference and beat the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs before succumbing to the Lakers in the second round.

This year, they will not make the playoffs.

Morey might not have an open checkbook, but over the last three years, Houston has been in the top half of the NBA in terms of dollars spent on salary. Now, I understand injuries have played a role as Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady have missed significant time over the last three years for a variety of ailments. But again, the mark of success in the NBA lies in a team's performance, namely its playoff performance, and Morey's squads have failed in this regard.

Has he made good moves (his draft history includes the likes of Aaron Brooks and Carl Landry)? Yes.

Has he made great moves (ripping off the Knicks and Kings at the 2010 trade deadline)? Absolutely.

In the end though, just because a General Manager uses numbers in an innovative way, hires a dozen interns, and gets a nickname from a famous sportswriter, it does not make him great at his job.

Bottom Line: Morey might turn out to be one of the game's all-time greats. Unfortunately, thus far, the team has not markedly improved since he took over three years ago. Until that happens and the team makes at least one deep run in the postseason, I believe it is premature to call him one of the game's best.


What has changed since then?

Aside from the Rockets missing the playoffs twice more, not much.  Just about everything I wrote still rings true.

What I didn’t realize then was that Morey was also a hoarder of middling power forwards.

Jared Jeffries, Brian Cook, Carl Landry, Jordan Hill, Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Chuck Hayes, the list goes on.

His appetite is insatiable. How else do you explain trading for Jon Brockman and Jon Leuer?  Really, does anyone expect this Howard deal to go through?  I think Morey would be thrilled starting five of the guys I just mentioned.  

He’s not trying to trade for Dwight Howard.  He’s going to keep the 12th, 16th, and 18th picks so he can grab Andrew Nicholson, Arnett Moultrie, and Jared Sullinger.

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