Daryl Morey's Departure Leaves the Rockets in Quite a Bind
Daryl Morey has spent the last decade-plus in Houston proving he was the boldest decision-maker in the NBA. From the James Harden trade to the Chris Paul acquisition to the Russell Westbrook transaction, Morey was never afraid to swing big and swing hard. Some were home runs, some were whiffs of epic proportions. Such is life of a basketball general manager.
Now, his reign has come to an end. Adrian Wojnarowski reports Morey is stepping down in Houston after 13 years at the helm. Per ESPN:
"Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is stepping down, sources told ESPN. In the aftermath of Houston's elimination from the NBA's restart in Orlando, Florida, Morey approached owner Tilman Fertitta with the idea of leaving the job and the sides quietly worked through an exit agreement to conclude his 13 seasons running the franchise's basketball operations, sources said. Morey isn't ruling out a future return to the NBA on the team side, but he has become increasingly determined to explore what else might interest him professionally, sources said. Morey also saw an opportunity to spend time with two college-age children who are each taking a gap year academically during the coronavirus pandemic."
This is quite a surprise. While it was obvious substantial changes were coming to Houston after Mike D'Antoni decided to leave, Morey has been the lone constant for the modern iteration of the Rockets, regularly one of the best teams in the NBA but unable to take the final steps and win a title. Morey was the ideal combination of brash and smart when it came to his decisions. The Rockets might not be worse off without him in the building, but it's hard to imagine they'll be better for his departure.
This also means the Rockets are in a rather difficult position. Morey went all-in on the concepts he and D'Antoni agreed upon this year when they traded Clint Capela and abandoned any semblance of a standard NBA lineup, starting all guards and forwards with no traditional centers. They still have none on the roster. Given the strategy did not pay off with a ring, it's hard to imagine whoever is brought in as the next head coach will want to continue with it. But the way Houston's cap situation is and the current construction of the roster, it'll be hard to change in any substantial way.
Russell Westbrook is owed a hilarious amount of money over the next few seasons and will make $41 million next year. He did not prove to be a great fit in Houston because he's a very poor three-point shooter but believes he is a good one and jacks them up with little restraint. He's best with the ball in his hands, which would be all well and good if James Harden wasn't the exact same way. The two stars are surrounded by a good cast of three-and-D players, but the roster isn't very balanced and the current formula did not represent a big challenge for LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Frankly, Morey is the only person on the radar smart and creative enough to get them out of the jam they're in. This is a good-to-great regular season team and an average postseason team, which isn't going to get the job done with how much money Harden and Westbrook are making. In the span of one offseason (and a very unusual one at that), Houston has to re-balance their team with adequate big men and figure out exactly how Harden and Westbrook are going to play winning basketball together. They could explore trading one of those two, but again, Morey was the engineer and driving force behind Houston's blockbuster deals of years past. If anybody could do what he could, then someone would have. But Morey was unique in that regard in terms of the modern NBA landscape. Nobody swung bigger.
As a result of those swings, Houston is in a nearly-impossible situation right now. Yes, they have two elite NBA players, which is more than most other teams can say. But there's no easy solution to fix the issues the team had last year, and running it back does not seem promising. Do they blow it up? Do they do the unthinkable and trade Harden, the centerpiece of the organization for the last eight years? I have no idea. Morey probably did, but he's gone now. Someone else has to clean up the mess he created, and don't get it twisted: it is a mess. Even if this mess came with plenty of noteworthy accomplishments.