The Sports Bros.
The disappointing lockout state of the Houston Rockets: In more Morey we trust?
The NBA Draft is gone, the lockout has come and the Houston Rockets are still looking to improve a team that's been entirely mediocre over the past few seasons. They're in the hands of general manager Daryl Morey who has become a very polarizing figure amongst Houston sports fans.
When he first started, he made shrewd and somewhat innocuous decisions that turned out great — people loved him. "In Morey We Trust!" was born.
But recently, people are growing discouraged with his Moneyball tactics. We are not going to pretend that we know the ins and outs of the system Morey uses to evaluates players. (Nor will we pretend to have the same kind of access or time he does to do it, either.)
That being said, the Morey Way is that each player has a value based on advanced statistics — and you don't spend money on players that aren't worth it. The book The Extra 2%talks about the way the Tampa Bay Rays were able to add wins without adding money. That's not to say money can't buy wins — because it can — but in basketball where there's salary cap restrictions (which are likely to become even more severe after this lockout), it becomes a bit more difficult.
At the beginning of Morey's tenure, he was handcuffed with some injured stars with big contracts in Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. He managed to keep the team competitive with these guys on the bench. The downside, if you can call winning a downside, is that this means the Rockets always pick somewhere in the middle of the draft.
Rarely are there difference makers in the middle of the first round. The hope is that those players crack the rotation — but after this particular draft, there are a lot of questions about the future of the Rockets' selections.
In Morris we trust?
With their first pick, the Rockets took power forward Marcus Morris from Kansas. CultureMap's own Chris Baldwin stated in his draft day analysis that he thinks Houston got a steal at No. 14. Daryl Morey admitted in an interview on 1560 AM The Game that the Rockets considered trading to move up to the eighth overall pick to get Morris.
If that's true, Morey would agree that he got a great pick at 14. Morey also said in the same interview that had Marcus been taken at 13, the Rockets would have drafted his twin brother Markieff at 14.
This essentially screams to us that Morey is not done trading. After the lockout is over, he will be making moves.
We have no issue with Marcus Morris the player, but look at the resulting roster. Houston's left with a glut of power forwards that vacillate from the three to the four and to the two.
Who gets the minutes? There's Luis Scola, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson, all competing for the same minutes. This essentially screams to us that Morey is not done trading. After the lockout is over, he will be making moves.
In Motiejunas we trust?
With the next pick in the first round the Rockets traded up to number 20 to draft the Lithuanian Donatas Motiejunas. The good thing about him is that he's a 7-footer, but the knock on him is that he does the basketball equivalent of "taking plays off." People question his hustle. There are early comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki, but with Dirk being a Hall-of-Famer, that's getting really early.
At least he adds size for the future (Motiejunas is already planning to play in Italy during this lockout) and new Rockets coach Kevin McHale can really do good work with NBA big men.
The interesting part of the pick comes with the trade. To get to number 20, the Rockets traded their 23rd pick, their 38th (which they bought back for $1.5 million), Brad Miller and his contract for that pick and Minnesota point guard Jonny Flynn. With that trade, it's pretty interesting that Houston now owns four of the lottery picks from the 2009 draft: Hasheem Thabeet, Jonny Flynn, Jordan Hill and Terrence Williams.
None of these players has been particularly effective in the NBA, but they all have upside. We don't think all four players will pan out, but if at least one these players become a guy that consistently breaks into the rotation, it'd be a success.
The issue with Flynn is now that we have another jam at point guard for minutes. Kyle Lowry is the starter, no question. With his improved shot and toughness he could be an All-Star next season, but who gets the backup minutes?
Will Goran Dragic stick around and play (his contract was recently picked up), or will Flynn get the time? What does Morey do with Terrence Williams? There's just so many players at each position, minutes are going to be hard to come by.
Do the Rockets need a star?
The school of thinking is that in order to win the NBA championship you must have a star player. Morey gets criticized for not bringing the blue chip guy, but it's incredibly difficult to do that.
First, there are only a handful of NBA superstars; second, they all want to play together in a big city. This is how both the Big Three in Boston and Miami happened. How Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire ended up together on the Knicks. How Dwight Howard and Chris Paul will do it. You can bet that Morey will do everything he can to try and acquire one of those guys, but it's way easier said than done.
Because Morey can't count on a superstar, he has to constantly look to upgrade his team at every position. If he can add a few extra wins here and there, the Rockets could be headed to the playoffs soon, but we just can't see it happening until the roster is sorted out.
Houston has no NBA big man and too many guys that play the same position — but it does have a lot of assets.
Trade to Upgrade
Look for Morey to improve through trades — every single player on the Rockets is tradeable. Luis Scola is the first name that comes to mind. His offense is way above average, but his defense is shaky at best. He'd be a tremendous fit for a team that doesn't have Kevin Martin starting alongside him. Morris will be a better defender than Scola and Houston can find Scola's points on the bench.
We've always trusted and liked Daryl Morey, but he needs to start turning this team into a perennial playoff team or else the Rockets will be forced to make a change. We won't go so far as to say if he doesn't make the playoffs this year he'll be fired, but it will surely be discussed.
The longer the Rockets keep treading water, hoping for the seventh or eighth playoff spot, the more they pick in the middle of the first round, the sooner Morey's mandates will become maybes.