Daryl Morey

The Inbounds: Daryl Morey and the point of no return

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

Someone asked me two weeks ago why it was that everyone thought Daryl Morey was so good at his job. His team hasn’t made the playoffs in several years, they haven’t been a title contender since injuries wrecked the team in 2009. And all their players are so “eh.” Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, Chase Budinger, Chandler Parsons, on and on and on.

Here was what I said, and it remains true.

“He manages to come out ahead on nearly every deal he executes. He drafts smart for his position, he just hasn’t landed one of those shocker ‘way better than expected’ guys because they’re really difficult to lock down. He takes advantage of teams desperate for position, like the Knicks clearing cap space for the 2010 summer. And when the players he brings in play to the very extent of their ceiling, in large part because of the position that his team has put them in, like with Carl Landry, he tends to bid them a fond farewell instead of desperately trying to hang onto players who are replaceable. That doesn’t happen a lot in this league.”

And then I told that person, “He’s made his share of mistakes, but more than anything, it seems like all these other moves he understand aren’t what building a team is about.”

Morey has publicly said for years that stars win in this league and that the Rockets have to acquire one. When Yao Ming was forced out, that became Morey’s biggest objective.

Here’s the problem, and it’s a big one with how fans tend to perceive management.

Getting a superstar is unlike anything else in the sport. You can manage your cap, clear the books, find supporting players, build a winning culture, overhaul your facilities, bring in a star coach, do everything. And it can still not work out. Because superstars are, in large part, cuckoo for Cocoa-Puffs. You have to make them happy, you have to woo them, you have to have them like the city, and like the idea of the city and the team, and the idea of the team. It’s cooler to play for the Heat than the Rockets. It’s cooler to play for the Knicks than the Rockets. Now, it’s cooler to play for the Rockets than the Bucks, which is a shame, because the Bucks have actually routinely put together good cheap supporting cast and Milwaukee would go bonkers for them if they were good. But that problem exists.

The biggest critics of Morey tend to emanate from the West Coast, usually Lakers fans or media, based off the insulting notion that Shane Battier was a good defender of Kobe Bryant, despite the fact that both Battier and the story that detailed his success repeatedly noted that Bryant lights him up anyway, because he’s Kobe Bryant. But one dares not approach the throne, apparently, and there’s been a significant bitterness towards Morey and the whiz kid label. A common question asked is “How can he be so good if he’s never landed a star?” And the truth is that Los Angeles is magnetic for NBA players. Warm weather, lavish parties, fun things to do, high profile fame, a rabid fanbase, a historically awesome and relevant team, Jack at courtside, and an owner willing to spend to win. Trying to convince a player to play for the Lakers is not difficult.

(This in no way should diminish the work that Mitch Kupchak has done since 2008, acquiring Pau Gasol for peanuts and the promise of Marc Gasol, bringing in Ron Artest, letting Trevor Ariza walk to make more money than at value for someone else, drafting talented role players, managing the roster and understanding when to leverage picks for assets. The point is simply that luring stars to L.A. is not exactly the hardest fish to catch.)

So we return to Morey, who after repeated attempts just to get free agents to come in for a visit, just to see the market size of Houston, to see the amount of money that Rockets ownership has invested in the team and its facilities, finally started turning an eye to a superstar. Morey was faced with a difficult decision. He could tank out to try and draft a superstar, or he could go the other path. Win now, and be in a position to win later.

Rockets fans may have been frustrated by the mediocrity of the team over the past four years, but they also have not suffered through miserable failure after miserable failure. They’ve had a team they could track in the playoff standings, players they could get excited about, a team that was good, just not great, and certainly not a title contender. It was fun to watch at times, while never being dominant. What it did have was good players on movable contracts, extra draft picks, flexibility to absorb salary, and rookies. And forwards. Lots of forwards.

You can’t force a superstar to join your team unless you draft him, and that requires both a phenomenal risk in winding up as a team that misses in the lottery, sometimes repeated years, and for that player to actually live up to billing. You either have to woo them in free agency or swing for a trade and then try and make it work. And for years, Morey has delicately balanced the boat on dangerous waters, never giving up so much that the team would be wrecked while always keeping a team with good players on manageable contracts. That’s a dangerous and difficult place to keep the ship, but he’s done it. It doesn’t win you points with fans or the media, though and at the end of the day, it doesn’t win you enough games.

So Morey has finally crossed the threshold. It’s a point of no return for the Rockets.

Lowry, liquidated for a draft pick.

Dragic: dislodged for cap room to absorb salary.

Scola: amnestied for cap room to allow salary.

Lin: Overpaid for to ensure a quality sidekick.

Budinger: Sent packing to make room.

Royce White, Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones: Look who Morey drafted. No safe picks there. All high upside guys with great conditioning, no injury concerns, loved by scouts and GM’s in workouts and high caliber players. Morey didn’t draft for need, he specifically drafted the players best used for packaging.

Omer Asik: Yeah, no one really knows what the idea behind that is, and it’s hard to see where they’re going with this. Everything can’t make sense, this is the NBA.

Want to know how you know the Rockets will be bad next year if they don’t get Dwight Howard? Every hardcore NBA fan is really excited about watching the team. Lin, with Lamb, Kevin Martin, Parsons, Jones and White, and Asik? That’s a crazy fun, quirky, insane little team. That will probably in all likelihood not make the playoffs. Entertaining and good are very rarely the same. (Oh, hey there, Celtics.)

Morey has pointed everything the Magic’s way. You want draft picks? You got ’em. You want young players? Sure thing, got all the athletic forwards you could want. Want to dump salary? Lots of room here, provided you take Kevin Martin or some of our other spare parts! Morey has done everything but sent Rob Hennigan personalized luggage. And I’m sure that’s coming in the mail.

Here’s the kicker. Morey has had to extend himself so far in this pursuit, that he could wind up in the worst of both worlds. What if the Magic have to surrender the young players, the picks, take on the salary, and wind up with Howard, but the rest of the team isn’t good enough? Howard departs in free agency (a bluff but not one he’s incapable of actually following through with), and the Rockets are out draft picks, have a bloated salary structure with aging players on long-term contracts, no stars, no young talent besides Lin and maybe one other player, and no Howard. It would be like dropping an atomic bomb on the franchise. But that’s the risk that Morey may have to take to get a star. That’s how difficult it is.

And if it doesn’t? They could be bad, and maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing. A young, bad team, with potential that’s fun to watch, that could land in the top eight or so of the lottery, and potentially walk away with Noel or Muhammad in the lottery. That would set the team up. Not getting Howard could be a good thing. But either way, Morey has finally crossed that line. Time to be the whiz kid or get off the pot, so to speak.

Dwight Howard or bust.

This is the life of the NBA executive, and why championship teams are at once so self-evident and so complicated to assemble.

Report: Victor Oladipo seeking max contract extension from Thunder

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 22:  Victor Oladipo waits for a free throw during the game against the Charlotte Hornets at Amway Center on January 22, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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The Thunder dealt with the Magic to get Victor Oladipo.

Now, it’s time to negotiate with Oladipo, who’s eligible for a rookie-scale contract extension.

How much does he want?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

(for now) seeking the maximum salary, sources say.

Why shouldn’t he?

C.J. McCollum just got a max extension, and while I’d prefer McCollum over Oladipo, their value is comparable. McCollum is a superior shooter, but Oladipo is more advanced defensively. Two factors working in McCollum’s favor — youth and a shortage of good shooting guards in the NBA — also apply to Oladipo.

Perhaps, the max rules kept McCollum from earning more. Even if he’s not quite as valuable as McCollum, Oladipo still might deserve the max. That’s a pitfall (feature?) of the system.

But a difference between the Trail Blazers’ and Thunder’s cap outlooks could be key.

If he doesn’t sign an extension, Oladipo will count $13,105,921 against the cap to begin next offseason. Oklahoma City can hold him at that number, use its other cap space then exceed the cap to re-sign him with Bird Rights.

If he signs an extension, he’ll count all offseason at his 2017-18 salary — which is projected to have a max of about $24 million.

Because Oklahoma City is more likely than Portland to have 2017 cap space, that difference matters considerably. The Thunder could use an extra $11 million of flexibility, especially as they handle Russell Westbrook‘s free agency.

Oladipo almost certainly won’t sign an extension that starts at less than his $13,105,921 cap hold. So, any extension will cut into the Thunder’s 2017 space. But he could take enough of a discount to make it worth their while over the life of the deal.

There’s plenty of time for compromise. Oladipo’s extension deadline is Oct. 31.

For now, Oladipo should keep asking for the biggest payday.

Report: Warriors center Anderson Varejao likely out for Olympics

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Dan Clark #13 of Great Britain shoots over Anderson Varejao #11 of Brazil in the Men's Basketball Preliminary Round match between Great Britain and Brazil on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Basketball Arena on July 31, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Warriors center Anderson Varejao left his native Brazil to have his back examined in the United States before the Rio Olympics.

The prognosis doesn’t sound good.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

That’s a bummer for Varejao, who was clearly looking forward to playing in his home Olympics. At least Brazil still has plenty of talent — including Nene, Leandro Barbosa, Raul Neto and Marcelo Huertas — to compete for a medal.

The Warriors certainly hope Varejao heals in time for the season. They might have to depend on him to back up Zaza Pachulia if rookie Damian Jones isn’t ready and they want to limit the pounding Draymond Green takes at center.

Rudy Gay: Kings aren’t handling trade rumors right way

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 03:  Rudy Gay #8 of the Sacramento Kings during the first half at American Airlines Center on March 3, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Rudy Gay has come up again and again in trade rumors.

The Kings forward doesn’t seem thrilled with that.

Gay, in a Q&A with Blake Ellington of Sactown Royalty:

You mentioned people are wondering if you are going to be here next season. I imagine you are like most of the guys in the league and try not to pay attention to that stuff, but do you pay attention to trade rumors and does it bother you?

I mean it’s been pretty loud as of late so it’s hard not to pay attention to it. I think it just goes to, I don’t know, I think there’s always ways to do things and in this situation I don’t think it’s going about the right way. No matter what your intentions to do with your players, I would think the first thing you want to do is make sure people are happy with what you are doing. That hasn’t been the case.

So you haven’t had much communication with the franchise as far as your future?

No, I haven’t. I’ve had communication, but not the kind of communication that I would say I like.

If you had your ideal communication situation, what would you like to hear from the franchise?

You don’t want to hear things on the internet, on Twitter. You would like to hear it from out of the horse’s mouth. Just be upfront with people, that’s all you have to do.

Toward the end of the last couple of seasons you have made it clear you don’t think the franchise has a direction. I assume you still feel that way. What do you think the direction of the team is right now?

I have no idea. I suit up and give it my all. That’s all I can do in this situation, that’s all you can do. Go out there and play as much as you can. Obviously, we don’t have anything to really build on. We have a new coach. I think that’s the only thing we can really build on. New coach and seeing how it plays out.

Remember, this is only Gay’s side of the story. The Kings might have a different point of view.

But after repeatedly putting players in unfavorable positions, Sacramento probably doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Beyond communication issues, the Kings are likely having a tough time dealing Gay. He’s owed $13,333,333 this season and has a $14,263,566 player option for 2017-18. That’s not egregious, but it’s also not great value for someone who perpetually produces short of his athletic capabilities. Gay having Achilles surgery this offseason — revealed in the same interview — doesn’t help. He’ll turn 30 next month.

Sacramento, trying to win a reasonable amount as it opens a new arena, probably isn’t ready just to dump Gay and turn the small forward position over to Omri Casspi and Matt Barnes. Even if he’s just an average player, Gay can still help.

This is clearly an imperfect partnership between Gay and the Kings. But both sides might have to endure a little longer.

Sacramento — if nothing else, for the sake of its own reputation — should probably do more so Gay doesn’t feel like staying is such a burden.

Hornets sign undrafted Virginia center Mike Tobey

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 27:  Mike Tobey #10 of the Virginia Cavaliers celebrates in the second half against the Syracuse Orange during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional Final at United Center on March 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Hornets are plenty deep at center with Cody Zeller, Roy Hibbert, Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky.

Just in case…

Hornets release:

Charlotte Hornets General Manager Rich Cho announced today that the team has signed center Mike Tobey.

Tobey went undrafted after four seasons at Virginia then played well for the Hornets’ summer-league team. He’s a good offensive rebounder, and he has some touch with the ball. But his lack of length and athleticism really limit him.

There’s an outside chance Tobey competes with Aaron Harrison, whose salary is unguaranteed, for Charlotte’s final regular-season roster spot. Tobey’s standing and the Hornets’ center depth will work against him.

Most likely, this is just a way for Charlotte to stock its new D-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm. The Hornets can waive Tobey after training camp and assign his D-League rights to the Swarm. A partial guarantee on his NBA contract would probably entice him to join the D-League rather than play overseas.