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.

Kevin Durant says he and Draymond Green have agreed to move on after spat

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Will Kevin Durant leave the Golden State Warriors in free agency this coming summer?

It’s entirely possible, and the big argument between Durant and fellow Warriors teammate Draymond Green last week led many to speculate that it might have an impact on the former’s pending free agency.

Both Green and Durant are back on the same floor for Golden State, and in a recent interview with Yahoo Sports Durant said that the row won’t have any effect on him choosing to stay or leave the Warriors.

Speaking with Yahoo’s Chris Haynes, Durant said that he understood Green’s personality and that he had decided not to let the dust-up affect him moving forward, presumably toward their ultimate goal of another championship.

Via Yahoo:

“I never really felt like it was a problem, because I know Dray and he says some crazy [expletive] out his mouth all the time,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “But on top of that, it was just that there was so much coming with it from the outside, and so much stuff that we have to answer now.”

“I was upset, but I know that I can’t hold on to something like this,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “I know that I’ve got to make a choice with myself, like how long are you going to be upset about this to the point where you’re going to let it affect what you do on the floor or how you approach the game? Once it gets there now, I got to make a grown-man decision and tell myself, ‘Look, man, no matter what, you still got to come to work every single day. It’s going to work out. It’s going to figure itself out.’ And I think everyone’s been handling it the best way they could and we’re just trying to move forward with it.”

All of Durant’s quotes are worth reading for more context on the biggest free agency of 2019. There’s a lot to unpack there, and if you have paid attention too much of what Durant has said in the past, it’s hard to put any weight on any comments given to Haynes in this instance.

Durant isn’t the most forthcoming person, and his angling when it comes to his career seems both clumsy and transparent at times. Durant could be seen mouthing what appeared to be an indication that he was going to leave the Warriors while on the floor against the Los Angeles Clippers, and we won’t get any direct comment on that anytime soon.

Durant did what he needed to do. He made public comments about how he is going to move forward from here on out so the Warriors can continue their run of dominance through the NBA. But short of signing a new contract (or both players holding a joint press conference where it’s clear from their faces that things are A-OK) everyone is going to assume there’s tension building under the surface with Golden State all season long.

Wizards fans are now wearing bags over their heads (PHOTO)

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The Washington Wizards are bad, and Tuesday night’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers won’t make up for that. John Wall‘s 30-point night won’t make up for that. Any kind of staid quotes from the coaches or players won’t make up for that.

The story is that this team just plain doesn’t like each other, and it’s hard to see how that will change enough to keep this core together. The Wizards front office is already taking calls for potential trades, and teams like the Charlotte Hornets are inquiring about stars like Bradley Beal.

Of course, fans in D.C. are not taking the news of the team’s pending separation lightly. As folks started to pour into the Capital One Arena on Tuesday, at least one fan showed up with the universal symbol of a vote of no confidence.

Via Twitter:

Washington beat Los Angeles, 125-118, but that won’t make up for the general malaise surrounding the franchise.

Given how long the Jimmy Butler Saga continued with the Minnesota Timberwolves, I don’t have any confidence in NBA teams to get trades done in a timely fashion anymore. But the tipping point seems to have been reached in our nation’s capital, and the Wizards will probably shake things up soon.

Watch Toronto’s Danny Green hit game-winning shot over Magic (VIDEO)

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The Orlando Magic gave the Toronto Raptors a bit of a scare on Tuesday night. After a close game and a late lead by the best team in the East, it was the Magic who appeared ready to snd things to overtime.

As things came to a head at the end of the fourth quarter, both teams found themselves gunning for the win as time wound down. The Raptors were up by two points when they missed a 3-point attempt by Kyle Lowry with 12 seconds to go.

The Magic grabbed the rebound and quickly called timeout. That allowed Orlando to reset themselves, resulting in an Evan Fournier bucket with just 2.3 seconds to go and the teams tied, 91-91.

Enter Danny Green.

Via Twitter:

Green hit the clutch shot with less than a full second to go, and the Magic were unable to score on a long-distance heave.

Late shot by Green helped the Raptors win, 93-91. Toronto moved to 14-4 on the year as they sit solidly in first place. Orlando is currently sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

Report: Sixers rookie Zhaire Smith has lost 20 pounds since allergic reaction incident

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The Philadelphia 76ers are still dealing with the apparent allergic reaction that rookie Zhaire Smith had to some kind of food material in the team facility. The team already knew that Smith had a peanut allergy, but it was revealed later that he also had a sesame allergy.

We were originally expecting Smith to see the floor again sometime in December. But now it looks like that timeline has been pushed back. According to the Ringer, Smith has lost 20 pounds since his allergic incident, and it’s not clear whether he will return this season.

Via the Ringer:

Several reports stemming from the November 9 background briefing mentioned that Smith had “lost weight” over the past month and a half, but I was told that he lost “upward of 20 pounds.” For someone who’s listed at 199 pounds on the team website, that’s significant. As is the difference between Smith not playing in 2018, as reported, and “being in danger” of not playing at all this season, which is how it was explained to me. I was also told that he had more than one procedure to address the issue, which is evidently what the Sixers meant by the fuzzy “additional medical treatment” line. (The team had no comment, according to a spokesperson.)

The Sixers are a curious source of medical drama. Point guard Markelle Fultz apparently will be seeing a shoulder specialist to further diagnose whatever issue he is having with his shooting stroke.

Even still, Philadelphia sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and they just traded for Jimmy Butler. The NBA is a weird league, so having a Eastern Conference Finals-hopeful squad with these types of issues — I suppose — shouldn’t surprise us by now.