The Rockets sent top-four-protected first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, a top-four-protected pick swap in 2021 and a top-10-protected pick swap in 2025 and Chris Paul to the Thunder. All for Russell Westbrook, an expensive 30-year-old guard reliant on athleticism.
“My basketball ops got maybe a little weak at the end,” Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said, “and I just said, ‘We’re doing this.'”
At that point, Morey looked like a general manager who’d enjoy an immediate boost in championship odds but wouldn’t be around as the bill came due years later.
Despite Morey signing a five-year extension just last year and Fertitta saying just last month Morey’s job is safe, Morey is continuing his tactic of conveying calm publicly despite underlying turbulence and is resigning.
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.
The Rockets are planning to promote executive vice president of basketball operations Rafael Stone to general manager, sources said.
Houston is also promoting Eli Witus to assistant general manager, sources said.
Morey did a fantastic job running basketball operations since taking over in 2007. A pioneer in analytics, Morey led Houston to at least .500 records in all 13 of his seasons in charge. He took over as the Yao Ming-Tracy McGrady era was winding down, maintained success with a collection of underrated role players then made an all-time great trade for James Harden. Since Morey, has made so many savvy moves to build around Harden (and, to be fair, fostered self-sabotaging culture of claiming victimhood). The Rockets peaked in the 2018 NBA Finals, when they came up just short against the juggernaut Warriors.
Stone takes over a team that is still ostensibly in championship contention around Harden.
But the Rockets now are old, capped out and short on draft picks.
Maybe this group – with Russell Westbrook, P.J. Tucker, Robert Covington, Eric Gordon and Danuel House – is already good enough to win a title. Maybe Houston needs only tinkering at the margins Stone is capable of making.
The pressure is on, though.
Harden entrusted Morey. At age 31, Harden could always decide his attempts to win with the Rockets have fallen short and he wants to try elsewhere.
Houston’s next mission is finishing its coaching search. That might have been a source of tension for Morey, who called keeping Mike D’Antoni the Rockets’ top offseason priority. D’Antoni left after a salary dispute.
Fertitta talked big about spending. But Houston always dodged the luxury tax, leaving Morey to creatively trim payroll and find value on the margins – all while Fertitta continued to insist he was willing to pay the luxury tax. Perhaps, that wore on Morey.
Maybe the China situation factored. Fertitta defended Morey, calling it such a disappointment the Rockets faced trouble for the tweet. Tensions have continued to calm. But Morey faced immense backlash, including from LeBron James. Morey still hasn’t spoken publicly about it. It’s easy to see situation taking a personal toll and Morey wishing to step away from such a scrutinized job.
If he ever wants to return to the NBA, he’ll be in high demand.