Daryl Morey’s reputation with casual fans — he’s the grand poobah of NBA analytics, the Nerd King, the guy who turbocharged the analytics-driven 3-point revolution in the NBA — is an oversimplification of a complex man.
His focus on the science — not just advanced basketball stats and market inefficiencies, but also behavioral science — both revolutionized the Rockets and the entire NBA. Teams do not build out rosters the same way they did 15 years ago, and Morey absolutely is at the heart of that change. However, all those statistics also reinforced what non-stat scouts have long said: He needed superstars to win big. Morey has always chased stars first and used stats to do it — nobody recognized the potential of James Harden before Morey did.
Many of Morey’s critics bring a hint of jealousy to the table, but there he does have a reputation among players and agents that has stuck: That he treats players like pawns. Like assets, not people. Of course, that too is an oversimplification, Morey cares about his players. But, the NBA is a cold business, and Morey knows it and plays it.
That leads to clashes — sometimes ugly clashes. Right now, Morey and his Philadelphia 76ers are waist-deep in a holdout and trade struggle with Ben Simmons and his representation at Klutch Sports, but that’s just the latest in a long line of run-ins.
Here’s a reminder of some of Morey’s past clashes, though this list is far from complete (no Kevin McHale and his wife, no Steve Kerr, and more).
Morey was on the morally just side here — the rights of the protestors in Hong Kong was a topic worth supporting — but he brought down the wrath of the entire Chinese government on the NBA. And, to hear Nets owner Joeseph Tsai tell it, the anger of the Chinese people. Morey’s singular, quickly-deleted Tweet in support of the protesters (for which he apologized) proved a huge financial blow to the NBA, in the $400 million range ultimately, and it kept the NBA off Chinese state television for close to a year. Ties between the NBA and China have resumed, but much like the governmental relationship between the USA and China, things are more tense and delicate now than they used to be.
This ties into the above note on China — the Lakers were in China for preseason games when Morey’s Tweet landed. That left the Lakers stuck in China, their game was quickly canceled, and Jared Dudley said there was a period when the players were not sure when they would get out of the country and home to their families. James said Morey “wasn’t educated” when he posted the Tweet.
Let me clear up the confusion. I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet. I’m not discussing the substance. Others can talk About that.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 15, 2019
My team and this league just went through a difficult week. I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others. And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen. Could have waited a week to send it.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 15, 2019
It wasn’t just that Morey traded Paul to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook — a dubious basketball decision, but one James Harden and Rockets ownership wanted, so he had no choice — but that he told Paul a couple of days prior that the trade was not happening. Then suddenly it happened.
“My initial reaction?” I was shocked,” Paul said later. “Truth be told, I just talked to Daryl a couple days before the trade and he said he wasn’t going to trade me. That’s funny because that is going to be the alert that pops up on everybody’s phone because nobody knows that. But what the hell, I just said it.”
His 10 games with the Rockets in 2018 proved to be the rock bottom of Anthony’s career — but not before Morey had spent the offseason hyping up Anthony and the fit with Harden and the Rockets (Morey had tried hard to recruit Anthony years before). It didn’t work on the court, and when Anthony told the story on ESPN’s First Take, Morey came off as very cold.
“He came in and basically said, ‘Look, your services are no longer needed. I was like, ‘What? Hold up. What the hell are you talking about? … You telling me I can’t make a nine-, 10-man rotation on this team?…
“When somebody in power that tells you that they no longer need your services … I’ve been utilizing my services for a long time. For you to tell me you don’t need that no more. I honestly felt that I was fired.”
That’s because he basically was fired.
The Mavericks owner took particular joy in poaching Chandler Parsons away from the Rockets back in 2014, saying that “all good business is personal.” Cuban was still steamed Dwight Howard had gone to Houston over Dallas the summer before. But there was also admiration in Cuban’s comments on the signing to a Dallas radio station.
“Oh, all good business is personal. Trust me, there’s nobody more competitive than me. Every bit of me wanted to kick [Morey’s] ass and I would have felt bad. Obviously they got Dwight Howard a couple of years ago. Yeah, I wanted to beat him. And that’s a compliment to him. Daryl is very smart. It was very much like a game of chess.”
Daryl Morey called White arguably the “worst first-round pick ever.” That was very unfair to White, who pushed for accommodations for mental-health conditions that Morey and the Rockets did not (and, in some cases, could not) comply with. This was a complex situation that required nuance and, instead, seemingly everyone involved was a stubborn a******.
However, Morey and the Rockets built up a narrative of rebellion and non-compliance around White, who never wore a Rockets jersey in a game. Of course, a lot of the mental-health policies that White wanted to see are now something every team around the league has, it just took other (more-established) players to raise the issue. White was ahead of the curve, and Morey did not recognize that trend.