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Thursday February 26, 2009 0:46 AM

Q & A With Daryl Morey


Rockets GM discusses trades, sleep deprivation, LeBron and more

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer

Houston - Every couple weeks, Rockets.com sits down with general manager Daryl Morey to get his thoughts on everything Rockets-related. If you've got a question for the GM, send it to us (email link at bottom) and we'll try to get it answered next time.

JCF: Well, first of all, I guess we might as well get it out of the way; I’d like to address the elephant in the room…

DM: There’s an elephant in the room? I didn’t know we had one. Pink or gray?

JCF: I’ll let you decide after I ask the question: Is it too soon to say that the Kyle Lowry deal was the greatest trade in NBA history? I feel like people are really sleeping on this story... 

DM: (laughs) Uh, yes. Yes it is.

JCF: Understated eloquence. I like that.  

DM: Yeah, it is too early to decide if it’s any good (laughs).

JCF: Of course. But on a serious note, I do want to ask about how that deal evolved and hear a little about its background. I assume it didn’t start out as a three-way deal... 

DM: It is rare to get a pure three-way deal. There are a lot of three-way deals, but they’re usually like our Bobby Jackson deal last year where it’s like, ‘We’ve got a deal, and I’ve got to get rid of this one guy, so where do I send him to make it work?’

But this was a pure three-way. Lowry has always been a guy we’ve targeted. We didn’t really have the first round pick that Memphis wanted. It was a tough deal to bring together because, while we had a sense of what maybe Memphis would want for Lowry, we didn’t have a sense for what Orlando was willing to give up for either Lowry or Rafer.

We did not know they were willing to give up a first round pick until the morning of the trade deadline. They were obviously hoping to give up less just like we are always trying to maximize our position in a trade. Meanwhile, Orlando and Memphis were looking at doing a deal directly moving Lowry to Orlando. It came together once Orlando was clear about what they were willing to do. In the end, Orlando appeared to strongly prefer the Rafer three-way and was willing to give up the first for that deal, but maybe not the direct Memphis deal.

So it came together at the last minute because there were details of other pieces in the trade, like the three other players who were in it, and each team tried to extract more value, whether in terms of picks or where contracts would end up. Once the deadline got close, it ended up finalizing in the pretty simple form that it ended up being as each team wanted the deal and all were not willing to add any more value.

JCF: When you make a deal like that, is there an element of fear or doubt as you’re pulling the trigger?

DM: There’s no certainty, but I wouldn’t call it fear or doubt, I’d call it risk. There’s some risk to every move, obviously. I think the youth of Kyle, and also his playing time in Memphis - and why he didn’t get more playing time - is an example of one risk factor, and that has to factor into the decision. So there is a lot of risk that you take on, but I think we ended up believing in our evaluation and you could easily talk through why Memphis didn’t play him, which had to do with reasons that did not necessarily have to do with his ability.

But focusing on that risk is how you end up with good deals because you make sure you can at least understand all the questions, chase them down as much as possible and then at some point you have to say, ‘Alright, I’m willing to take a certain amount of risk for questions I can’t answer.’

So we’ll see. I mean, we’re three games in, it is still very early at this point. We think it was a good calculated risk, but we won’t know until, frankly, a few years. That’s usually how these things go.

JCF: How much sleep do you get the week leading up to the deadline?

DM: (laughs) That week? Man, that was crazy.

JCF: I know there was more going on that just the trade deadline, of course…

DM: No, I pretty much focus in on that because it’s the most important thing. So you try and focus on that big rock and let the other sand fall where it may.

But it’s not just me; our staff is ridiculous and does such a great job. They all got less sleep than me. It ended up being a pretty straightforward deal, but for that one deal we’re talking about hundreds of potential things, of which maybe tens were discussed seriously.

The worst one, though, was going to bed at 7 AM and getting up at 10 AM. But the one advantage we have is that no one in the league really starts calling anybody until noon, so that gives you a little window to sleep without missing any calls. That’s prior to deadline day, of course. On that day, the calls start coming in around 8 AM.

JCF: So during those wee hours, the time between, say, midnight to 5 AM, what are you doing? I assume you’re not on the phone with other GMs, so are you just on your trade machine maniacally laughing while you’re contemplating different deals?

DM: Well we do have THE trade machine (Sachin Gupta), so we don’t need anyone else (laughs). No, we’re preparing a briefing for Mr. Alexander each morning, so we can show him the things being talked about, just to make sure he understands which ones we recommend and which ones we don’t and why. So there’s some effort to get that done.

There’s also some effort on the deals that are close to watch video of the potential players involved. Our video room does a great job slicing up video. I mean, you can’t explore every player, so you have to wait until things look like they have a chance and then you can dive in on the video to watch their recent and past play, and their play in certain situations; again, just so you can get to your recommendation in the morning for Mr. Alexander.

There’s also just a lot of idea generation like, ‘Hey, they called and said they wanted this guy, but maybe they’ll take that guy.’ It’s very project-based, where we try to look at every possible scenario involving this or that player. If the deal won’t work in a two-way, you look for every possible three-way. It’s all to generate a call-list so, around noon when everyone in the league starts to be by their phones, you’re ready to make all the calls.

JCF: Do you ever have any of those stereotypical moments when you’re just so run down from fatigue that you fall asleep on your laptop or desk or something like that?

DM: You mean where you fall in your oatmeal, or whatever (laughs)? No, there’s a lot of adrenaline. I did have that happen when I was with the Celtics once. I was there late and no one woke me up when I fell asleep in a chair. But at the Celtics they didn’t like me as much, so they let me snooze away and made fun of me (laughs). Here, they would wake me up if I did that, or at least I think they would...

JCF: How much did you have to sell this deal to Mr. Alexander? Was he on board from the beginning or did you have to do some convincing?

DM: I think every deal we try to explain our reasons and he generally, if we’re recommending it, he’s going to go with it. He asks very smart questions and, if we have good answers – which it’s our job to have – things usually go pretty smoothly.

JCF: I’m sure as part of your job you have fans who come up to you and suggest trades all the time – Have you ever had a situation where a fan suggests a trade to you which you hadn’t previously thought of and you think…

DM: Oh, that happens all the time.

JCF: Really? I would think you go through so many different scenarios…

DM: Well you asked if I hadn’t thought of them. Some of them are so crazy I hadn’t thought of them.

JCF: Right, but not just that you hadn’t thought of them…

DM: Well that was your question so I just answered it (laughs). ‘ Yao for…’ you know.

JCF: OK, well what I meant was not just that you hadn’t thought of them, but that, upon hearing the suggestion, you think to yourself, ‘Hmmm, that’s not a bad idea. Maybe I should look into that a little more.’

DM: We have a lot of great fans, but especially at season ticket holder events where we’ve got people who watch nearly 40 games a year, they know our team better than other GMs. Honestly. So they’ll sort of have the germ of an idea like, ‘Hey, what about X,’ and even if that’s not the right thing, sometimes it will spur a thought like, ‘Well, we should look at all other things like that, even if that one doesn’t work.’

So season ticket holders who watch a lot of games can happily give me suggestions. So can everyone else, but I’ll just listen more to the season ticket holders (laughs).

JCF: Well played. Hey, point of clarification: Do you still have part of your midlevel exception remaining that you potentially spend on a free agent this season if you so desired?

DM: We have all of it but Joey’s salary – so $800 grand or whatever – so we’ve got a lot left. But we are constrained by the luxury tax; that’s our constraint, not the midlevel.

JCF: So more than likely, then, this is the roster you’re going to have…

DM: Well even if there were someone we wanted, Coach Adelman feels strongly that - with maybe some minor exceptions - in terms of big players, he wants roster stability. He thinks that’s been a big reason why we haven’t played as well as we could have. Not that we’ve played poorly, given our adversity, but he does think of that as a factor in terms of why we’ve struggled defensively and why we’ve struggled against bad teams.

JCF: How are Joey Dorsey and Luther coming along? Joey told me a couple weeks ago that he was done for the year, but I wasn’t sure if that was a done deal or not.

DM: Yeah, I’d say that’s likely. There’s an outside chance that he might get some D-League games in, but I think with the plantar fasciitis, it’s generally smart advice to play it safe.

Luther, I think he’ll might be back Thursday. Obviously, Coach has a few guys ahead of him, so it’s going to be hard to get out there right now.

JCF: I also want to talk a bit about the Sloan Sports Analytics conference you’ve got coming up here. I was looking at your guest speaker list and it’s incredible this year – not that it hasn’t been in the past…

DM: Yeah, what are you saying?

JCF: That I’ve never been interested in it until this year (laughs). No, you know what I mean.

DM: Yeah, it’s in our third year and it’s really grown. My co-chair, Jessica Gelman, does a great job and so do our student leaders. We have over 400 people signed up. Mark Cuban is going to be there, Jonathan Kraft from the Pats, Jeff Van Gundy, Bill Simmons, Adam Silver (NBA Deputy Commissioner), Ray Allen… It has been a great place to find employees and interns.

Also, it’s important to stay on the cutting edge of what people are doing in other sports. It is a multi-sport conference. We can’t do a lot of sharing with other basketball teams because of competitive reasons, but we can do a lot of cross-sport sharing, and it turns out they can help us and we can help them – more with ideas than specifics.

JCF: Last question. Cleveland is up next – Is LeBron the best player in the NBA?

DM: (laughs) Andre Ware asks me that every week. Yes, he’s the best player in the league – by a good margin, I think. If you had first pick in the all-free agent NBA draft, you’d take LeBron James. I get that question a lot, too, so I figured I’d answer that as well.

He’s unbelievable. We have two of the best perimeter defenders in the league and it is going to be extremely difficult for both. They’re going to give it their all but, more than anyone, he’s a tough guard. There’s a reason the [Michael Lewis] article is about Kobe, not LeBron (laughs).

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