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Thursday April 15, 2010 2:37 PM

Daryl Morey Meets With The Media


Rockets' GM discusses state of the team following end of the regular season

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - Rockets’ General manager Daryl Morey met with the media Thursday to discuss the state of the team following the recently completed regular season. What follows are the talking points touched upon during a press conference which primarily centered upon the return of Yao Ming, the upcoming free agency period and what the team needs to do to return to the ranks of the NBA’s elite.

Opening statement: Credit to Coach Adelman and his staff and the players for changing the style of play in a major way. I think if you look back two years ago to this year, you probably wouldn’t recognize the teams in terms of (style of play). We did what we had to do to get the wins we got and we feel like a lot of what we learned this year will carry over to next year when we get Yao Ming back. We’re very excited to add an All-Star to our roster which won 42 (games) and we’re going to be aggressive to try to do even better than just bringing Yao back. But we do feel if we just bring Yao Ming back we’ll still be a very good team next year.

On bringing Scola and Lowry back (both are restricted free agents this summer): They’re going to be back. Mr. Alexander said we’ve got all the resources. When we made the trade at the deadline and walked him through it, we said this might be a year where we go above where we’ve been before in terms of financial commitment and he felt like what we were getting in the trade (was worth it). Kyle and Luis are two of his favorite players on the team – for the obvious reasons that they help us win and they’re both hard working guys – and we’re going to have them back… Mr. Alexander said we’re keeping them no matter what.

On upgrading the team this summer: Even though we’re proud of a lot of what we accomplished this year, we weren’t a playoff team and we do feel like we’re short of having the roster to compete at the highest level. We feel like we need to be aggressive. I think a lot of teams make mistakes where they try to do everything in the offseason prior to the season and then they lose their flexibility to upgrade their team during the year. So it may not necessarily be something that happens during the offseason, it could be that Yao Ming is our big acquisition during the offseason plus maybe some minor free agent pick-ups. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be constantly looking at (more high-profile) free agents.

On roster upgrades versus roster stability: I do think stability helps you 100 percent. I think it helps you defensively and I think it helps you overall when you’ve got the right group. That said, if there’s something compelling that can upgrade the team I think we do have to look at it and we will be active at the start of free agency. We’ll give of course our A-plus effort to try and upgrade the team there. We feel pretty good about our chances.

There’s obviously players in this league – and I can’t mention them – that any team would want to add. And if we can somehow get them, we will, and if not we do feel good about this group. We’re bringing more guaranteed contract players than probably any team in the league.

On areas hoping to upgrade the most: With Yao Ming back next year, it is a situation where early on he’s not going to come out playing 40 minutes the first night. So we do feel at the big spot, even with Luis, even with Yao Ming, even with the guys who have potential like Jordan Hill and even guys we have a lot of faith in like Chuck Hayes and with depth like David Andersen, I do feel like there’s the potential to add someone there who could play maybe more minutes than you might expect early because I think Yao Ming is going to have to work his way back in to playing high minutes. Obviously the draft is a time when a lot of changes happen in the league but I think during the free agency period bigs will be more of a priority.

I think there’s, overall, more quality players who are free agents this year but it’s a dynamic league so everybody’s competing for that. I think I mentioned at the trade deadline how 8 teams are clearly trying to add top players and we think there’s probably 5 (top players available) and a lot of the 8 teams are trying to get two of (those top players). So there’s going to be a lot of competition which is why we sort of made our free agent move early when we added Kevin Martin. So that was our move early. That doesn’t mean we won’t be pursuing folks in July, we definitely will and I’m sure I’ll be on someone’s doorstep June 30th.

I think we’re looking for a quality big. We’ve got guys who can flex between positions. Luis Scola, Jordan Hill, Chuck Hayes and David Andersen can play the four or the five. So we feel like we can add either spot, we’re just looking for a quality big.

I’ve focused a lot on the bigs in free agency but I will say this: at the highest level we’re looking for just highly talented players because we feel we’ve got a roster full of very good, bordering on great, players. But we are short of those elite players that are important in this league as well.

On Yao Ming’s progress and the minutes he can play next year: I don’t know. I think for sure by playoff time we think he can be 100 percent back, which is the most important time, obviously. He can be back to where he was last year when he was playing at a high level. What his exact ramp-up will be, I don’t think anybody knows exactly how that will happen.

Yao is on schedule with the doctors. I think he’s at two-thirds of his body weight on the treadmill. Each week it ramps up a little bit and each week he’s responded great so we expect him to be back at the start of the preseason. If it’s not exactly that, we’re OK with it. Again, we’re focused on having him in the playoffs next year and clearly we’d like to have him for a large (percentage), if not all of the regular season as well.

On gauging the defense going forward: I mean we’ve got a lot of good excuses for why our defense went down but the bottom line is we need to get better. We’re not going to win very much how we played defense down the stretch. There’s a lot of good reasons why we were challenged: we had a lot of turnover; we had some of our better defenders out like Trevor Ariza and Shane Battier. All year we had a challenge without Yao Ming around, we needed a lot to go right to keep our cohesion defensively and obviously that broke down with injuries and trades.

So we’ve got a lot of excuses but we’re for sure going to turn it around. In the three years prior to this year, if you just take the average of those three years, we were the best defensive team in the league. So we’re definitely going to be a top defensive team and it’s either going to be with this group or some other group because we’re not going to accept not being a top-10 defensive team. It’s just not what the Rockets are. The Rockets have always been a top defensive team and we won’t go away from that.

We believe in our defensive concepts and we believe in our players. We feel like we have good defensive talent but that doesn’t mean we can’t get better. I think at the big spot I’m probably focused on getting someone a little more defensive-minded there.

We’re concerned. We were an average defensive team and I don’t think anyone’s ever won the title being an average defensive team. We’ve got to get top-10 defensively, that’s been something you almost have to do if you want to be a title contender.

We are trying to balance it, though. We’ve acquired some players who are gifted offensively versus defensively but we feel like we can mesh them in with our strong defenders and we want to be top-10 in both (offense and defense).

On draft strategy, specifically as it pertains to selecting “older” players like Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, Chase Budinger, etc: We really try to take who we think is the best player. I guess we’ve ended up feeling like several of the (guys Houston has drafted) weren’t picked where they should be picked. We just feel like maybe the league has maybe missed on some of these guys who, because they’re older, they get the perception that they don’t have as much upside or aren’t as good and we don’t agree because we’re always focused on how a drafted player fits over a four-year window and maybe even longer.

On how Kevin Martin fit in: I think he fits in great. He can really shoot. And if Yao gets extra attention and they rotate to him, he can beat them off the dribble, he’s got a great first step. He gets to the line so much and Yao Ming we feel like is the best offensive player in the league once we’re in the penalty. So obviously we think (Kevin) fits great.

On the elite free agents moving via sign -and -trade: I actually think they’ll all go sign-and-trade. Even the teams with room often will sign-and-trade into the room and get something back from the team. A free agent is picking where he wants to go more or less, so he eventually tells the team, “I want to go there,” and the team doesn’t want to lose him for nothing, so they try to work out some sort of arrangement.

On what the future holds: Obviously starting at 42 wins we have a lot to do to get back to where we want to be. To win the title you have to be somewhere around 55 to 57 wins. So we’ve got to get there. I think if we get Yao Ming back we’re close and I think if our guys on the team can take a step forward defensively or a step forward overall, or if we make other acquisitions, we’ll be right there.

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