Q&A With Daryl Morey
Rockets General Manager talks tough starts, attracting All-Stars and more
HOUSTON - The last month has been a whirlwind for everyone in the Houston Rockets organization, though few, if any, in Toyota Center felt that crush more than did General Manager Daryl Morey. And though one certainly wouldn't label the GM's current schedule as "calm" it at least slowed enough for him to take a few moments Thursday afternoon to discuss the start of the regular season with Rockets.com's Jason Friedman.
What follows is the transcript of their conversation; a discussion that touches on topics such as the tough schedule awaiting the Rockets over the team's first ten games, attracting top talent to Houston and the dynamic taking shape between the Rockets' front office and coaching staff.
JCF: Its generally assumed that the truncated and compressed schedule favors the teams that have more depth and younger legs. So my question to you, then, is twofold: 1.) Do you agree with that assumption and 2.) Do you feel like this Rockets team falls into the category of clubs that can take advantage of those things?
DM: Yeah, I think its marginally helpful but I also think its equally balanced by us being a team with a lot of different players and a new coaching staff. So I think theres two factors that matter in this compressed schedule: one would be depth but the other would be continuity. Im not sure which one outweighs the other but weve got one arrow going one way and another going the other way, so I think it might equal out roughly.
JCF: Do you have a magic number in mind that will be necessary to get you into the playoffs in the Western Conference this year?
DM: Yeah, I think its 72. Thats how many were going to win.
JCF: (laughs) Well, do you have a less optimistic number in mind? You know, just in case?
DM: Nah, I would say were just trying to get into the playoffs. Its going to be hard again. I think there are nine or ten teams going for eight spots in the West and I think were right in the mix.
It wont be apparent that were in the mix for the first ten games at least and maybe even longer because were probably going to have to dig out of where were at a little bit because were definitely playing the hardest schedule in the league for the first ten games and then, on top of that, were playing teams with a lot of continuity generally and I think that edge is going to be huge early even more than it would normally be.
Boo-hoo, right? This is going to sound like an excuse. We have to fight through it. But Im just laying out that I want people to stick with us because well be fine if we get through this early part and we can build on that. But we wont be able to fool ourselves. No ones going to feel like were a great team after our first ten games because were going to play a schedule that even very good teams would probably be only .500 against.
JCF: So it sounds like when youre talking about just treading water for the first ten games, youre probably not even talking about going .500; youre talking about just trying to eek out three or four wins basically?
DM: If we go 5-5 well be on pace for the playoffs for sure that would be a very good result. Then 4-6 would probably be what a playoff team would do against this schedule. Even honestly and we dont want to do this but 3-7 would be one we can recover from and still make the playoffs.
JCF: And anything worse than that, though, and youre in trouble?
DM: Yeah, much beyond that and I think wed really be digging a hole, like we did last year, that will be hard to dig out from.
A win tonight would be absolutely monstrous. I think the Spurs are one of the best teams in the league again. They were the second best team in the league last year; they just happened to run into a bad matchup in Memphis. Just like the year we made the second round of the playoffs when we played Portland we were a bad matchup for them Memphis was just a bad matchup for the Spurs. But lets give credit to them; the Spurs could have easily made it the Finals or at least the Conference Finals if they hadnt been knocked out by the worst matchup possible for them in the first round.
JCF: Everybody always talks about the Rockets search for an All-Star but one of the things that doesnt get brought up as much even though you mention it quite often is the possibility of someone on the current roster ascending to All-Star status. The guy I always look to in that regard is Kyle Lowry, especially based on what he did the last couple months of last season. We got a great glimpse of that as well in the Orlando game. I know this is the golden age of point guards, but do you think Kyle is an All Star caliber point guard right this second?
DM: I absolutely agree with your assessment that people dont talk enough about the ability of the players on our roster to reach that All-Star level or to at least take big steps forward. But I would say Kyle needs to get one more notch higher and every notch gets harder, right? but I absolutely think he has that ability. It is a very loaded position at the point guard spot in the league right now. We dont even necessarily need him to make the All-Star game; we just need him to take one more step forward and I think he can do that.
I think Kevin Martin, with focus on defense, is another guy who could move up into All-Star caliber territory. Obviously among the young players I think Terrence Williams has a chance to take a big step forward; Chase has a chance to take a big step forward; Patrick Patterson and Jordan Hill can take a big step forward then we might get some contributions from Marcus Morris or Chandler Parsons this season. Up and down the roster weve got ways for our team to take a step forward. Now obviously weve got to do it and we also could have people go the other way and have bad seasons. But if we can get solid play from a lot of guys and then have one or two take a big step forward like Kyle did last year then well be a playoff team.
JCF: What is this step that Kyle needs to take?
DM: We need him, for all 30 to 35 minutes that hes going to play per game this year, to play at the level he used to be able to play at during the 15 to 20 minute per game stints he had two years ago. Its honestly an unrealistic thing to ask a guy to do. But we need someone to do something a little bit unrealistic frankly thats our challenge. Kyles one of those candidates.
If he can play with the unbelievable pace and ability to attack the basket for an entire game similar to the way that he played in 15 to 20 minutes a couple years ago, then hell be there hell definitely be playing at an All-Star level then. Thats why, when Kyle was coming off the bench, our bench was the best in the league basically. We were absolutely annihilating people and it was because Kyle was coming in and playing at a level that may not be sustainable. But if he can sustain it, he would definitely be at an All-Star level.
JCF: Speaking of stars, yesterday I was reading where Portlands acting General Manager Chad Buchanan was saying that his club had to do different things to attract and keep top talent in Portland because that market is never going to have the broad appeal of cities like Los Angeles and New York. Do you feel similarly about the challenges facing NBA life in Houston?
DM: No, I think its the opposite, actually. I think the trend of players seeking out better cities is just a great trend for us. I think Houston is a city players love to play for, love to play in. This trend, people are on it and I understand why theyre on that issue because is it hasnt helped us yet, but its ultimately going to help us, not hurt us.
We might be behind a couple cities as a destination but were definitely way high up there in NBA players minds in terms of where they want to play and its only a matter of time before were able to take advantage of that.
Weve taken advantage of it in small ways. Even the Samuel Dalembert signing where he turned down a better contract and better money to come here; to play in Houston, to play for Coach McHale, to play for this organization those are big things. Now thats obviously on a smaller level and not the level people are worried about obviously with recruiting one of these top, top guys, but the top, top guys are going to come and its just a matter of time before that trend helps us versus what people perceive it as hurting us right now.
JCF: Correct me if Im wrong but this is going to be your fifth year as General Manager, correct?
DM: I have no idea. Its like dog years ...
JCF: (laughs) Well at least you havent gone grey yet
DM: Yeah, I have! My son the other day was looking and found a grey hair and started crying because he thought I was going to die. Thats a true story. So I had to assure him that a couple grey hairs doesnt mean Im going to die.
JCF: Youre just teaching life lessons all over the place. Well the question I was getting to was this: What have you learned over the years, what can you point to, that shows that youre a better GM now than you were when you first took the job?
DM: You ask such deep questions, Jason. I have one but I dont know if I want to talk about it ...
JCF: Does it have anything to do with iPads?
DM: (laughs) I think were a lot better at bringing the information we work hard to compile both scouting and systems-wise into our decision making. I think thats something were way better at than we were in my first year as GM; not only having that information but also weighing it appropriately based on our decisions in the draft and trades and things like that. I feel like were way ahead on that relative to when I started.
Was that vague enough for you?
JCF: Yeah, thats a classic Daryl I have no interest in directly answering your question answer.
DM: I could be more vague if youd like me to be
JCF: I think Id like you to veer in the other direction, actually. I just know thats never going to happen so thats talk about something else.
I know you transferred your primary area of doing business here at Toyota Center down to where the coaching staff works. Im curious as to how thats helped the dynamic between your staff and the coaches so far.
DM: My goal was that, before Kevin and I hate each other, that we communicate as much as possible so that it will carry over into the future (laughs). Its inevitable that every GM-Coach relationship becomes strained at some point so Im trying to over-communicate early so that I can learn as much as possible from him before that day hits.
JCF: Well I know youre probably in the honeymoon stage right now but I thought it was interesting today after shootaround to see Coach McHale and J.B. Bickerstaff seek out Sam Hinkie to discuss end-of-game scenarios, inquiring about the percentages of different end-game strategies. Thats got to be awesome for you. Not that that sort of thing didnt happen before, but this has to be exactly what you hoped for when you brought this collection of coaching talent together: a meshing of different strengths and mindsets and personalities that would hopefully help take this team to a higher level over time.
DM: Yeah, definitely. I feel like were learning more from Kevin and his staff than anything else. But, yeah, theres a good flow of info both ways. Weve got a staff on both sides, personnel and coaching, that comes from a lot of different backgrounds.
Mr. Alexander has a very simple analysis for any money we spend: if it can help us win, well spend anything. If we need a $50,000 cryotherapy device, boom, weve got it that can help our guys recover quicker. So Id love, if I could make the expense worth it, to have an open floor plan downstairs that would encourage even more of an open, free flow of information and ideas. When that area was originally built, it was built like a mouse maze almost as if it was for as little human interaction as possible. So Id like to have more of an open floor plan and a more open, free flow of ideas and I think, yeah, over time it will help us have an edge. Weve got one of the top-50 players of all time, a guy whos been a head coach and a GM, so the more we can suck out of him and J.B. and Chris Finch and Kelvin Sampson and Greg Buckner and Brett Gunning, the better.
JCF: I think the only thing youre missing that would really put you over the top is a full-time writer in your basketball operations department.
DM: Yeah, I think that would be great. I need a speech writer, clearly, based on this interview. I could use a Chris Matthews-level speech writer to script everything I say. That would be good.
JCF: Ill send you my resume tonight.
DM: That would fail Leslies test, I think, of how many more games it would help us win.
JCF: You dont think you could convince him to give me a blank check to work my magic?
DM: Yeah, I think hed probably say thats worth zero (laughs).
JCF: Oh wow. Thanks.
DM: (laughs) Not you, just having a speech writer for me.
JCF: Oh, of course. Well last question before I go find a corner to weep in: Any New Years resolutions? You dont strike me as the resolution type but I figured I have to ask.
DM: Definitely not. Everything in life is about habits. Nothing resolved in a single day really matters at all. So I dont do resolutions at all. How boring is that answer?
JCF: About as valuable as my speech-writing skills apparently. Thanks, Daryl.