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Tuesday January 24, 2012 11:02 PM

Q&A With Daryl Morey


Rockets General Manager breaks down what he's seen through the first month of the season

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - With the Rockets riding a 7-game winning streak, it seemed like the perfect time to catch up with General Manager Daryl Morey to hear his thoughts on what he’s seen through the first month of the season. Also, there was the little matter of clearing up a minor Twitter skirmish that occurred when Rockets.com’s Jason Friedman described Houston’s 12-point fourth quarter lead over New Orleans as “comfortable” – a characterization Morey rapidly took to Twitter to take issue with.

What follows is the transcript of their conversation:

JCF: So I guess we have to begin by defining what is and what isn’t a “comfortable” lead?

DM: (laughs) That was pretty funny. What the heck were you thinking?!? There’s no upside to saying something like that even if you’re right!

JCF: But it’s not about being right; it’s about trying to make an accurate assessment of where things stood and what was going on at the time.

DM: That’s like saying, “Oh, I’m so happy I’m not dead right now.” It’s a true statement but why say it?

JCF: But I don’t believe in jinxes …

DM: I don’t believe in them either! But I believe in making statements that have more positive than negative qualities. That had no positive quality to it and it had some minute negative chance; not like you’re impacting the game but like, just … why?

JCF: OK, well in that case then let’s talk about something positive like winning seven games in a row.

DM: Yeah, let’s not talk about our seven-game winning streak (laughs)

JCF: Says the guy who doesn’t believe in jinxes. Well, last time we talked you wanted to temper expectations because of the brutal start to the schedule …

DM: That feels like it was just yesterday.

JCF: I know. But that’s this season in a nutshell, isn’t it? Anyway, the fact remains that your message was pretty prescient; you asked fans to stick with us through the first 10 games …

DM: “Sand-bagging” is my special term for it …

JCF: Right, it was all just an elaborate hustle straight out of the Paul Newman collection. Seriously though, the team has clearly bounced back thanks to any numbers of factors – great play from Kyle, the insertion of Dalembert and Parsons into the starting lineup, getting Courtney back, Patrick’s continued progression, a softening schedule – so what else has stood out to you during this resurgence, if you even want to call it that, because I also believe this team wasn’t as bad as its record indicated during those first 10 games.

DM: Right, you’re never as bad as you think or as good, either. I mean, obviously Kyle, Chandler and Dalembert are all playing above where they have in the past. Kevin started a little slow and has really come on of late and then Scola is Mr. Steady. That unit has been giving us double-digit leads and if you want to win an NBA game, getting a double-digit lead early – as long as you don’t tweet about it – is really helpful toward winning.

Then the bench started slow as we clarified roles, but really Goran and Patrick and Courtney getting healthy have all solidified the bench. So we’ve had a couple bench wins now which we needed, especially in a season like this. Like Tuesday night, obviously we had some starters on the floor who played well, too, but it was a lot of the bench guys who came in and gave us a lift and allowed us to keep some of our guys’ minutes below 40 which is a positive in this kind of season.

JCF: We also talked last time about Kyle taking the next step to become All-Star-caliber. Safe to say he’s done that?

DM: Yeah, he’s playing at that level. I don’t really care if he’s picked. I hope he gets picked – I’ve made a bunch of votes myself for the team and for Kyle – but he’s playing at that level. Obviously the NBA is not really about play, it’s about consistency, and the fact we’re 17 games in and he’s been very consistent even as defenses have gotten more intense and are loading up on him, that’s a really good sign. We’ve had a lot of positive developments; that might be No. 1 on the list. Kyle really has taken a step forward, even after his step forward last year.

JCF: I know many people are surprised with the production Dalembert has given you thus far, but it seems to me this is a case of a guy whose skill set – in this case elite rebounding and shot-blocking skills – is a perfect match for what this team needed. Fair?

DM: One, Sam deserves credit for really working hard. Two, obviously we really did have a big need. And three, I think as you look through Sam’s history, he really responds to being on a team like ours and with a coaching staff like ours. Those are all things we hoped would be the case and have proven true.

JCF: I know you’ve wanted to see this club push the pace the last couple years. You were very successful doing so last year but not as much this season …

DM: We’re right around the same place as we were last year. We measure it differently than some other sites you might see. By our metrics, we were ninth last year and we’re 11th this season.

That said, the one thing we’re doing differently this year because we’re really emphasizing defense is we’re putting a major emphasis on our pace coming out of defense; getting stops and then pushing the pace. I do think at some point, over time, we’re going to want to grow to being a pace-all-the-time team – after makes, after everything. But I think messaging-wise, we want to keep the team focused on defense – that’s served us well – and we want to focus on our up-tempo play really keying off our defense. That’s something I know the coaching staff has really emphasized.

JCF: From a shot selection standpoint, the Rockets are one of the better teams in terms of their ratio of long 2s taken versus 3-point attempts. I think you’re in the top-10 in that area. Does that matter to you?

DM: I think shot selection is a big thing but we’re running a different offense so we’re going to get some different shot selection. We’re still running some corner sets but we’re not running it as much so we’re going to get different shot selection. Obviously what matters is if our offense is outscoring your defense. That’s my genius analysis right there. As Red Auerbach said when I met with him: Just put the ball in the hole more than the other guy. He would say, “At the end of the day all that matters is that you put the round ball in the hole more than the other guys.”

JCF: Unless, of course, the other team’s baskets are all 3-pointers which could then potentially alter the final result.

DM: OK, fine. A weighted round ball. Red’s trying to keep it simple, man. It doesn’t sound as good when you say it that way.

JCF: Fair enough. Well speaking of bucking the traditional wisdom, most years you might see teams with excellent depth but little star power do well in the regular season but falter in the postseason when the more superstar-laden teams are able to play their big guns more minutes. Do you think, however, that this season with its compressed schedule and everything else might provide a unique opportunity, allowing clubs like the Sixers, Nuggets, Pacers – and maybe even the Rockets – to not only enjoy regular season success due to their impressive depth and young legs, but also a better chance to translate that into postseason success, too?

DM: Well I would just say that three teams have separated themselves – Chicago, Miami and Oklahoma City; those three to me are definitely in a little bit of a different class – but that the Western Conference is just as deep as it always seems to be. So considering we’re probably a good chunk away from those three teams – I wish I could say we weren’t – I don’t think for us the scenario is really any different.

JCF: So I assume, then, that doesn’t really impact your philosophy leading up to the trade deadline in terms of there being a unique opportunity this season that you might be able to take advantage of this year?

DM: No, I think we’re always evaluating that. I think a team that eventually wins a title, it’s rare for it to just go from not making the playoffs or first-round losers to go right to winning the title. Obviously there are examples like the Celtics but there aren’t a ton of examples; it’s obviously more normal to have a couple years where you’re in the second round or the conference finals. But, yeah, if there’s an opportunity that presents itself to make us better we’ll definitely look at it just like we always do.

JCF: So in terms of that team progression graph, where do you see the Rockets as being right now?

DM: I think we’re maybe feeling a little bit better about things than we were when the season started in terms of some of the positives we talked about like Lowry taking a step forward, Chandler Parsons’ play, etc. Though, to be frank, Chander has outplayed someone who gave us very solid minutes a year ago in Chase so that’s not as big of an upgrade as maybe it seems at first. And then there’s Sam. I think Dalembert’s solid play and Lowry’s solid play are the two big factors that make us look at things differently. But I think it frankly shifts us from being a team that a bunch of NBA experts out there might expect to miss the playoffs to now being a team that has improved our chances to make the playoffs, but I don’t think it puts us in where we’re battling Oklahoma City – I think we need one more step forward from someone on our roster to be at that point.

JCF: So what are you looking for over the next two weeks?

DM: I think we’re looking at hoping to win a lot of games because I think our schedule is still something where we’ll need to win a lot if we want to make the playoffs.

JCF: So it’s about building a cushion for when the schedule inevitably gets harder again?

DM: Yeah, we can’t take our eye off the ball right now because it’s going to get bumpy again real soon here. We’ve got to win a lot of these upcoming games to stay on a playoff pace.

JCF: So sounds like we’ve come full circle then: right back to tempering expectations. Thanks, Daryl.

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