Q&A With Daryl Morey
Rockets General Manager discusses playoff prospects, crunch time keys and bad hair
HOUSTON - With the Rockets smack dab in the middle of an intense push for the playoffs and coming off a massive road win over Chicago, it seemed like the perfect time to catch up with General Manager Daryl Morey to gain his insight on what awaits the Rockets the rest of the way. What follows is the transcipt of his conversation with Rockets.com's Jason Friedman, as they discuss the way the team has overcome adversity, the health status of Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry, the rarely-discussed merits of isolation play come crunch time, and an in-depth breakdown of bad hair and meticulous grooming. Seriously.
JCF: First of all, I know how crazy this roller coaster regular season has been for the players, but I’m curious to know its impact on you. Friday night you get a massive win against Memphis, then Sunday brings a heartbreaking loss that even prompted you to express some of your pain via Twitter, and then the very next day the team rallies for an improbable, amazing win against the club with the best record in the NBA. What was that experience like for you?
DM: Why are you always worried about my feelings? People will start asking questions.
JCF: Because I’m interested in the psychological, human interest storylines that make sports so compelling.
DM: But I leave the arena late in games specifically because I don’t want anyone to see my psychology.
JCF: But that’s the whole point of doing these things is so people can get insight into what’s going on in the mind of Morey.
DM: I think we have a very competitive group all around, including myself, and those key moments of games it’s difficult to be presidential. So that’s why I leave the arena bowl.
JCF: And last night while you’re watching on TV?
DM: Last night I scared my children with about five minutes to go when I was hoping something different would happen and it didn’t and I was worried it would cost us the game (laughs). I’m not going to say what it was I was just hoping for some different outcomes.
JCF: But you got the win.
DM: We did get the win. That was our second best win of the year maybe first.
JCF: First being the Oklahoma City win on the road?
DM: Yeah, OKC was probably No. 1.
JCF: That Oklahoma City game seemed to be a season-changer. It felt like the wheels were about to fall off prior to that game.
DM: We always get those wins like that. We had just lost to the Cleveland before beating the Thunder, then we lost that one to Indiana at home Sunday and I felt like that game could just have easily swung the season in a bad direction, but the reality is all these games can swing the season. I’m sort of looking at it like, when we had 15 games to go we had to win a 15-game series 8-7. We’re up 2-1 now, so if we can win a few of these on the road we’ll be in better shape. It’s looking like it’s going to come down to us and Utah but it could change.
JCF: I know you well enough to know that this is almost certainly not the case, but going back to that Oklahoma City win did that win change your strategy going into the trade deadline at all?
DM: No. That would be a huge mistake. I think all these games that are close you just flip a coin. So if you try to draw player decisions from those kinds of games then that’s when you make mistakes.
JCF: Is 35 the magic number you’re looking at to make the playoffs? Obviously 36 would make you feel much more comfortable.
DM: I don’t have it in front of me but we have the odds of each win total and how that would impact whether we make it or not. 36 is pretty comfortable; 35 looks pretty good. We’d love to get to 36 or more. But I think honestly we’re just trying to make the playoffs so the more wins we can get to move up, the better.
JCF: Goran Dragic a pretty darn good sequel to Linsanity?
DM: Sheesh, yeah. He’s great. He’s been unbelievable. Obviously we liked him when we acquired him. As I’ve said before: We get a lot of bad luck and bad news often with injuries and different situations in the league, so it’s always good to get some positive news like Goran really playing great.
JCF: Anything about what he’s done surprise you? Because I remember talking to a member of Basketball Ops and I wont name names but this person said about a month ago that he really liked where we were, but expressed that we simply couldn’t afford to have anything happen to Kyle. Kyle has been out about a month now, yet here you are, still very much alive in the playoff race and a large part of that is due to what Goran has been able to do in Kyle’s absence.
DM: Yeah, I think Goran, Courtney, Chase, Chandler I mean our whole set of 1s, 2s and 3s, we really felt like that was the strength and the depth of our team and it’s showing true. But feeling that way and having them actually do it is a totally different thing. I mean, Chase probably won that game for us yesterday and we’ve had games where Courtney has won it, Chandler has won it, Goran has won it so it’s been pretty exciting. And Kevin McHale doesn't get nearly enough credit for the way he's guided this team through what's been a very unique season from day one.
I do think getting Kyle back will be a huge difference maker if we can get that done. I think we had more depth at the 2 and 3-spot, so we were able to cover for Kevin being out a little bit easier. But getting Kevin back would be good, too, since we’re having to go long minutes with guys who aren’t used to it.
JCF: What’s the latest on Kyle and Kevin?
DM: Both are ramping up to get back on the court, and I think sooner rather than later. But Kevin had a setback that slowed it down and Kyle, if he doesn’t have a setback, I think it will be quicker than people maybe think. I hope, but maybe I’m just being optimistic. As he ramps up his workouts, any sort of pain or setback would obviously slow things down. So both of them are ramping up and doing a little more each day, and you hope they wake up the next day without any unusual soreness.
JCF: I think a lot of people would expect that if you trade out Kyle and Kevin for Goran and Courtney that, if you saw a big difference at all, it would probably be on the defensive end. But actually the truth of the matter is that it’s been the offense which has really taken off. Are you surprised with that development?
DM: I think a lot of it is just the players really focusing and playing great. For short to medium stints you can do that. But I think over this whole period still to go we’re going to need all the depth we can get. We might take another injury there’s a whole set of things that can happen. We’ve managed to fight through it but it sure would be better to have those guys back.
JCF: We’ve talked so much over the last few years about having that star come crunch time and all the mythology behind that. This team in particular though seems to fare pretty well and execute at an above average rate in clutch situations, even without having that traditional “closer.”
DM: I think the reality is that no one is any good at crunch time. I think if you’ve got a guy who can create his own shot then you’re better off than not.
I think the biggest misnomer people have I’ve seen a lot of things like, ‘You should run a play. You should just do your normal things.’ Well, the reason why teams go with a particular isolation play, even though that often has a low efficiency because it’s just hard to score for anybody, I don’t care how good you are, is not because teams think that’s optimal for scoring, it’s because it’s optimal for controlling the amount of time the other team has after the play. If you’re just running a set and a team jumps it or tries to disrupt it, it can really change the timing of when your shot goes off and it’s a massive, massive difference how many ticks are left when the other team gets the ball.
So a lot of what people want to criticize coaches for which is ‘Don’t they know that guy is bad in isolation; don’t they know this?’ it’s really because they’re not, in my opinion, thinking about the big picture which is controlling the clock the other way in terms of when your opponent gets the ball back. Even three seconds with an advance of the ball is a huge difference versus only having one second. The efficiency drop based on you controlling the clock the other way is a massive difference.
JCF: That makes sense. The other question I wanted to ask has to do with the integration of a superstar player into a team that has great ball movement and offensive execution prior to his arrival. Would there be any concern at all into adding that sort of superior talent if the player is a high-usage guy who might stunt some of the ball movement your team previously enjoyed?
DM: Yeah, I think any time you integrate any sort of high-usage player it’s a little more challenging but, again, I think what you’re trying to add as your young players get better or you make a trade is something that adds to the margin for error. Our guys play hard. I think people see that and people respect that. But the ability to be mentally strong 90, 95, 100 percent of the time that’s just something that’s almost unsustainable over a whole season.
When we had Yao, every once in awhile maybe once every six or seven games he’d go 11-for-14 and just win the game by himself without his teammates needing to play at this crazy high level, whereas now all the way down to us playing the worst teams in the league, we need to play at a high level or we’re not going to win.
JCF: There’s been a lot of talk in Truehoop and places like that about eradicating tanking. Do you even care about whether or not it’s addressed?
DM: I don’t know if I can address that directly. Yeah, I do care. I have a lot of thoughts but I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about it. I could talk about it but then you’d have to edit it all out. This section would end up being like Debbie Does Dallas on PBS it’d be three minutes of a two-hour movie.
JCF: Ok, Ok. Well here’s a subject I’m sure you can share your thoughts on: I saw on Twitter today that apparently Chandler and Chase are going to start growing beards. What are your thoughts on joining them and making it a holy trinity of horrific facial hair?
DM: I mean, I don’t think they care if I grow a beard nor should they. I do know that my beard would be better than either of those guys. That’s going to be some sketchy beard-growing, there’s no doubt. I can’t imagine they won’t be splotchy and strange colors. I think the uglier the playoff beard, the better though, right?
JCF: Oh, there’s no question. Hockey players are living proof of that.
DM: I do think you need to put a picture of yourself on this article so people can marvel at how every single hair on your head is perfectly sculpted and angled. It’s like a really advanced Lego hair.
JCF: Well my sisters used to call me Chia head because of my hair’s uncanny resemblance to those awesome pets of the same name. But truth be told, I don’t even do anything to my hair
DM: Yeah, right. You spend hours in the bathroom each morning I can tell. You’re like those women who say they just roll out of bed looking that way and it’s all BS. You either spend hours in your bathroom at home or you’re dangerously doing it in the car on the way here while you’re texting.
DM: (laughs) I figured I’d failed as a parent at that point.
JCF: That’s what happens when you spend 90 hours a week playing GM of a professional sports team. Your kids are destined to deviate from the path of righteousness.
DM: She’s 12 and not only does she now want a Mac, but she’s also obsessed with one of our players.
JCF: Oh geez, let me guess which one that could possibly be
DM: No, no, no. We can’t say it. But needless to say, one of our players is now safe from ever being traded I would take a lot of grief if he ever left the team.