Q&A with Daryl Morey, December 29, 2011

Thursday December 29, 2011 6:12 PM

Q&A With Daryl Morey

Rockets General Manager talks tough starts, attracting All-Stars and more


Jason Friedman

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: It’s 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 it’s marginally helpful but I also think it’s equally balanced by us being a team with a lot of different players and a new coaching staff. So I think there’s two factors that matter in this compressed schedule: one would be depth but the other would be continuity. I’m not sure which one outweighs the other but we’ve 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 it’s 72. That’s how many we’re 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 we’re just trying to get into the playoffs. It’s going to be hard again. I think there are nine or ten teams going for eight spots in the West and I think we’re right in the mix.

It won’t be apparent that we’re in the mix for the first ten games at least and maybe even longer because we’re probably going to have to dig out of where we’re at a little bit because we’re definitely playing the hardest schedule in the league for the first ten games and then, on top of that, we’re 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 I’m just laying out that I want people to stick with us because we’ll be fine if we get through this early part and we can build on that. But we won’t be able to fool ourselves. No one’s going to feel like we’re a great team after our first ten games because we’re going to play a schedule that even very good teams would probably be only .500 against.

JCF: So it sounds like when you’re talking about just treading water for the first ten games, you’re probably not even talking about going .500; you’re talking about just trying to eek out three or four wins basically?

DM: If we go 5-5 we’ll 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 don’t 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 you’re in trouble?

DM: Yeah, much beyond that and I think we’d 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 let’s give credit to them; the Spurs could have easily made it the Finals or at least the Conference Finals if they hadn’t 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 doesn’t 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 we’ve got ways for our team to take a step forward. Now obviously we’ve 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 we’ll 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 he’s 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. It’s honestly an unrealistic thing to ask a guy to do. But we need someone to do something a little bit unrealistic frankly – that’s our challenge. Kyle’s 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 he’ll be there – he’ll definitely be playing at an All-Star level then. That’s 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 Portland’s 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 it’s 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 they’re on that issue because is it hasn’t helped us yet, but it’s ultimately going to help us, not hurt us.

We might be behind a couple cities as a destination but we’re definitely way high up there in NBA players’ minds in terms of where they want to play and it’s only a matter of time before we’re able to take advantage of that.

We’ve 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 that’s 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 it’s just a matter of time before that trend helps us versus what people perceive it as hurting us right now.

JCF: Correct me if I’m wrong but this is going to be your fifth year as General Manager, correct?

DM: I have no idea. It’s like dog years ...

JCF: (laughs) Well at least you haven’t 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. That’s a true story. So I had to assure him that a couple grey hairs doesn’t mean I’m going to die.

JCF: You’re 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 you’re 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 don’t know if I want to talk about it ...

JCF: Does it have anything to do with iPads?

DM: (laughs) I think we’re a lot better at bringing the information we work hard to compile both scouting and systems-wise into our decision making. I think that’s something we’re 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 we’re way ahead on that relative to when I started.

Was that vague enough for you?

JCF: Yeah, that’s a classic Daryl “I have no interest in directly answering your question” answer.

DM: I could be more vague if you’d like me to be …

JCF: I think I’d like you to veer in the other direction, actually. I just know that’s never going to happen so that’s 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. I’m curious as to how that’s 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). It’s inevitable that every GM-Coach relationship becomes strained at some point so I’m trying to over-communicate early so that I can learn as much as possible from him before that day hits.

JCF: Well I know you’re 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. That’s got to be awesome for you. Not that that sort of thing didn’t 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 we’re learning more from Kevin and his staff than anything else. But, yeah, there’s a good flow of info both ways. We’ve 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, we’ll spend anything. If we need a $50,000 cryotherapy device, boom, we’ve got it – that can help our guys recover quicker. So I’d 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 I’d 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. We’ve got one of the top-50 players of all time, a guy who’s 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 you’re 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: I’ll send you my resume tonight.

DM: That would fail Leslie’s test, I think, of how many more games it would help us win.

JCF: You don’t think you could convince him to give me a blank check to work my magic?

DM: Yeah, I think he’d probably say that’s 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 Year’s resolutions? You don’t 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 don’t do resolutions at all. How boring is that answer?

JCF: About as valuable as my speech-writing skills apparently. Thanks, Daryl.

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