Daryl Morey is helping us forget his awful offseason
Twenty games into the season, it was easy to see that the Rockets were in trouble. Sitting at 9-11 - with two separate four-game losing streaks along the way - it was apparent that the squad that had just six months ago made it to within a game of the NBA Finals was nowhere to be found. The Rockets looks listless and solutions weren't exactly forthcoming.
It was baffling to most. How could a team go from the league-best regular season record to a sub .500 team the following year? Even more confounding was how a team assembled by general manager Daryl Morey could look so competitively unequipped.
Morey has built a reputation among the league as one of the more adept front office chess players. From the acquisitions of James Harden and Chris Paul, to savvy free agent pickups like Luc Mbah a Moute just last year, Morey has built up enough credibility among fans that everyone simply assumes that most of his moves will work out more often than not. None of that turned out to be this case this past offseason, however.
Morey began the summer by immediately losing starter Trevor Ariza and breakout forward Mbah a Moute to free agency. He spent most of the offseason playing chicken with center Clint Capela with contract negotiations, while signing as of now underwhelming forward James Ennis to plug a two-man hole. He took a gamble on Michael Carter-Williams and lost. He managed to offload Ryan Anderson's albatros of a contract, but in exchange for a benchwarmer and a guy who hadn't played in almost two years due to injury.
This was easily the worst offseason Morey had orchestrated in recent memory.
But instead of wallowing, Morey went to work. And while he may have whiffed on the 2018 offseason, it's his in season dealings that could be priming the Rockets to be one of the deepest teams in the league by the time the playoffs arrive.
Injuries have decimated the Rockets all season, yet they've also forced the team to be proactive in finding replacements to remain competitive. Forward Danuel House was called up from Houston's G-League affiliate at the end of November after injuries put the gametime status of both Gerald Green and Chris Paul into question. During what turned out to be a cup of coffee-long stint in the NBA, House averaged 25 minutes per game, shot 39% from three-point range, averaged 9 points per game and provided a spring and hustle that the underperforming Rockets had been lacking.
The House move turned out to be only the start for Morey. Roughly a month later Chris Paul suffered a hamstring injury, and with the Rockets' starting point guard projected to be out for a significant amount of time Morey went back to work. He seized the opportunity to grab point guard Austin Rivers, a seven year veteran that had been recently (and fortuitously) waived by the Phoenix Suns upon acquiring him in a trade with the Washington Wizards. The Suns were intent on remaining young and building their roster from within, leaving Rivers on without much room to be of any service. Upon joining the Rockets, Rivers has averaged 37 minutes per game, along with a 35.9% average from three.
The most recent move, however, may turn out to be the most significant of them all. Two weeks ago when the Rockets lost center Clint Capela, they not only lost 14.3% of their offensive production, they also lost the majority of their rebounding and interior defense. Unlike the other two moves where the Rockets could simply ask a warm body to stay in front of their man and get open from three while James Harden took on the entire opposing team, Capela's injury was far less replaceable It became clear that G-league call up Isaiah Hartenstein was not going to be able to shoulder the load for the next 4-6 weeks, and yet another move would need to be made.
Once again, Morey made it happen. While Capela's injury was devastating news to the Rockets, the timing could have been far worse. As Capela went in for surgery on his thumb, the wheels were simultaneously in motion a timezone away for a Nets buyout of forward Kenneth Faried's contract. Faried had been traded to the Nets by the Nuggets over the summer in a salary shedding move, and the Nets never took the time to find the uber-athletic "Manimal" a spot in the rotation. Faried cleared waivers Monday morning, immediately signed with Houston, and contributed 13 points and 6 rebounds later that night in 31 minutes of work.
Each move so far has been made out of absolute necessity, but once Houston is healthy the Rockets could be dealing with a level of depth that not even their 65-win predecessors of a year ago could contend with. The trick now is for Morey to remain active, especially as the trade deadline looms. Despite the shrewd acquisitions of Rivers and Faried, Houston is still very shallow at the small forward position. Acquiring a defensive minded wing with range could very well put the Rockets in position for another deep playoff run. It's time to trust Morey once again though, as he has proven able to shake off a poorly executed offseason and positioned the Rockets to effectively weather these injury-riddled winter months.