In-season Moves

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.

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Keep an eye on Tank Dell this Sunday. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.

I remember thinking how in the world can these little frail guys survive at the NFL level? I mean, I saw Joe Theismann and Ed McCaffrey's legs snap. Drew Bledsoe got his chest caved in. Seeing 300-plus pound men cry when injured is humbling. So when a guy like Tank Dell comes along, I'm always a bit apprehensive. Especially when they come with a ton of hype.

For every eight to ten big strong players that get hurt, there's one or two little fellas that have relatively healthy careers. The comp that came to mind when looking at Tank was DeSean Jackson. Listed at 5'10 and weighing a heavy 175 pounds, Jackson was arguably the best “small guy” in NFL history. Dell being about two inches shorter and about ten pounds lighter, while also playing a similar role, is in line to be a similarly electrifying type of player. I put my assessment on the line and doubled down with my predictions on what his, and others' season totals will look like last week:

Tank Dell: 68 catches, 1,105 yards and 6 touchdowns- Dell will be a really good slot, but has some outside skills. Namely, his speed. He's more slippery than if Mick had greased that chicken before Rocky tried catching it. I could see his production going up as the season gets longer because Stroud will begin to look for him more and more as they build chemistry. Yes, I know I only have him with six scores. Keep in mind this is a run first offense. At least that's what we can deduce from looking at where it came from in San Francisco.

In his debut game last week vs the Ravens, he notched three catches for 34 yards on four targets. He was tied for third on the team in targets with Noah Brown and Mike Boone. While Robert Woods and Nico Collins were one and two in targets last week, I think Dell will ascend that list starting this week. Word came down that Noah Brown is headed to IR, meaning he'll miss at least the next four weeks. The chemistry he and fellow rookie C.J. Stroud have developed is palpable. From working out together, to attending UH games together, these two seem to have a nice bond already.

Woods is a solid vet two years removed from an ACL injury. Collins was a third rounder with size who hasn't done a whole lot. Dell is easily the most exciting option at receiver this team has. John Metchie III was expected to be the next guy up. Unfortunately, cancer had him take a backseat, until now. Metchie is back at practice this week, so a debut is imminent. He could potentially challenge for more playing time, but it may take him some time to get used to things and get going again.

As far as my statistical prediction for his season, he only needs to average four catches for 67 yards per game, and get a touchdown every two to three games for the remainder of the season. Given Brown being out the next few games, Metchie not quite being up to speed, Woods being an older player on a short-term deal, and Collins not really being what everyone thought he could be, it leaves things wide open for Dell to step up.

Playmakers come in all shapes and sizes. Levon Kirkland was a 300-pound middle linebacker in a 3-4. Doug Flutie led teams to playoff wins as a 5'9 quarterback. In football, size matters. The bigger, stronger guys normally win out. When it comes to receiving and returns, you want speed, quickness, and agility. Dell has that in spades. Add his competitive nature and chemistry with his quarterback and you have a recipe for a star in the making. I know I'm not the only one hoping the Texans continue Tank-ing.

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