In-season Moves

Daryl Morey is helping us forget his awful offseason

Rockets.com

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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NASCAR: Quaker State 400 preview

Photo via: WikiCommons.

This week, the NASCAR cup series heads to Kentucky Motor Speedway for the Quaker State 400. Built in 2001, this track is a 1.5 mile tri-oval with a dog-leg on the front stretch. The most dangerous part of the track has to be turn three as the corner is flat compared to the other three corners that are banked. This has been a major point of contingency for these drivers as most of the cautions end up being there. Look for turn three to be a hot spot come Sunday. Last year, both the Busch brothers finished 1-2 in one of the most exciting finishes of the season so there will be a lot of hype for this race to live up to.

Last week at Indy, as we all expected the race was a crazy one. Over the course of the race's 160 laps, we saw many horrific accidents including a scary pit road accident involving Corey Lajoe, Ryan Blaney, Justin Allgier, Ryan Preece and others. The wreck started when everyone got stacked up entering the pits and the calamity was on from there. During the wreck Brennan Poole struck Rear Tire Changer Zach Price as he was trying to avoid the wrecking cars in front of him. After the incident fans and media alike all held their breath as they awaited news on his condition. But when the camera panned to him being loaded into the ambulance, there was a huge sigh of relief as he gave everyone a thumbs up signifying he was okay. Another scary moment was both Erik Jones and Alex Bowman's vicious crashes. Both cars had tire failures that sent their cars directly into the wall. Fortunately both drivers were okay but their days were over.

In the end, tire wear would end up claiming one more victim as it took out Denny Hamlin as well. With seven laps to go, the four-time winner this season was in prime position to get his fifth victory until his right front tire blew out, sending him hard into the turn 2 wall. This mishap handed the win to his main rival in the championship, Kevin Harvick, as he went on to claim his third Brickyard 400 victory and fourth win of the year. When it was all over, many questioned why there were so many tire failures and if new owner Roger Penske would make an effort to possibly widen the pit-road after the massive accident on Sunday.

Needless to say, there are a lot of questions on what will be different at Indy in 2021. When I talked to spotter Freddie Kraft on Tuesday, he gave a lot of good insights on both topics. When it came to the tire failures, he talked about how the increasing corner speeds at the racetrack has put a lot of pressure on these Goodyear tires which eventually led to them coming apart. As far as Pit-Road and what they can do to fix that, he talked about how it is difficult to make changes to a track that is so historical. Which makes sense, but he followed this up by saying that maybe it would be wise to give up a little history and move the wall over and make it wider. It will be interesting to see what NASCAR does in the coming months.

On Friday, Associated Press journalist Jenna Fryer revealed a bombshell announcement that 7-time champion and NASCAR's biggest name Jimmie Johnson, had tested positive for coronavirus. As everyone knows, the world is going through the worst pandemic it's ever faced in this lifetime. With the sport coming back and racing again, it was only a matter of time until one of the drivers came down with it. Unfortunately it had to be NASCAR's most recognizable driver. Thankfully, Jimmie made a full recovery and was cleared to return this weekend at Kentucky. This was a big scare for everyone in the NASCAR world, but I have to give a lot of credit to Johnson for being as forthright as he was about his diagnosis with everyone who he works with. It will be good to have Jimmie back on Sunday.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Kyle Busch. While this season has been a disappointment for the defending champion, Kentucky would be a great place for him to turn it around. Ever since the cup series has started going there, Kyle has always been in contention to win. In fact, he won the first cup series race that was run at this track back in 2011. In his nine starts there, Kyle has finished outside the top ten only once and even then he finished 12th, back in 2016. Last season it appeared that Kyle was on his way to a third victory at this track, but he came up one spot short to his brother Kurt in a fantastic last lap duel. After a late race restart this weekend though, I see Kyle redeeming himself and capturing his first victory of 2020. Look for Kyle to get back on track come Sunday.


All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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