Countdown to King of Content 2014: 3. Daryl Morey
. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia CommonsBack in October 2012, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey managed to flip the remaining carcass of Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and a first round pick that would eventually become center Steven Adams for James Harden. Harden would become an All-Star and may be the current frontrunner for the MVP of the league.
Naturally, after the 2012-2013 season, the question for Morey was "How do you top that?"
Well, he topped that by making all the right moves, moving all the right contracts and leveraging every internal asset within the organization to lure center Dwight Howard from the Lakers to the Rockets, making Dwight the first All-Star ever to willingly leave LA in his prime.
Again, when 2013-2014 ended with a Damian Lillard kill shot, the people said, "Now what do you do to top that, Daryl?"
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It's that chase, every chess move that got made, and ultimately the big moves the team missed on that drove Daryl Morey and the Rockets' roster all the way up to No. 3 on the King of Content countdown for 2014...
Ultimately, the goal in the 2014 offseason (and perhaps the goal that remains open) for Morey was to acquire a third star player to run alongside Harden and Howard. The moves that were made from the time Lillard's shot passed through the rim to end the Rockets' postseason were all conceived with that in mind.
This includes the decision to opt out of the final year of Chandler Parsons's contract (at a modest salary of under $1 million) and allow the small forward to enter restricted free agency, which meant that once Parsons signed an offer sheet, the Rockets would have three days to match it.
Even once Parsons signed an offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks for three years and $48 million, it was still widely assumed that the Rockets would match the deal to keep Parsons, a leader in the locker room and an instrumental part of the dog-and-pony show that landed Howard. Hell, Parsons himself has since admitted he still left his stuff in his apartment in Houston when the season ended because he assumed he'd be re-signing with the Rockets.
The decision to allow Parsons into restricted free agency was made in tandem with multiple recruiting efforts for that third star. The Rockets had managed to clear enough cap space (or at least have the "outs" to get to the right amount of cap space) to sign a marquee free agent. Carmelo Anthony visited, but ultimately decided to take more money and more years with a Knicks team that's one of the worst in team sports.
Melo didn't work out, but a funny thing was happening in Miami. LeBron James was leaning toward leaving the Heat to go to Cleveland and return to the Cavaliers, which meant Chris Bosh would presumably be coming available. Truth be told, Bosh was a better fit than Anthony for what the Rockets needed -- a star player used to being a third wheel who could stretch the floor as a big.
It was almost too perfect. Sign Bosh, match the Mavs' offer on Parsons, fill in around that core. Win titles. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Unfortunately, James's signing with Cleveland unleashed another dynamic that people weren't accounting for -- Miami became flush with cap space and could offer Bosh tens of millions more dollars without the pressure of his being the turning point in a quest for a ring and without having to move his family. Bosh, ever the creature of comfort, happily re-signed with Miami, leaving the Rockets with a crucial choice to make on Parsons.
Morey made the surprising decision to allow Parsons to leave for Dallas, opting instead to sign Trevor Ariza for half the money and maintain flexibility for other moves to build a winner, and transform the defensive prowess of the ball club. As unpopular as the decision was to let Parsons go (particularly with females in the 13-25 demographic), Morey was very matter of fact in explaining it, saying simply that re-signing Parsons without Bosh would mean that Parsons would be the third star, and there'd be no more big moves.
Could a team with Parsons as its third star player win a title? Maybe, Morey opined, but he'd rather not find out.
Instead, by adding Jason Terry, Corey Brewer and Josh Smith to the Trevor Ariza acquisition, Morey has transformed the Rockets into one of the top defensive teams in the league, a necessity to be in the mix for a title. (NOTE: Only twice in the past two decades has the NBA champion not been a top 10 team defensively. One of those was the 1995 Rockets.)
It remains to be seen if a third All-Star finds his way to Houston. It could be that the third star of this team becomes the concept of defense, which may be enough to have June basketball for the first time in a couple of decades.
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