Rocket Science: Daryl Morey Brings Hard-Core Statistical Analysis to the NBA
The autumn sunshine filters in through the draped windows of the Houston Rockets' downtown practice facility, bathing the gymnasium with its muted golden glow. On the court, a tall, solitary man nonchalantly begins to bounce a ball with his head down and thoughts seemingly elsewhere. His dribbling echoes throughout the gym with a familiar rhythmic thud.
As he crosses half court, the man lifts his head and eyes the hoop in front of him. If he were to focus his vision a bit higher, perhaps he'd see a pair of proud banners commemorating the Rockets' two NBA championships, one from '94 and the other from '95. Those were the glory years, back when Hakeem, Clyde and Rudy owned this city. Now? Not so much.
That's why he's here. The Rockets are hoping this wunderkind's mind-boggling skill-set and brilliant basketball brain can bring another banner to Houston. But he's not a player. In fact, he never played the game beyond the high school level. Nor has he served time as a coach or scout.
Instead, his credentials include an MBA from MIT and a computer science degree from Northwestern. In other words, he's more likely to blow your mind with an eye-popping regression analysis than with a killer crossover. He's been nicknamed "Deep Blue," which seems appropriate since his brain has been described as a "supercomputer." But not everyone is a believer. The doubters decry his age (he's just 35) and lack of NBA experience (a mere five years).
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His name is Daryl Morey, the new general manager of the Houston Rockets. He's working 60-to-80-hour weeks, only taking an occasional break to attend his kids' soccer games. He's here to usher in a new golden age. And if his methods happen to raise a few eyebrows along the way, so be it.
It didn't take long for the critics to howl. Less than 24 hours after Rockets owner Leslie Alexander announced the decision to make Morey his next GM, a stunned basketball community scrambled to make sense of this selection. The headline on Hoopsworld.com screamed, "Daryl Morey? Are You Serious?" while the story went on to accuse the Rockets of ignoring better-qualified, more proven prospects and instead taking the cheap way out. To the naysayers, Morey was nothing more than a glorified number-cruncher.
But Alexander saw something else entirely. He saw a weapon, someone whose talents were capable of lifting the Rockets to greater heights.
"With the high level of competition in this league, you can never have too much information," Alexander said at the time. "If we combine the best information with our basketball people, we should be able to make the most informed and best decisions in the NBA. Daryl will be an important part of that process."
Maybe Morey was a bit raw. But Alexander felt that concern was easily alleviated. The Rockets owner brought his prized acquisition to the team in April 2006, allowing Morey the opportunity to serve a one-year apprenticeship under longtime general manager Carroll Dawson. The man the Rockets affectionately call "CD" would show him the ropes and make the transition as seamless as possible. Then when Dawson retired at the end of the 2007 season, Morey would be given the keys to the franchise.
For 13 months, everything went according to plan. On May 10, Morey officially took over as the Rockets' new general manager, and his first order of business was to reconcile the club's up-in-the-air coaching situation. Houston had just lost a gut-wrenching seven-game series to the Utah Jazz, marking the third time in four seasons the Rockets had fallen in the first round of the playoffs under the stewardship of head coach Jeff Van Gundy. Rumors of Van Gundy's imminent demise were everywhere.
What followed next was a textbook case of "he said, she said." The Rockets insisted Van Gundy gave the team his blessing to seek other candidates, in case he decided not to coach anymore. But Van Gundy said he told the Rockets all along that he wanted to come back as coach.
The end result: Van Gundy was fired, the Rockets' brass suffered a black eye and local media pounced on an opportunity to rough up the rookie GM. Morey was labeled "overmatched" and portrayed as a liar for the way the messy divorce played out in public. Meanwhile, Alexander was dubbed "Clueless Les" for choosing Morey as his man in the first place.
Five months, a new head coach and several player additions later, the critics have either changed their tune or gone into hiding. These days, Morey is earning raves around the league for his off-season acquisitions that have transformed the Rockets into one of the deepest teams in the NBA. For his part, the new GM seems rather unfazed by the extraordinary roller-coaster start of his tenure.
"No one walks up to the person they're criticizing and says something," says Morey. "That's general human nature: They don't really have the courage to do that even though it would actually help the person more than the quiet whispers. You can defend yourself and also maybe learn from it. But frankly, I think it's a little premature to say we've done anything. We're all excited, but I'm a little nervous to veni, vidi, vici the season."
And in usual form, Leslie Alexander delivered this message to those who doubted his decision: "I was right, and everyone else that questioned it was wrong."
Contrary to popular belief, statistics do not lie. At worst, the numbers are merely unwilling accomplices forced into an arena to which they don't belong. The true masters of deception are the people who, consciously or otherwise, flaunt their misleading stats to continue perpetuating half-truths and outright lies. Perhaps no one knows that better than Bill James.
James was one of the first people who used statistical analysis to look beyond the veil separating old-school baseball logic from innumerable hidden truths. Thirty years ago, he began writing his annual Baseball Abstracts, which poked so many holes in the game's conventional wisdom, readers had to wonder why baseball's powers-that-be couldn't figure out such things for themselves. Whereas traditionalists were in love with a player's batting average, James demonstrated that on-base and slugging percentages were far more important when it came to generating runs — which was, after all, the point of the game. And he didn't stop there. Among many other things, James was also among the first to stress the role of luck in both a pitcher's win-loss record and a batter's runs-batted-in total.
James dubbed his particular field of study "sabermetrics," a somewhat cumbersome name derived from SABR, the acronym for the Society for American Baseball Research. His intent was not to remove the human element from the game — in fact, he acknowledged the limitations of statistics and urged open-mindedness above all else — but rather to shine the light of objectivity on a game dominated by players, coaches and executives who implicitly placed their trust in old-school maxims and what they saw with their own eyes. James had no interest in overthrowing the establishment. He merely hoped his statistical analysis could bring balance to it.
But balance was not something to be won overnight. It took decades before major league baseball embraced some of James's ideas. Fans, meanwhile, were quicker to catch on. By 1982, the Abstract was a best-seller. Scientists, professors, Wall Street analysts, mathematicians — they all were fascinated by this new-old world which James was exploring. From a small city in northern Ohio just outside of Cleveland, a young boy was paying close attention, too.
Daryl Morey wanted to stay near Cleveland. He was a sophomore in high school when his Dad's business opened up branch offices in Toledo, Detroit and Chicago. A move was imminent. Aware of Daryl's resistance to relocating, his father asked him to make a list of the reasons why such a move would be either good or bad. The teen's No. 1 reason for staying put: "I thought that the Cavaliers and Browns had a good chance to win and I wanted to be in the town when it happened."
Basketball was his favorite sport, but he was just as well-versed in baseball and football. When he wasn't playing on the court or in the field, young Daryl spent hours absorbed in games like Strat-O-Matic and Earl Weaver Baseball. By the time he was in middle school, Morey was already showing an inclination toward viewing sports from a more analytical perspective.
"Very early, I was always focused on how to better forecast players because, frankly, the data was there," says Morey. "I was always somewhat interested in how to figure out who the best player was and always hoped it was my favorite Cleveland Indians that I was rooting for, and always seemed to be disappointed when it wasn't. When I was younger, they were pretty bad. I just got passionate about it and that brought me to Bill James. [His books] were inspirational to how taking an objective look at things and beliefs can help you succeed in sports and anywhere, really."
Buoyed by the discovery of a kindred spirit and his dominance in the emerging world of fantasy sports (that's right, fantasy junkies, you too can become a real-life GM — just as soon as you graduate from Northwestern and MIT, of course), Morey set out on a path he hoped would allow him to make his mark on the professional sports landscape.
Two important events took place when Morey arrived at Northwestern. During his first week on campus, he met his future wife, Ellen, while playing volleyball at a picnic. They went on their first date within a week and got married five years later.
"It's a good story if you're a girl and it's a bad story if you're me," jokes Morey. "I tend to avoid the topic because the guy's story is supposed to be more like, 'I sowed my wild oats and now it's time to settle down.'"
The other life-changing event came in the form of an entry-level job with a company called STATS Inc., a Chicago-based firm that provides sports statistics and analysis primarily to teams, leagues and media outlets, and one which Bill James himself had joined about a decade earlier.
"Daryl has many skills that I wish I had, but never will," says James. "A lot of those skills aren't apparent maybe the first time you meet him. But you soon realize he's got a brilliant mind and he's also a great people person."
Part of Morey's brilliance was his ability to recognize a good idea when he saw one. Years earlier, James had created what he called the Pythagorean Theorem of baseball, a method which predicts wins based on runs scored and runs allowed. While at STATS, Morey simply took that idea and tweaked it to make it accurately apply to other sports as well.
"That was probably the first thing I got any notice for," says Morey. "It really was stealing from Bill James — which I was proud to do — and taking his approach in baseball, which shows that run differential is much more predictive of future winning — and also of the quality of your team — than your actual winning. Winning close games is a skill that no team could perpetuate and has never shown a consistent ability to do. So basically, I stole from Bill and showed that the same rules apply to basketball as well."
The mechanisms of change had been set in motion. Sabermetricians and statistical analysis geeks were popping up all over the country, and their message was slowly beginning to weave its way into the minds of the sporting public. But there was still one frontier to conquer. Until these theories infiltrated the games themselves, people like James and Morey were no different than a doctor who watches his sick patient take one look at the prescription, crumple it up and dismissively toss it in the trash. Eventually, someone on the inside was going to have to muster up enough courage to stand strong and take the medicine.
Billy Beane had a problem. Baseball had become a game which pitted the haves versus the have-nots, and his small-market Oakland A's definitely fell into the latter category. With player salaries soaring into the stratosphere, the big-market teams seemed to be playing with a stacked deck.
When Beane ascended to Oakland's GM role in 1997, he knew the A's only shot at success was to outsmart everyone else. His mentor and the man he succeeded in Oakland, Sandy Alderson, had pointed him in the direction of James's Abstracts a few years earlier, and by the time Beane became general manager, he had read them all. Alderson had even begun to apply some sabermetric theory to the organization before he stepped aside. Beane made it his mission to finish what Alderson had started. The A's were going to fight back by shedding old-school ideology and becoming a business run by objectivity and sabermetric principles.
Ten years later, Beane is universally regarded as one of the best general managers in baseball, if not all of professional sports. The best-selling book Moneyball chronicles his grand experiment, which resulted in the A's becoming a perennial contender, despite being handicapped with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball year after year.
"He's extraordinarily smart, and what makes him even smarter is he always gets great people around him," says Morey. "Billy's like Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino; he has disciples all over the place, so that's a big credit to him."
But even though the door had been opened for people like him, Morey still had some major hurdles to clear. First among them: getting a job with a pro franchise. So when he left STATS in '96, Morey hit up every team in every major sport across the country.
"I was going to take whatever opportunity came my way, be it basketball or anything else," he says. "Actually, I had pretty good relationships with teams and just couldn't get it done. And I think that was when I got a little discouraged, which will happen to anyone in many fields. So then I said, all right, well now I'm going to focus on making enough money to buy a team."
With that, Morey made his way to MIT to focus on entrepreneurship. He never got close to joining the ranks of Les Alexander and Mark Cuban — Morey jokes that the nearest he ever got was when he applied for a job with Google when the fledgling company consisted of only eight employees. He never received a call-back — but he did gain valuable corporate experience while working for a few start-up companies and teaching a course at MIT.
But it wasn't until 2002, while Morey was working for a consulting firm called Parthenon, that a combination of diligence and serendipity created the opportunity he needed. The storied Boston Celtics franchise was up for sale and a group of investors led by Wyc Grousbeck swooped in to make the purchase. Grousbeck tabbed Parthenon to help out with the complicated process, and Morey was the point man who conducted the valuation process.
Kosmo Kalliarekos, Morey's boss at Parthenon, knew about Daryl's passion for sports. "It wasn't just like he knew each individual player — although he knew their stats like you would know your kids — but he kind of was always interested, and we'd have these great discussions about what makes a team become a winning team and how does it all work together," Kalliarekos says.
"He asked me, 'I would really like you to help me get a position with the Celtics. This is something that I always wanted to do.' And of course you could hear it and you could see it in his eyes that this was his dream. And of course we did everything we could, although we didn't really have to do much, to tell you the truth. I mean, it was obvious that he would be a great addition to any team."
Grousbeck certainly noticed, especially when Morey mastered the intricacies of the NBA's salary cap in just one weekend.
"I said, 'Daryl, you're going to look pretty good in green if you get this deal done,'" recalls Grousbeck.
By the end of the year, the sale was complete and Grousbeck made Morey the Celtics' senior vice president of operations and information, where his first job was to modernize the ticket-sales operation. But it didn't take long for the Celtics brass to figure out Morey's mastery of numbers could be used in other ways.
"Wyc just pointed me at the most important issues with the Celtics, and very soon you realize the most important issue for any sports franchise is getting the right players for the right price," says Morey.
The Celtics put Morey to work on a little hard-core number-crunching and gave him the authority to hire a small team of statisticians for assistance. One of their first projects: a regression analysis of 25 years of NBA drafts to determine which college statistics best equate with NBA success at each of the five positions.
Moneyball was making its way into the NBA.
Meanwhile, the Rockets needed a new GM. The club was struggling through a miserable, injury-plagued '05-'06 season and Carroll Dawson was talking retirement. But Les Alexander couldn't find the right person.
The Rockets owner had made his fortune on Wall Street and wanted his franchise to be run with a similar emphasis on the analytical. In the early '90s, behind the stewardship of Alexander and then-head coach Rudy Tomjanovich, the Rockets began tracking the game differently from everyone else. Rudy T didn't have a background in statistical analysis, but he was still able to arrive at some of the right answers by feel. His work in that area proved to be one of the hidden ingredients in the Rockets' success, which culminated in their back-to-back championships.
Still, Houston's increased emphasis on number-crunching didn't seem to have much of a positive impact on its drafts. Outside of the Yao Ming selection in 2002 — which fell into their laps when the team won the lottery for the No. 1 pick — the Rockets had far more misses than hits. Free agency hadn't been particularly kind to the club, either. High-priced acquisitions such as Kelvin Cato, Maurice Taylor and Stromile Swift all turned out to be busts. Clearly, there was room for improvement. So when Alexander stumbled upon a largely unknown young man working within the Celtics organization, he believed he knew exactly how that improvement could be made.
"I always thought you should mix the quantitative with the basketball," says Alexander. "They've done it in other sports, and I think the NBA might be a little behind in that area. Daryl, in particular, had a great background. He's always been into sports. He's always been a quantitative guy in sports. I thought he was maybe a little inexperienced for the job, but when you get a chance to get somebody like that, I think you should do it rather than wait and not get the opportunity again."
Alexander reached the decision on his own. Not even Dawson was included in the search. Says CD, "I think he thought I was too close to the people that were under me."
Indeed, many around the league had assumed the Rockets already had an heir apparent in VP and assistant GM Dennis Lindsey. And now, not only was Dawson being asked to groom someone else for the job, but Morey's inclusion meant the team was going with a potentially uncomfortable three-headed monster at the GM position for the '06-'07 season.
"Dennis handled that real well, because I'd always just considered that Dennis was going to take my place," says Dawson. "And I think that's why I was left out of the situation; Leslie thought that I was too close to him and he [Lindsey] was like a son to me and so he wanted to try a different way. But Dennis is a perfect team guy, so there wasn't a problem at all there."
Morey concurs: "I think it's a credit to Carroll and Dennis that it wasn't [uncomfortable]. We all took the measure of each other and came out of it saying, 'These are people I'd want to work with anyway.'"
Lindsey — who accepted a position within the San Antonio Spurs organization this summer — declined a request to be interviewed for this story, but said through a Spurs' representative that he and Morey are friends and believes he'll do a great job in Houston.
Meanwhile, the rest of the NBA was still trying to figure out exactly who this Morey guy was.
"Around the league, I had a lot of people call me and question the deal, because it hadn't been done that way before," Dawson says. "They'd say, 'What happened, how did this happen, who is this guy?' I had all those questions from just about everybody in the league. But I told them I'll always take up for Les because, I'm telling you, he's good for basketball. Leslie is a smart man. He didn't get to be where he is in life by making dumb decisions."
Morey had a little more than a year to learn the ropes under Dawson.
"He came in with a handicap, because if he had had to take over when he came in, it would have been tough," Dawson explains. "I let him sit in on calls, and started taking him to different conventions and introducing him to everybody. He didn't know the people we have to deal with, where we get our assets."
"CD graciously, and with a lot of diligence, converted his network, his credibility built up over 20 years in the league, over to mine," says Morey. "That can't be underestimated. I think, as with any other business, it's built on relationships and I work hard to have those relationships."
"Generally, I've found among the public there's this misnomer that there's this sort of single-actor general manager on any team. Every decision for every team is very collaborative, at least all the ones I've worked at. No decision is made in a vacuum. I think each general manager is only as good as the people around him. At the end of the day, we definitely take responsibility for any of the problems, but the credit goes to everyone."
Basketball isn't that much different from baseball with regard to the history of scouting. It was a mad scramble in both sports back in the day. In many ways, it still is. But 30 years ago, the task was herculean. The basketball staffs were especially small (think single digits) and with so many players across the country, the best you could hope for was to get a small glimpse of an athlete's ability. Maybe you'd catch a game or two and talk to a player's pastor and high school science teacher. Then you closed your eyes and rolled the dice.
But baseball is, by and large, a game played by individuals. So evaluating a player's performance, especially offensively, is relatively easy once you're focused on the right stats. Basketball, on the other hand, isn't nearly as simple. The ebb and flow of the game and the inherent importance of team add a level of depth and complication that can make the process of pinpointing talent seem like rocket science in comparison.
Says Morey: "I think the bottom line, though, is that — where basketball gets really interesting and exciting — is that you can't isolate things down into one or two simple concepts. Because while it's true you can isolate the team level to that, you can't do it at the player level. For example: Does a guy hit a shot because he's a great shooter? Because he got a great pick? Because the pass was good? You can't isolate that perfectly with any sort of objective evidence. So you're always developing a picture of a player and you're always integrating the two. Whereas in baseball there are fewer variables and you may be able to isolate it better."
That's the reason some NBA insiders remain wary of the number-crunchers. Take, for instance, former Rocket and current NBA analyst Kenny Smith.
"Without question, I'm going to trust my eyes more than the numbers," says Smith. "I never look at the stat sheet. I think stats have value, without question. But it makes me wary if they [the number-crunchers] put value in certain stats that I don't think have value. A player understands this. I could average 17 points a game on a bad team, because in the last eight minutes of the game, the coach leaves me in the game to get my six or seven points against second-string or third-string guys. And when you're on a bad team, guys know how to do that. They know how to get their numbers."
"I want to know what happens in winning time. What happens when guys are making plays to win the game, or when a team is making a 10-0 run? Who's the guy who makes the play to make things happen? I know the look. I know the look that separates aggression from passiveness, dominance from lack of dominance over a person. You can't get that on a stat sheet. Statistics should only validate what you think subjectively. It shouldn't create your subjective view."
Perhaps surprisingly, Morey doesn't take issue with Smith's opinions on the subject.
"I think that's fair," he says. "In fact, I describe what we do along those lines all the time. No matter what you think, you should want to use objective evidence to confirm or help you question your beliefs."
"I think often what you'll find when you're getting negative comments (on statistics), they're basing it on what they're used to being available, which is a regular box score. And there's no question that anything in the box score is highly misleading. So if you're basing your opinions on that — the box scores that they hand out at the games — you're going to have an appropriate negative opinion of what you can understand using analytics. I would even have a negative opinion of [statistical analysis] if that's all I'd ever seen."
"From a traditional box score I'd say there's only 20 to 30 percent that's useful relative to some of the more advanced stuff you can measure. That's why we have our — we call it our army — people who track stuff leaguewide" (see "Outside the Box: Turns out a player's scoring average isn't the big key to a win").
There's an old saying in sports that serves as a warning to coaches and GMs everywhere: If you listen too much to the fans, you'll soon find yourself sitting with them. The Rockets put that maxim to the test during the summer of '06. Prior to the June draft, management assessed the team and its shortcomings and compiled a list containing the names of five players who they felt would best fill their needs.
Shane Battier's name figured prominently. Though his box score numbers hardly leaped off the page, he stood out like a Mensa member at a Paris Hilton party when the Rockets computed his efficiency ratings. When Battier was on the floor, practically everything about his team's performance improved (see "Shane Battier by the Numbers: Beyond stats, there's stats").
The Rockets brain trust was convinced. So when draft day rolled around — about three months after Morey had joined the team — Houston pulled the trigger on the deal, sending the eighth overall pick and Stromile Swift to Memphis, for Battier.
Almost instantaneously, the Houston sports public — already up in arms over the Texans' draft-day debacle a few months earlier — lost its collective mind again. They had lusted for Rudy Gay, an ultra-athletic swingman who had surprisingly slipped to the eighth spot and was now property of the Grizzlies. The fans couldn't fathom passing on a player who — in their minds — compared favorably to a young Scottie Pippen. And they certainly couldn't come to grips with the fact that the Rockets happily bypassed the potential of Gay for a supposedly inconsequential glue-guy like Battier.
Morey certainly understands the furor that move created, and while he concedes the quality of trades and draft picks can't be known until several years have passed, he's also quick to point out yet another reason why this deal made sense.
"You can see basketball as a series of mini-games," he says. "When ten players are on the floor, they play for anywhere between 30 seconds and three minutes and until you sub someone in, you can see basketball as a mini-game between that five-on-five set. And you're trying to win each mini-game throughout the game, and you can then basically make conclusions on whether or not a player's winning the mini-games they're in throughout the game."
If that seems at all confusing, here's all you need to know: Shane Battier consistently wins those mini-games.
And the following season, Battier and his new teammates won a lot of the real games, too. Despite another injury-plagued season that saw Ming and McGrady miss a combined 45 games, the Rockets rolled to a 52-30 record. What's more, when Yao and T-Mac were healthy, Houston's point differential — which, if you recall, is the best indicator of future wins — pointed toward a team that could be expected to win 60 games.
Of course, the Rockets' 2007 season didn't end on a happy note. Far from it, in fact. Houston fell in the first round to Utah, a series they lost despite winning the first two games and owning home court advantage in the deciding game seven. Two weeks later, the Rockets brain trust made the collective decision to fire Jeff Van Gundy, prompting an all-out assault on Morey's and the Rockets' credibility.
"That's the media's job, is to sell newspapers, so I never begrudge them for doing their job," says Morey. "But I don't think there was much time taken to really take an in-depth look at all sides. I think with perfect hindsight, it could have played out differently for everybody. But unfortunately, none of us get the benefit of that."
"We've [Van Gundy and Morey] spoken since and traded messages. He is a great coach. I don't think he has any hard feelings. I don't have any hard feelings. I think anytime there's a parting of ways, it's difficult for everyone. Obviously, you don't want to have newspaper articles saying you're a liar. The only thing that gave me solace was everyone who knew me was like, 'What the hell?' They were just stunned that this was coming out, 'cause I've obviously got a lot of relationships everywhere, and everyone knew that the media portrayal of it was not accurate on that front. So that helped."
Multiple attempts to contact Van Gundy by the Houston Press were unsuccessful.
More than five months later, the Rockets have moved on. Everyone is eagerly anticipating the upcoming season. There's a new coach in Rick Adelman. There are new players, too, some wholeheartedly embraced by the public (Luis Scola) while others (ahem, Steve Francis) have some work to do before winning fans' trust. Locally and nationwide, expectations for this team are bordering on the absurd when one considers the Rockets' decade of first-round departures. Les Alexander is saying this is the most talented Rockets team he's had since the championship years, and ESPN's John Hollinger even went so far as to pick Houston as his choice to take home the title next June.
That sort of talk seems to make Morey a bit uncomfortable.
"I think with each positive thing — frankly, for us — it's probably better to come out of nowhere," he says. "I'm trying to study China a little more and — I think I'm going to get this wrong — but in The Art of War, there's a good proverb in there about keeping 'em guessing versus having everyone with high expectations."
Practice is over for the day. As the team huddles together to hear coach Adelman's final words, Morey climbs the stairs leading to his sparsely decorated new office. "I'm still in the process of moving in," he says. Pictures of his children — eight-year-old Karen and five-year-old Scott — populate his workspace. On the wall in front of Morey's desk, there's a magnetic board containing every player in the NBA — organized by team — and his salary cap number, the key ingredient which thwarts oh-so-many talk radio trades.
Morey eases into his chair, at ease within his 6'4'' frame. His features faintly resemble those of a less-angular Conan O'Brien, perhaps because of his affinity for junk food and Kraft cheese slices. "I eat those like a meal," he laments.
Wife Ellen says that despite his long hours, Morey spends a lot of time with his children. "He was obviously very into science when he was young, and he likes to do science experiments with my daughter. It's really fun to watch his love of learning rub off on them, and they get very excited about the time they spend with their dad," she says.
Morey's old boss from Parthenon, Kosmo Kalliarekos — who also happens to be one of the lead advisers to the Gates Foundation on the issue of American public school system reform — says it's a mistake to assume Morey is just a stats guy.
"Here's Daryl in the middle of the summer — probably in the midst of a lot of thinking about how to construct the team, the trades and all that—he calls me up as he was driving around and he said to me, 'Let's talk a little bit about education because that subject really interests me.' And we had like an hour-long discussion about why we have so many problems in our education, particularly in our inner cities and our urban areas. That floored me."
Morey doesn't spend time worrying about whether his lack of basketball experience could hinder his ability to get the job done. "I don't think it's really a factor. I mean, you don't have to be a farmer to run Hormel." Beane considers it a nonissue, too.
"I think the idea that you have to have a certain amount of experience and have to be a certain age to be in certain positions in sports is really out the window," Beane says. "I think a major portion of sports front offices are going to look not unlike what Wall Street looked like ten or 15 years ago: sort of the best and brightest. Because it is a business and sports does lend itself to analysis and people who have a significant investment in their clubs are going to look toward people who take more of an objective view than a subjective view."
"And the one thing I know about Daryl: He's going to use all the information he can, not just objective, but subjective. That's what people do. They realize there's no template that works year after year after year. I think the brightest leaders are the ones that are able to take a piece of everything and sort of mold it into their own philosophy and ultimately implement it within their organization."
Morey leans forward in his chair. He says he doesn't spend too much time concerning himself with the methodology. His concern is the end result. "I think as long as people see that it can help the team win, they're going to get behind it. We hope to be the champions, but at the end of the day, only one out of 30 gets to be happy in June."
For all the numbers that race through Morey's mind, that "one" is the only figure fans really care about. They're counting on him to take them there.
The Rockets rookie GM leans back and steals a glance at the magnetic board before him. He's working on it.
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