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Burning the Midnight Oil with Daryl Morey

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Call it the NBA’s version of the shot heard round the world. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but the moment Memphis Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace dealt Pau Gasol to Los Angeles, general managers around the NBA seemed spurred into a game of one-upmanship; culminating in one of the most fascinating trade sequences in league history. Like the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Gasol deal now stands as a landmark occurrence: one made 1,000 times more significant due to the earth-shattering events which followed. And if that’s not enough hyperbole for you, just imagine what life will become if we’re treated to an Armageddon NBA finals featuring Kobe vs. LeBron this June.

On the home front, the Rockets joined in the fun with a pair of moves just before the trade deadline. The first sent Bonzi Wells and Mike James to New Orleans in exchange for guard Bobby Jackson. Then Houston brought 2007 slam dunk champion Gerald Green back to his hometown by shipping little-used Kirk Snyder to Minnesota. Needless to say, there was much to discuss so it seemed like the perfect time to catch up with Rockets GM Daryl Morey to get his thoughts on the deals. Unfortunately, Morey’s whirlwind week didn’t end at the trade deadline. That meant we weren’t able to connect until the wee hours of Friday morning. What follows is the transcript of our somewhat sleep-deprived conversation.

JCF: Do you feel like the Pao Gasol deal was the driving force behind the flurry of trades we saw this year, or do you think they all would have gone through regardless?

DM: I think they would have gone through regardless. I know we’re just constantly trying to upgrade, and what other teams are doing has definitely a moderate impact on how you look at your team relative to others; not only overall, but positionally. But it’s very minor in the overall grand scheme of improving the team day to day.

JCF: So you don’t think everyone else was simply reacting to that blockbuster move?

DM: Well, I’m not them so I don’t know. I’m guessing no because, again, I think most teams will weight that factor in doing a deal as pretty low.

JCF: I think the late hour of this conversation gives this answer away, but I’ll go ahead and ask it all the same. This was your first trade deadline day as the guy pulling the trigger. How did it go, and have you gotten any sleep at all this week?

DM: Not much, and not for the staff, who all work very hard to pull these off. At the end, trades look straight forward, but the result doesn’t really talk about the work that goes into it. I’ve been through quite a few of these, I think this is my 6th now, so I’m pretty used to the schedule and the dynamics.

JCF: Let’s talk a little about the trades you made. To me, the Bonzi move seems as if it’s at least as much a money/future move, as it is a basketball move. I think some people look at the effect it will have on the court right now, and they don’t understand the rationale behind it. But when you factor in the money you save by getting rid of the Mike James contract, and the inherent value that comes with Jackson’s deal which expires next year, it’s easy to see how this trade could prove very beneficial down the line.

DM: Yeah, I mean this was a trade forward trade. The hard ones are the ones where you don’t improve both now and your [future] flexibility. This trade came together in a very positive way in that our focus was to upgrade this year, and we feel like we were able to do that; upgrading the spot we’re most concerned about in the playoffs—back-up point—with a guy who can step right in and provide the veteran leadership that we wanted, and playoff-tested experience, and the guy Rick [Adelman] knows who can step right in.

JCF: Do you have any reservations about dealing Bonzi to a division rival?

DM: Again, all else equal, I think that’s a factor. But I think that’s a minor factor in the overall look at the deal; especially this year in the West where it’s a dogfight one through nine to get in, and we’re not going to play a particular team more than a few times. So we need to focus on getting ourselves better dramatically more than how it impacts one of nine teams we’re fighting with to make the playoffs.

So we added Bobby and we gave up Bonzi and we felt like to get something you’ve got to give up something. We felt like the more important spot was to upgrade back-up one, which is the hardest position. As promising as Aaron [Brooks] is--which we’re excited for him now and in the future—that’s the hardest spot to be a rookie at in the playoffs. And then Bonzi had been playing a lot because Tracy and Luther were alternately not healthy. Well, now they’re both healthy. We play better defensively when playing big at the four. We play better overall when playing big at the four. We play better when we have shooting on the floor; shooting’s more important in the playoffs. So we felt like Bonzi was the right—since he wasn’t going to play as much—cost to upgrade the team for the playoffs this year.

And why it’s an easier deal is because not only does it upgrade us for the playoffs this year in what we feel is a material way, it sets us up to be a player in the near future in a big way. This off-season and the next trade deadline we’re now set up to make a significant upgrade.

JCF: Looking at Gerald Green deal now, we all know about his superior athletic ability and stroke from beyond the arc. But everyone says the same thing about him: Athletically gifted, but low basketball IQ. Do you think that’s a fair description?

DM: Yeah, I think Gerald’s got a lot of potential. He’s too young to look at what he’s done, you’ve got to look at what he could be. We’re taking a small investment that could pay dividends. We won’t see him play much very likely, but our coaching staff is great at developing young players and we’ll get a real look at whether this guy is someone who can help us in the future and the inside track on re-signing him.

And this deal was again one that was easier because it—combined with the other move—gives us the room to sign one larger or multiple smaller dollar free agents, and there’s a few guys out there. We think we can upgrade the team and we want to be able to potentially sign them.

Follow up note: Reports indicate the Rockets are planning to sign guard/forward Bobby Jones to a 10 day contract, and are also in pursuit of former San Antonio Spurs guard Brent Barry.

JCF: I know your job is about taking care of the Rockets first and foremost, but does the NBA fan in you get really excited about what’s going on in the league this year? There are just so many great storylines and the Western Conference playoffs promise to be must-see TV from the word go. It really feels like we could be on the verge of a second golden age for the NBA.

DM: I agree. I can’t remember a time that’s been more interesting, with major stars being added to high, high quality teams. One through nine in the West, the teams are separated by very little in the way of quality of the teams. They’re all high quality. The Western playoffs, I honestly can’t imagine a better situation in the past, and it’s hard to think of everything aligning like this in the future. JCF: And my last question for you Daryl before I let you go: Can you confirm that your two trades were just a smokescreen, allowing you time to alter the background behind the backboards at the Toyota Center so there’d no longer be a depth perception problem for some of your shooters? It sure didn’t seem like there was a problem last night.

DM: Haha. I think we’ve hurdled that. I think Tracy understands that even if what he said were true, it’d be a home court advantage. Since we play on it more, we’d more used to it. But, yeah, Tracy and everyone really got it going. We’ve got a big test [today]. It’s a test that we’re excited to face and we’ll see if we can keep it rolling. It’s a tough thing to keep winning, but we’ve got the guys with the right attitude to give it a shot. JCF: Well, Daryl, thank you so much for taking the time to break all this down for us. Get some rest, and good luck this weekend.

DM: Well thanks for being interested in the Rockets at 1:50 in the morning.

JCF: Hey, it’s a 24/7 job, just like yours; just without the big bucks, high stress and ridiculously impressive skill set that’s required, of course. OK, so maybe they’re not comparable at all. ‘Til next time…

- Jason Friedman

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