Okay, let me get this out of the way...
Daryl Morey knows what he's doing. In Daryl we trust! In Morey we trust! Daryl Morey is the NBA GM version of William Wallace with an undergrad degree from the Jedi academy and a PhD in ninja skills! I love Daryl Morey!
Okay, there I said it...I almost feel like there's this unwritten rule that we have to preface every speculative Rockets transaction with some general proclamation of man-love for Daryl Morey's general manager skills, and to not do so would be downright un-Houstonian. To be clear, such adulation is not something Morey seeks out nor asks for. Really, it's been thrust upon him. I think diehard Rocket fans have this hair trigger response to "all things Morey" for a few reasons:
1) In spite of being a guy with a classic "math dork on steroids" resume (anytime the letters M.I.T. come out, you're really starting at "dork," no?), Daryl Morey is a pretty cool dude. We like cool dudes with sick math skills as long as they're mind-banging our enemies and not us.
2) The Rockets' set of transactions that required some degree of thought and creativity during the decade prior to Morey's arrival had a hit rate about equal to the save percentage of a World Cup soccer goalie on penalty kicks (see, soccer -- I haven't forgotten you.)
3) Daryl Morey is really good at his job. He has a plan, and within that plan are a handful of sub-plans...contingencies, really -- and he told Lance Zierlein, Danny Vara and me on Monday that he has six of them. (Favorite part of the interview for me was when Morey talked about "Contingency Zero," which is the Rockets roster remaining as-is. It just sounded cool, like somehow drafting Patrick Patterson and holding onto Kevin Martin is going to help thwart a terrorist attack.)
So to be clear, I like Daryl Morey and wouldn't trade him for any other GM in the league; I just need to know from the ClutchFan Nation if it's okay to not have to do the secret Morey Omerta vow anymore before we talk about a deal he may or may not make. Because this much we know -- Morey will be trying to make a deal. A big one. Soon.
If you had to build the road to the 2010-2011 season in stages, it would go like this:
1) FEBRUARY 2010 -- Move Tracy McGrady's expiring contract for a king's ransom in return. Ultimately, after mixing Carl Landry into the deal as well, it basically netted the Rockets Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill, and the Knicks' next couple first-round picks (2011 the chance of switching first round picks with the Knicks, and in 2012 they out-and-out get the Knicks' pick). CHECK.
2) JUNE 2010 -- Get some help in the draft. They had Patrick Patterson rated as the sixth player on their board. CHECK.
3) Get the "Yao Ming Situation" squared away. Yao decided to go contrarian (i.e. the non-Dirk, non-Pierce route) and play out the final year of his deal. BIG CHECK.
4) Somehow, some way try to find some help during the free-agent feeding frenzy. That's the part being worked on now. Chris Bosh is the name that most Rocket fans want, it's the name among the upper tier of free agents that has been most closely linked to the Rockets. Bosh isn't the only free agent who would make the Rockets better, though, and to that end Morey will begin working the phones come 12:01 a.m. EST Thursday morning.
That said, as much as we trust Daryl Morey, the one thing he hasn't done yet as Rockets GM is sign a big free agent, or pull off a sign-and-trade for one -- for the point I'm about to make, they're essentially the same thing.
Daryl Morey has yet to put his own personal label of "no brainer eight figure per year guy" on any incoming as Rockets GM. He inherited the contracts and Rockets' tenures of Yao and Tracy. The other $10 million-plus per year guy that has been a Rocket with Morey here is Kevin Martin, but he came here with that contract already; Sacramento signed him to that deal a couple years ago, the Rockets traded for it.
This is the first chance for Morey to handpick someone and say "You're worth five years, $60 million -- or $75 million or $85 million -- welcome to Houston!" That's a different flavor of transaction, and one that has huge long-term ramifications (not to mention luxury-tax ramifications) if you miss.
In the last season of The Sopranos, Tony Soprano and his brother-in-law (and "made" guy) Bobby Baccala were out fishing and Tony confirmed with Bobby about Bobby's not having ever killed someone -- "You never popped your cherry in that regard, have you?" Bobby nodded and said "No, I haven't...I done other things, but no, never have..."
Well, in the North Jersey that is the NBA transaction world, "other things" consist of thieving the Spurs of Luis Scola, getting Ron Artest for nothing, and drafting Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks, and Chase Budinger. Deals like that are like loansharking, gambling, or bilking the unions. Deciding if Chris Bosh (or Joe Johnson or Amare Stoudemire...) should get $100 million of Les Alexander's money? That's much bigger. That's murder. To some extent, Morey is Bobby Baccala right now.
You can miss on petty thievery and setting the wrong betting line on a game, but a botched hit will get Tony Soprano a little angry. Don't think so? How do you think the various Tony's (i.e. other NBA owners) feel about their capo's who were out executing these "$10 million plus per year" hits? (Years and dollars remaining on deal in parentheses. One's with a * were deals the player signed with a previous team.)
Erick Dampier, Dallas (1 year, $13.1 million)
Rip Hamilton, Detroit (3 years, $38 million)
Ben Gordon, Detroit (4 years, $48 million)
Monta Ellis. Golden State (4 years, $44 million)
Emeka Okafor, New Orleans (4 years, $52.3 million) *
Eddy Curry, New York (1 year, $11.2 million)
Rashard Lewis, Orlando (3 years, $66.4 million)
Elton Brand, Philadelphia (3 years, $51.2 million)
Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia (4 years, $56.5 million)
Samuel Dalembert, Sacramento (1 year, $12.2 million) *
Richard Jefferson, San Antonio (1 year, $15 million) *
Hedo Turkoglu, Toronto (4 years, $44 million)
Andre Kirilenko, Utah (1 year, $17.8 million)
....and ironically, the last and biggest "eight figure per year" whacking fail involves someone who would actually, literally pull a gun on you....
Gilbert Arenas, Wizards (4 years, $80.2 million)
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Sopranos fans will remember that episode with Tony and Bobby conversing about murder while trying to catch large-mouthed bass ended with Tony farming out a hit to Bobby later that episode, mostly out of spite (Tony could really be an asshole when he wanted to). Bobby was successful on that hit; he shot the dude right between the eyes.
Ironically, the victim was Canadian. Somewhere, the Toronto Raptors probably see the foreshadowing.
One more time...In Morey we trust!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.