Heading into Monday night, with the NBA Awards show just a few hours away, the question that we posed on my radio show on SportsRadio 610 was "Who is more overdue for their respective award — James Harden for league MVP, or Daryl Morey for NBA Executive of the Year?" Aside from a one-season hiccup for both in 2015-2016, both Harden and Morey have been consistently great at their jobs over the last four or five years.
I think you could have made case for either one, but fortunately, it's not really necessary to make a case for either any longer, for as of Monday night, James Harden is now in the NBA MVP club, and Morey has finally convinced enough of his peers he's great at his job to garner the NBA's Executive of the Year award.
Let's start with Harden, who becomes the third league MVP in franchise history, joining Moses Malone (1981-82) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-94) on that short list. After two runner-up finishes in the last three seasons (2014-15, 2016-17), Harden finally broke through in a big way this past season, convincing 86 of the 101 voters to give him their first place vote. LeBron James received the other 15 first-place votes.
Statistically, Harden had maybe his greatest season, leading the league in scoring with a 30.4 points per game average, while leading the Rockets to a league-best 65-17 regular season record. He did this while almost seamlessly meshing with newly acquired future Hall of Fame point guard, Chris Paul, a process many experts believed would take months to complete, if it would ever be completed at all.
Meanwhile, Morey finally took home the highest honor for any league employee in charge of roster building. The Executive of the Year award is unique, in that it's the only major award that is decided on by a candidate's peers, an aspect that, in my opinion, has probably cost Morey the award on at least one (maybe more than one) occasion. Morey received 11 of the 30 first-place votes, followed by (including first-place votes) Dennis Lindsey (Utah, 7), Kevin Pritchard (Indidana, 3), Danny Ainge (Boston, 1), and Masai Ujiri (Toronto, 4).
When you consider that Morey had been tasked with rebuilding from the rubble of the Yao Ming/Tracy McGrady injuries, and doing so with direct orders from then-owner Leslie Alexander NOT to tank for a high draft choice, Morey's accomplishments and roster maneuvering carry a higher degree of difficulty that often gets ignored. He managed to compile enough assets, after a slew of roster moves, to acquire James Harden in 2012. In the summer of 2013, Morey was able to lure center Dwight Howard, then the highest profile free agent on the market, to Houston, a move widely lauded at the time and a move that led to a Rocket berth in the conference finals in 2015.
Last summer, Morey pieced together the moves that led to his finally securing the award this past season. First, he was able to convince Chris Paul to come to Houston, a transaction that was eventually executed as a trade between the Rockets and Clippers. Morey followed this up with the key signings of forward P.J. Tucker (mid-level exception) and wingman Luc Mbah Moute (veteran minimum), and the in-season signing of guard Gerald Green. All of this played out in the form of a 65-17 regular season and a seven game conference finals loss to the Golden State Warriors, a series the Rockets may well have won if Paul hadn't pulled a hamstring in the waning moments of Game 5.
Now, Morey will be tasked with his most difficult offseason task of the last five years — finding a way to upgrade a roster that went 65-17 the previous year. The club is still pursuing LeBron James, despite reports that they have little chance of landing him. Certainly, Morey is pursuing other deals for star players to join Harden and (presumably re-signed) Paul and Clint Capela.
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Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.