Sam Hinkie resigned from the Philadelphia 76ers last week. Hinkie was a mediocre GM who somehow convinced many people he was a certifiable genius despite turning the 76ers, already one of the NBA’s more historically mediocre franchises, into such a laughable product that even the Astros squads of 2013 and 2014 looked like competitive franchises by comparison.
Hinkie was one of those non-traditional front office types with a MBA from Stanford who spouted the type of TED-talk jargon that sounds like what stupid people think smart people sound like. He talked nonstop of the process and understanding the process and letting the process work and having faith in the process while trading off pieces of his roster for draft choice after draft choice after draft choice after draft choice after draft choice while freeing up lots of salary cap room.
Hinkie's primary problem, besides being the equivalent of Ed Wade had Ed Wade possessed an MBA and quoted Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln, was that he was, apparently, an awful evaluator of talent. His drafts have been failures, consisting of players who were injured at the time of the draft, players who decided to stick around in Europe, and players who just aren’t very good. So when the so-called process depends on compiling tons of draft picks, it might be kind of a disaster if the guy in charge kept screwing up the draft.
Hinkie’s former boss was Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets. Morey’s another one of the MBA-TED talk jargon spouting types who has managed to convince most of the Houston media that he is a genius, and that anybody who doesn’t understand what he’s doing is just too damn stupid to comprehend the magnificence of his plan. The magnificence of a plan that has, so far, resulted in mainly mediocre results (the team has won its division just once since he assumed the mantle of general manager) and has won just three playoff series since he became the top guy after the 2007 season.
The plan for Morey’s Rockets teams has been to shoot three pointers, drive the lane and make the layup or go to the foul line and shoot free throws. It’s a plan that works. Look at the Golden State Warriors for instance. But what Morey has primarily failed to do is to place a team on the court worthy of putting that plan into practice. Because here’s the deal: If the offense is dependent on guys hitting three point shots, then the general manager should stock the team with guys who can consistently shoot three pointers.
This Houston Rockets team is a disappointment to many people, particularly with the Rockets coming off a division title and a trip to the Western Conference finals. The team didn't change much in the offseason, other than letting Josh Smith depart for the Clippers while bringing in Ty Lawson to play the point and take pressure off of James Harden. But Lawson never jelled with the team and it was treated as the Second Coming when Smith returned to the team after having become an afterthought stuck on the Clippers bench (he has since become an afterthought stuck on the Rockets bench).
So the question at this time should be this: When does Morey begin to feel some heat regarding his job? The Rockets ran Rick Adelman out of town because of the team’s inability to advance in the playoffs, and Kevin McHale was fired early this season because he couldn’t get Morey’s terribly assembled roster to play defense or win games. Yet Morey has escaped much scrutiny.
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So the question must be asked: What has Morey really done? He took over a slightly above mediocre product that somehow managed to usually squeak into the playoffs while losing in the first round of the playoffs and turned the Rockets into a slightly above mediocre team that usually manages to squeak into the playoffs while losing in the first round — last year’s Rockets relied on an incredible season from Harden, not facing the Spurs in the playoffs, and injuries to key Clippers players to fuel the run to the Western Conference finals.
And for a team that relies on three pointers, the team is stocked with players who can’t make the shot — the players all love to take three pointers, but actually making the shots consistently is an entirely different subject. Then there’s the fact that key players like Dwight Howard can’t be on the floor at the end of games because of career inability to hit free throws, which kind of ruins the whole idea of an offense that also depends on making free throws.
Despite a report this weekend that Morey’s job might be in jeopardy, it’s doubtful that anything would happen. It’s also doubtful that, were Morey to ever leave his job, that he’d do so after writing a 13-page manifesto full of misattributed quotes comparing himself to Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, and Abraham Lincoln that comes across as something written by a lunatic discovered after the lunatic’s killing spree. So just as Hinkie’s genius credentials need to questioned and reassessed, perhaps it’s about time we reconsider the genius of Morey, his former boss.
Unless, that is, the Rockets' whole goal is to turn into the Houston Texans, a team with a Hall of Fame-great player surrounded by mediocre cast-offs. If that’s the case, then Daryl Morey has succeeded beyond all expectations.