Daryl Morey trumpets analytics. Frankly, so does every MBA and corporate suit when they look to sell the soul of an enterprise. Any decision can be made by multiplying or dividing two numbers by each other and then sprinkling in the word "analytics" to sound smart. It's the words spoken in corporate strategy meetings to make mediocre decisions appear intelligent and pose blind luck as some sort of tactical victory. This is how the 2016 Houston Rockets were constructed.
The best front office leadership leads behind-the-scenes. It would take most fans some googling to know who the GMs are of even some of the best sports franchises such as the Golden State Warriors and Carolina Panthers (Bob Myers and Dave Gettleman - respectively). Then there's the GMs who desperately need the limelight. They tout their process as if they are selling moonshine during prohibition. Where they should normally play close to the vest, create a winning culture and counsel the team leadership from owner down to coach and team captain, Morey is none of those. He is too busy buried in numbers or Twittering about his brilliance. There is the legacy of this era's Houston Rockets.
When Morey spent much of 2012-13 gathering assets as if it were an episode of A&E's Hoarders, he came out of the season with notables James Harden, Jeremy Lin and his coup de grace from the Lakers, Dwight Howard. It looked wonderful on paper, as paper often distorts reality.
Never mind that James Harden was acquired by the sheer dumb luck of the Oklahoma City Thunder panicking in their contract negotiations - more an OKC screw up than a Morey play. Of course, to analytics guys, paper is all that matters. Everything can be explained with numbers. Bear in mind, Morey is a man with an Excel sheet full of numbers and no plan. For basketball minds, the true key was integrating the talent, a Sisyphean task that fell to Hall of Famer Kevin McHale.
While there was a lot of false hope through the regular season, the cracks in the armor. Rumblings of discord between would-be stars, Howard, Harden and the entire team. Lin never meshed with the starting lineup and his defense was porous. Howard, who had showcased a refusal to run pick-and-roll throughout his entire career, was suddenly expected to abandon his Shaq post-up fantasies to no avail. A raw talent, who after a decade in the league, had developed little footwork while proving turnover-prone and inefficient in slowdown offense, needed his ego appeased for talents he had never bothered to develop.
Meanwhile, Harden, who had emerged as a superstar from under the veil of the Thunder bench, had also become the internet's favorite Instagram feature for his matador defense. The compilation videos on YouTube are priceless. Combine this with his ball-dominant style of play and the Rockets were constructed for failure.
As is the case with most corporate suits, the Dilbert Rules apply. The team fluked to the Western Conference Finals in 2015, more off of a Clippers collapse than Rockets brilliance. In fact, it was Coach McHale's tough decision to go to his bench and feature journeyman, Josh Smith, that led to the victory. In the following round, with no luck to guide them, the Rockets were mauled by the Golden State Warriors.
While it would have seemed McHale would have made his case for his strategy and system with his playoff success, it took just 11 games for Morey to take his failures out on the head coach. The team was coming apart at the seams. For all it's talent, the 2016 Rockets sauntered into the playoffs like a Brooklyn trust fund baby headed to the smoothie stand - no sense of urgency whatsoever. The Warriors, without MVP Steph Curry, devoured the Rockets this week.
Now, with no one left to blame, it may be time for Morey to fire himself. The numbers don't lie. Chalking up the amount of team discord, failures per dollar spent and lack of hustle should surely materialize in stats that would demonstrate this team's status as a disaster. It's time for the Rockets to tender an apology to McHale, part with Morey and build a real team.
The fans have been punished enough. If anything, the Rockets eked into the playoffs on the final night, besting an upstart and fun to watch Utah Jazz team by a single game. The Rockets were unwatchable. The Jazz would have at least offered a glimpse at the future of the NBA.