Daryl Morey Rumors
Freshly exposed to the human mind, Morey couldn’t help but notice how strangely it operated. When it opened itself to information that might be useful in evaluating an amateur basketball player, it also opened itself to being fooled by the very illusions that had made the model such a valuable tool in the first place. For instance, in the 2007 draft there had been a player his model really liked: Marc Gasol. Gasol was twenty-two years old, a seven-foot-one center playing in Europe. The scouts had found a photograph of him shirtless. He was pudgy and baby-faced and had these jiggly pecs. The Rockets staff had given Marc Gasol a nickname: Man Boobs. Man Boobs this and Man Boobs that. “That was my first draft in charge and I wasn’t so brave,” said Morey. He allowed the general ridicule of Marc Gasol’s body to drown out his model’s optimism about Gasol’s basketball future, and so instead of arguing with his staff, he watched the Memphis Grizzlies take Gasol with the 48th pick of the draft.
The odds of getting an All-Star with the 48th pick in the draft were well below one in a hundred. The 48th pick of the draft basically never even yielded a useful NBA bench player, but already Marc Gasol was proving to be a giant exception. (Gasol became a two-time All-Star in 2012 and 2015 and, by Houston’s reckoning, the third-best pick made by the entire NBA over the past decade, after Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin.) The label they’d stuck on him clearly had affected how they valued him: names mattered. “I made a new rule right then,” said Morey. “I banned nicknames.”
At the bottom of the transformation in decision-making in professional sports—but not only in professional sports—were ideas about the human mind, and how it functioned when it faced uncertain situations. These ideas had taken some time to seep into the culture, but now they were in the air we breathed. There was a new awareness of the sorts of systematic errors people might make—and so entire markets might make—if their judgments were left unchecked. There were reasons basketball experts could be blinded to the value of Marc Gasol by a single photograph of him, or would never see the next Shaquille O’Neal if he happened to be an Indian. “It was like a fish not knowing he is breathing water unless someone points it out,” Morey said of people’s awareness of their own mental processes. As it happens, someone had pointed it out.
The moves signaled Morey’s position may not be quite as secure as it once was, league sources say. The dismissal of Gianluca Pascucci, Houston’s former vice president of player personnel and a Morey confidant, was widely seen as a shot across the bow at Morey. Morey says the decision was his, and the Nets quickly snapped up Pascucci after several teams expressed interest in him.
The Rockets had room to burn amid an unprecedented cap spike, and concluded they couldn’t stand pat — or trawl the bargain bin for cheapo guys with potential to develop into trade assets. “We had a choice: keep our powder dry and value play, or go for two blue-chip players past the obvious superstars,” Morey said. “It was a tough cap environment. You have to spend the money on someone.” Don’t let the meager leftover cap room fool you: Houston still wants stars. “Teams that win it all generally have two top-10 players,” Morey said. “We have one. We will always look for more.”
The Rockets are confident everyone will thrive in D’Antoni’s go-go system, bumping up their trade value, and that they can open cap space in a pinch — via trade, waiver, or an unexpected cap leap. “We may have created some downside risk for ourselves,” Morey said. “But if we’re as good we think we are gonna be — and that’s a team that gets home-court in first round, or just short of that — I don’t see any problems getting it done.”