NBA Rumor: Rockets Front Office

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After falling to a dismal 17-55 record, the Rockets were rewarded with the coveted second overall draft pick. The Rockets are expected to land a future NBA All-Star talent during the draft. Stone says the Rockets have a talented young roster and it’s important to develop it. “This organization hasn’t been in a position to invest in the future like we are now. So I think it’s going to be fun for all of us as we’re kind of going into a new stage of the challenge,” Stone said.

On Jan. 13, Harden got his wish as he was dealt to the Nets in a four-team deal. Houston would eventually acquire All-Star guard Victor Oladipo, forward Rodions Kurucs, three first-round draft picks and four first-round pick swaps. Harden averaged 29.6 points, 7.7 assists and 6.0 rebounds over his 621 regular-season games with the Rockets. Stone said after the trade he and Harden cleared the air during a two-hour conversation. “Some of the things about the process bothered me. I’m sure they bothered him too, but I did feel good. For me, that conversation was very healthy,” Stone said. “I think it was for him, too.”

Former Rockets player and longtime broadcaster Matt Bullard has joined the Rockets front office a month after he learned that AT&T SportsNet would not renew his contract, a person with knowledge of the move said. Bullard and longtime NBA executive Chris Wallace this week became the latest additions to general manager Rafael Stone’s basketball operations department, both working in undefined roles as Stone prefers to allow his staff to weigh in on all decision-making.

Since you’ve been able to take a step back from the season, where has your mind gone? What sort of things are you thinking about this summer? Rafael Stone: Obviously, we’re prepping for the draft. We’re prepping for free agency. We’re trying to make sure that we’re focused on improving the guys on our roster. We’re doing all three things. I think the complicated thing that we’re trying to do is to figure out how the guys on our current roster will play together on a going-forward basis. We’re so injured this year that we didn’t really see people play together, so we’re gonna have to do a little educated guessing on that. I’d say the most complicated thing we’re doing this year is to try and figure out what we’re bringing back and how it’s going to fit together given the roster turnover so much this year. And then, on top of it, we had so many injuries.

With the lottery coming up, have you guys discussed the possibility of getting a top-four pick versus losing it? How much of a difference is it internally? Rafael Stone: I mean, yeah, but probably the way you’ve discussed it. It’s obviously a difference, but there’s a big difference between all of them — we have five potential draft lottery spots, and each of them is actually pretty different. We’ll just wait. We’ll know soon enough. One nice thing is there’s more than a month after the lottery, so we’ve talked about it, but only in a water-cooler sense of just joking, “What happens if this, what happens if that.” The reality is that we’ll know, and then we’ll plan accordingly.

The Rockets’ Gretchen Sheirr, who was promoted to the position from her previous role of Chief Operations Officer just two weeks ago, is well aware of the statistic. There has been a recent admirable charge for increased diversity in sports, and while the number of hirings of women and minorities show at least some signs of progress, there is still a long way to go. Sheirr understands that her hiring is a big step not only for the Rockets, but for the NBA overall. She’s spent the last two weeks responding to the flurry of congratulatory calls, texts and emails. At some point, she says, there will be time to sit and reflect on the moment. What she doesn’t want, however, is to focus on the number of women in her role. “I know that currently, there’s four of us,” Sheirr told The Athletic in a recent phone call. “And my goal is that one day, we stopped counting how many there are of us because that’s not right. That’s not the story. It’s the accomplishments that have happened. But until we get there, we’ve got work to do. And hopefully, I represent us well.”

Sheirr has already hit the ground running ahead of the new season. The Rockets are one of the first NBA teams to utilize cryptocurrency in their team stores. The initial stages of this development were made under Brown, but Sheirr is taking the mantle and is eager to push the team forward. Houston is extremely confident in the crypto space, stemming from owner Tillman Fertitta’s usage of cryptocurrency at his various business — casinos, restaurants and car dealerships. Sheirr understands consumer trends, and cryptocurrency has quickly become an extremely popular one, with people from all walks of life pouring money and looking to invest. At the end of the day, it’s about lessening the burden on the customer. “And just like anything, if people have money, and they support your team, and they want to spend it with you, you want to make the transaction as seamless and easy as possible,” Sheirr said. “

For example, it’s up to Sheirr to make sure the fans feel welcome at Toyota Center. She has to make sure each and every person who walks through the door has the optimal experience, especially now as more and more vaccines are being administered and arenas ease up on safety restrictions. “Making sure that our team is valued and known for the work that they do is definitely a big priority,” Sheirr said. “I‘m a mom, I have kids and I look at coming to a game very differently than other people. In this role, making sure that while we watch this team enter their new chapter, we’ve got fans that are excited to come through the doors of Toyota Center and watch it live.”

“First, I’d like to thank Tilman, Patrick, and the entire Fertitta Family for their guidance and support, and of course, their trust to help steward the Rockets brand for the city of the Houston,” said Sheirr. “To have this opportunity, in your hometown, for your childhood team, is a dream come true.” “As soon as I began working with Gretchen, I was immediately impressed by her knowledge, her innovation and her leadership,” said Fertitta. “With Gretchen having been part of the Houston Rockets success for two decades, I couldn’t be more excited to see her get this opportunity. Her work ethic, attention to detail and passion for the Rockets gives me great confidence in her ability to perform at the highest level.”

Tilman Fertitta to stay out of Rockets' rebuilding plan

In an interview with Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle, Fertitta endorsed the longer-term rebuild seemingly put in place by general manager Rafael Stone. Among his comments: “It’s really, really hard because I am competitive, and I hate to lose. But my people, including Tad (Brown) and (Rafael Stone) and even my son Patrick, just (say) the biggest mistake you can make right now is use all these picks to be a .500 club, because you’re never able to be a championship caliber club. But I hate losing so much I’m totally staying out of it, because I’m scared that I can make the wrong decisions. I want to win today. I just have to (stay out of it) because they’re right and they just gave me examples and examples.”

Stone has identified Kevin Porter Jr., Christian Wood, Jae’Sean Tate and KJ Martin as Houston’s “young core” for developmental purposes. In Fertitta’s interview, he indicated he understands that perspective. “You’ve got to remember on Kevin Porter, he’s 20 years old. None of your superstars are great at 20. Go back and look at James Harden at 20.” … “Are we going to be a championship team next year? No, we are not, OK? And I don’t even know that we’ll challenge for the playoffs next year. This is what they’re telling me. We can’t be stupid. Sometimes you’ve got to bide your time. You have to be patient, and you have to make good decisions.”

And besides, many days Morey didn’t need a car at all. Another employee, general counsel Rafael Stone, lived nearby and was happy to drive Morey to work. Morey and Stone got along fine. One Rockets employee at the time remembers them as “best friends.” In a recent Zoom press conference, Stone made a passing comment about Morey damaging his dash board with a foot on a morning commute. “Daryl and I are extremely different people,” Stone added. “We worked well together and became friends because we’re from very different perspectives but oftentimes ended up at the exact same point.”

He loved basketball, both playing and watching his hometown Sonics. He took the craft seriously but he spent most of his free time studying for his LSATs. He applied to the law schools at Harvard, Stanford, and Yale “because he wanted to get into the three best ones,” says Andre Burrell, another former roommate and longtime friend. All three schools accepted Stone. He chose Stanford. From there he landed a job at the New York City-based corporate law firm Dewey Ballantine.

In the 2019-2020 season, Stone began occasionally interrupting coaches on the court before and after practices as they worked with players on skill development, something rare among executives, especially ones who aren’t former coaches or players. Larry Bird or Michael Jordan offering thoughts is one thing. But the team lawyer and a former Division III point guard? A man who, despite his years spent working unofficially at executive level of basketball operations, was barely around players and coaches?

Finally, at the end of November, sources say, they got the phone call from Stone saying they were out, effective immediately. It was too late to find jobs on other teams. But it was early for another deadline: If Stone had called on December 1, the team would have covered their health insurance for another month. It was quite possibly a coincidence, one source says the team didn’t consider health insurance at all. Whatever the thinking, the Rockets have become a place where employees expect bosses to be strategic in finding little edges. One former coach cites examples like this when he says he wouldn’t work for the Rockets if you offered him $10 million a year.

Q: You are over the cap but have a mid-level exception. If it works out, or just in general philosophically, would it be better for this team to use that exception on the best one player you can get or to spread it around with several players to help with depth? Rafael Stone: It depends entirely on what we think we can do with our minimum exception. We think we can bring in guys that can be very helpful there. That’s a way of getting depth. And, is there a guy we think we can get at mid-level we think is really good value? If that’s the case, we’re just going to do it, period. It’s all about talent. If we think a guy is better than the market thinks he is, we’re going to want to go get that guy. Mid-level is the best tool we have. We’re just going to be aggressive to try to get talent. Last year, we used it for Danuel House. We didn’t use all of it in that situation. It’s largely based on the market.

Q: You spoke at the press conference about the lack of a mandate to avoid the luxury tax. Do you consider it inevitable that this is the year you do spend luxury tax or are there still the sort of maneuverability benefits you described to avoiding it? Rafael Stone: There are perhaps benefits to avoid it, but we’re planning to be in it. We were planning to be in it two years ago and I think last year. A lot of this is just what happens circumstantially there. There was a deal we for sure would have done last year at the trade deadline that would have had us well, well over the tax line. A team called and we said ‘yes.’ They chose not to do it. It’s not the cash-based decision people think it is. It is more the framework for how you build your roster. That’s still where we are. We’re certainly planning to be in the luxury tax this year. If a great deal appears and we end up shedding salary, we’d do that deal and then probably try to re-spend the salary. There’s no pressure whatsoever to not be in, but real pressure to win.

Fertitta said Morey warned him in March 2019 — when the GM signed a five-year contract extension — that this could be a year when he decided to step away because of his son’s high school graduation. “He had always said, ‘I’m not going to be here forever,’ and, ‘At some point, I might want to go back to the East Coast,'” Fertitta said. “I didn’t think it was going to happen. I knew that this was that year, but Daryl’s been here [almost] 15 years. I was surprised, but yet I remembered the previous conversations. He’s reminded me of that a few times.”

Tim MacMahon on Daryl Morey stepping down: Well, this was not Tilman Fertitta his decision. This was initiated by Daryl Morey and they came to an agreement. You know, there was obviously speculation around the league since the freedom for Hong Kong tweet that Daryl Morey was going to be gone. And that situation, it did not push Tilman Fertitta to make this decision because again, this was not Tillman pushing out Daryl Morey, but Darrell saying hey, I want to step away and then come into an agreement. I do think talking to some people with Rockets that just the kind of the different sort of scrutiny that came with that and and the… I don’t know if guilt is the right word or pressure that that came with costing not just Tilman Fertitta dozens of millions of dollars, but the NBA as a whole hundreds of millions of dollars… I think that weighed on Daryl

Morey’s resignation will be effective on Nov. 1, the team announced Thursday, as he will continue to assist owner Tilman Fertitta and the Rockets’ front office in the franchise’s search for a new head coach. “For me, it was just a great run,” Morey told ESPN on Thursday night in a telephone conversation that also included Fertitta. “Personally, the timing worked for me. My youngest son just graduated from high school, and it was just the right time to see what’s next with family and other potential things in the future. It just felt like the right time.”

Mark Berman: Daryl Morey (@Daryl Morey) on his decision to step down as the #Rockets GM: “I just felt it was a great run and the right time. My youngest was graduating from Kinkaid. I just thought it was time to be with family and see what new challenges might be out there. I do love sports….”

Looking for someone to add below Brand isn’t surprising to league sources, who always questioned ownership’s seriousness in regard to giving up its control to a team president. However, it will be interesting to see if the Sixers make a run at Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey for that job. League sources think he could soon be in the market for another job, even though Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said Morey’s job is safe following the team’s second-round playoff elimination.

Daryl Morey not in the hot seat for Hong Kong tweet

The topic of the Hong Kong tweet has come up again lately. The President brought it up. It came up on your CNBC interview. What would you want people to know about your position about that issue? Tilman Fertitta: “The tweet was seven words. There was nothing wrong with the tweet. That’s why one hour later I told ESPN when I was asked ‘Are you going to get rid of Daryl Morey,’ I was like, ‘Are you crazy? Why would I get rid of Daryl for that tweet?’ I think Daryl’s one of the best general managers in the league. Plus, we truly enjoy working with each other. To this day, we plan on working with each other and I expect Daryl to be here for years to come.”

The Houston Rockets are one of the most advanced statistic-reliant teams in the NBA, and their old head coach thinks it is somewhat to their detriment. In an interview this week on ESPN 97.5 in Houston, Kevin McHale took a bit of a shot at his former squad over their fervent belief in analytics. “You guys are caught up a little bit in Houston on numbers,” said McHale. “Numbers do not win games. The one number that wins the game is if you have one more point than the other team. That’s the biggest number. But numbers don’t win games.”

Morey has put together all the pieces — starting with trading Chris Paul for Westbrook during the offseason — and all he can do now is wait and see what happens. The Rockets are all in on small ball. The style will be called gimmicky, crazy, genius and everything in between. “It’s definitely a talking point,” Morey said. “But that’s who we are now. “My job is to win and we are always going to chase whatever gives us the best chance to win.

There’s still great uncertainty about the effects on league business, from the impact on salary-cap projections to the probability that the NBA can fully restore its relationships with Chinese broadcasters and corporate partners. Does the NBA have a shot of returning in the foreseeable future to China, where it has played preseason games in every non-lockout season since 2007? No team has felt the brunt of the fallout more than the Rockets. League sources say the franchise has lost more than $7 million in revenue this season from cancelled Chinese sponsorship agreements and nearly $20 million overall when terminated multiyear deals are calculated.

The Rockets do not plan to discipline Morey, according to one person with knowledge of the ownership’s thinking who was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly. Yet it remains to be seen how much Morey’s apology will mollify the fans and various entities in China that expressed such loud dismay about Morey’s original Twitter post, in which he shared an image that read, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” — referencing the protests that have raged for months. The slogan is commonly chanted at demonstrations and has been spray-painted throughout the city.

Daryl Morey explains Hong Kong tweet

Daryl Morey: I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives. I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.
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September 23, 2021 | 4:49 am EDT Update
The Sixers would be best served if Simmons and Paul rethink their plans, though Simmons “is clearly aware of sanctions available to the organization to fine and suspend him, including withholding of salary,” according to Wojnarowski. An NBA source said Wednesday that Simmons initially asked for a trade at the draft combine in Chicago “right after” the end of the 2020-21 season. The Game 7 home loss to the Hawks occurred on June 20, with the combine running from June 21-27.
September 23, 2021 | 2:02 am EDT Update