Harden Will Lift Rockets
Published: Friday, November 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 2, 2012 00:11
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey slept much better this weekend than he had in months. His team had just pulled off what may soon be known as one of the greatest heists in all of basketball: The Rockets stole one of the best 20 players in the NBA — and one who is only 23 years old — from a top conference rival.
Almost overnight, Morey added any championship team’s key ingredient to his club: a superstar. Morey — dubbed “Dork Elvis” for his love of advanced statistics — had previously seen his efforts result in the assembly of some of the worst pro teams in the NBA.
Before the trade was completed, Vegas had predicted the Rockets’ win total to be the fifth lowest in the league, even worse than the Washington Wizards. As his tenure in Texas wore on, his use of statistics had led to little on-court success.
The expectations for this team were low, and for good reason. After NBA commissioner David Stern modified the Chris Paul-to-Los Angeles trade to no longer include Houston, Dork Elvis was left stunned.
But instead of focusing on the NBA’s malpractice, Morey focused his efforts on acquiring Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic, stocked up accordingly on draft picks and created cap space. That was all well and good, but then the trade for Howard didn’t work out either.
As a result, the Rockets were left with a ragtag group of draft picks, last year’s phenom Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik — who will make over $8 million this season despite a career points-per-game of 2.9. Yet, through the disappointment, Morey spotted an opportunity.
Less than 500 miles north of Houston, Oklahoma City’s general manager, Sam Presti had a much different situation on his hands. His Thunder had just reached the NBA Finals and possessed an incredible young core of Team USA members, in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The only issue in Oklahoma was the same one that many small market teams face: money.
For a team to be able to pay three players maximum contracts, it has to be generating enough revenue to pay for the NBA’s penalties.
The Celtics, Lakers and Heat have all successfully pulled off the “big three” team structure, but revenues in L.A., Boston and Miami are significantly higher than in Houston. Faced with possibly losing Harden to free agency at the end of the season because of his inability to give him a max deal, Presti entered panic mode. That’s when Dork Elvis stepped in.
He had been unfairly beaten by the system twice, but when Oklahoma City was ready to break up his young core, Morey did not miss his chance. Although he had previously given talks at MIT about statistics in basketball, he shunned his advanced statistics-driven approach at the chance to make this deal to bring Houston a superstar.
In the long history of professional basketball, one thing is clear: It takes at least one superstar to win a title. The only exception to this rule in recent memory is the 2004 Detroit Pistons, who some could argue only won the title because Los Angeles — with four high-wattage players — was too dysfunctional to claim it for themselves.
In Morey’s own words, the trade did not need the advanced statistics to back it up. During the press conference to announce the Harden deal, Morey himself acknowledged that a team needs a “foundational” player to compete for a title. Dork Elvis found out the hard way twice how devastating an absence of a foundational player is. Put simply, it makes it impossible to win a championship in the NBA.
Heading into the 2012-13 season, the Rockets are sitting in great position to challenge San Antonio for the division title or at least to make the playoffs.
The team Vegas had predicted to win 30 games now suddenly has an Olympian in James Harden and an exciting point guard in Jeremy Lin to pair with its promising draft picks.
For Daryl Morey, patience in the trade market paid off. Rockets fans can now enjoy the James Harden era in Houston.
Corey Blaine is a senior in the McDonough School of Business. THE BLEACHER SEATS appears every Friday.