After years of stability, the Houston Rockets are in flux.
In September, former coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t even wait for the team flight to land to announce his departure from the Rockets. And now nearly a month later, general manager Daryl Morey has decided to follow suit after his tumultuous 13-year tenure with the team.
“For me, it was just a great run,” Morey told ESPN on Thursday night. “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.”
In Houston, Morey will be remembered for revitalizing a franchise that was doing a whole lot of not a damn thing prior to his arrival. In fact, you’d be surprised to learn that during his lengthy 13-year tenure, the Spurs were the only team to collect more regular-season wins than the Rockets. He combined analytics and small ball into an amalgamation that would revolutionize the sport as we knew it—oh, you mean PJ Tucker isn’t a center?—and he leaves Houston with the longest active streak of consecutive postseason appearances (eight years and counting since James Harden was traded to the Rockets during the 2012-13 season).
Morey’s tenure wasn’t exactly all candy and roses though. The Rockets routinely got their asses whooped in the playoffs—the mere mention of the Golden State Warriors within Houston city limits is grounds for a vicious beating—never made the Finals and became hamstrung by James Harden’s issues with endurance and sharing the damn ball. There was also that time that Morey managed to piss off China and jeopardized the NBA’s relationship with an entire country. But that’s what under the bridge, right? No? Oh, okay.
So what’s next for the Rockets?
Despite stepping down, Morey will still be involved in Houston’s search for their next head coach for some inexplicable reason, while Rafael Stone, Houston’s executive vice president of basketball operations, will be promoted as Morey’s replacement.
Stone gets handed the reigns to a “contender” with two superstar players in Harden and Russell Westbrook, but both are on the wrong side of 30 and Westbrook’s trademark athleticism is scheduled to fall off of a cliff any day now. Did I mention that Westbrook still has three years left on one of the ugliest contracts in the league this side of John Wall, the Rockets have the league’s oldest roster (and if Tucker re-signs as a free agent this summer, they won’t have a single starter in their lineup under 30 years old come December) and they’re in salary cap hell?
In the short term, dramatic changes to the roster will be difficult for Stone. Houston has committed to more than $123 million in salary to the top six players under contract for 2020-21, which would already put the Rockets close to this season’s $132.6 million luxury-tax line if the NBA decides to maintain this year’s cap and tax figures.
Improving this roster will be quite the feat since Houston coughed up multiple first-round picks in order to continue to flop in the playoffs, and teams aren’t exactly tripping over themselves to trade for guys like Eric Gordon (or his contract) or Austin Rivers.
Hiring the right coach can delay the inevitable, but don’t be surprised if the Rockets try to pawn off Westbrook to the Knicks, who are dying to sign or trade for just about anybody not named Carmelo Anthony right about now.