TrueHoop: Daryl Morey
The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference isn’t about stats anymore. Not coincidentally, it’s much-improved.
Stats really never stood a chance at Dorkapalooza. As Danny Nowell demonstrated, a belief in information as currency quickly begets a reluctance to share information. If you think stats are the future, you’re hoarding the future a la Biff and his Grays Sports Almanac in "Back to the Future Part II."
Yes, there are still academic papers at the conference up for discussion. But the stars of the show are the stars -- the nationally famous owners, general managers and coaches.
So don’t attack this conference as a bunch of geeks trading slide rule war stories. The convention is no longer proliferating the academic advancement it symbolizes. They moved this thing away from MIT, remember.
Instead, SSAC 2014 offered us an enticing look at the future of sports entertainment. Paradoxically, that future has all to do with messy, imperfect humanity, and little to do with statistics.
Malcolm Gladwell grilling newly minted NBA commissioner Adam Silver on James Dolan’s tax benefits? Yes please. Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and Kings owner Vivek Ranadive getting into it over which of their teams is tanking? Don’t mind if I do. Stan Van Gundy mocking the Sixers in extreme language? Pass the popcorn already.
After so much focus on the rather dehumanizing process of commodifying athlete performance, the Sloan Conference somehow managed to commodify the humanity of its speakers. Nearly everyone at Sloan believes in the competitive power of data, but Sloan, like sports, is a personality-driven business. Selling tickets to Phil Jackson talking extemporaneously is easier than selling tickets to a guy you’ve never heard of expounding on rebounding.
It’s hard to beat live, reality TV. Adam Silver seemed a bit nervous and it was riveting. Stan Van Gundy waxed angry and it was hilarious. In their panel on negotiations, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers appeared vulnerable and it was cathartic.
The latter event was the least contentious, which is funny when you consider how these men are supposedly tasked with swindling each other up until trade deadlines. Morey and Myers both vented about the travails of dealing with GMs who try to lecture you on what’s best for your team. They expressed frustration with peers who seek to win the trade as opposed to finding common ground. The normally opaque general managers dropped the veil and conveyed the exhaustion of working in a world so steeped in secrecy and paranoia.
Most memorably, Morey dished on his fear in response to Golden State’s deal for Andre Iguodala. Morey revealed how he thought the trade might put Houston’s Dwight Howard venture in jeopardy: “This is where my emotion takes over. I go into a complete panic. I really did. I thought it was down to us, Dallas, L.A." What followed was an anecdote about how a frantic Morey called Mark Cuban to inquire about Dirk Nowitzki (Cuban assumed that Morey was sarcastically taunting him).
Morey is among the most media-friendly GMs -- he invited the media to this conference that he co-founded, after all. “Friendly” doesn’t necessarily mean “open,” though. But alongside Myers, Morey was startlingly open.
That’s the secret for turning a suit into a storyteller. He needs some company up there on stage, people who hail from his cloistered world and can validate the statements. This is how many of these panels evoked the loose, conversational, and at times, contentious comedy of shows like HBO’s "Real Time" and ESPN’s "Pardon the Interruption."
The Parade of Loosened Ties has yet to reach the mainstream in the way many advanced statistics have. The Sloan conference is more entertaining than ever before, but it still (intentionally) plays to an exclusive audience. In Boston, we can see the future of how sports leagues will feed the fan’s increasingly voracious appetite: Get the most powerful people in sports together and get them talking.
Might you enjoy a panel of GMs discussing team needs a week before the trade deadline? Would you listen to two famous coaches razz each other for your amusement?
Suit-based sports entertainment would be the natural outgrowth of the statistical revolution that turned Billy Beane into someone Brad Pitt plays in a movie. And even though “suit-based sports entertainment” sounds terrifyingly corporate, the results at the Sloan petri dish were captivating.
Information is currency, so owners, GMs, and coaches won’t spend it on us. But celebrity is the rare currency that earns as you spend it. If the analytics movement pulled "the geeks" into the spotlight, it’s only a matter of time before those geeks grab the mike and make use of their newfound fame.
Special to ESPN.com
It’s October 2013. Dwight Howard stands at the corner locker in Houston’s expensively renovated locker room. An LCD monitor hangs above him -- there’s one above every locker -- detailing some unconventional stats. The big man seems content, quietly joking with reporters nearby. About an hour has passed since Howard pulled down a career high-tying 26 rebounds in his Rockets regular-season debut. Like the billboards with his image that can be seen on the drive into the arena, Howard at this moment stands taller than his listed 6-foot-10. He is the fruit of an almost two-year-long pursuit.
The mission in Houston was “asset arbitrage,” creating value where it didn’t exist. The goal was not so much to fill a lineup but rather to short on players while value continuously accrued, waiting for the moment to completely cash in on one prized stock; in some ways, that revolving door of acquired lottery busts represented Daryl Morey’s idea of diversifying his odds.
Some decried the constant, seemingly directionless dealing. Morey didn’t understand basketball, they said. He didn’t value chemistry and longevity, bedrock elements in sports success. “You can’t manage a roster like a stock portfolio. How will a team ever grow?”
But now, with Harden and Howard in tow and Morey’s methods validated, for the first time in years on 1510 Polk St., the rumblings are not about cap space and asset accumulation. The debate does not center upon the high-end free agency market but rather defensive rotations. For the first time during the Morey era, basketball matters most.
The transition began last year, when Morey applied his ideology to the game action, designing a system that pushed the pace and eschewed midrange jump shots. The strategy led to a playoff berth and precious experience for foundational pieces like Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin -- experience that can be seen as more valuable than the acquisition of yet another low lottery pick. In the following months, still distraught from the bitter defeat, players approached offseason regimens with added emphasis. That extra attention has paid off for Lin and Parsons in particular.
Yet for all of the individual progress, for the sum of the parts, the results have been mixed. Anointed by many as contenders, the Rockets have underperformed by most people’s expectations, entering Wednesday’s matchup with Dallas at 8-4 and in fifth place in the Western Conference. On Nov. 7, the Los Angeles Lakers torched Houston with a 3-point barrage, a few nights after the Clippers had carved up its perimeter defense. Those L.A. affairs raised concerns about the team’s ability and willingness to defend, things serious observers wouldn’t have cared about even a year before. Blown leads in consecutive games against the Clippers, Raptors and Sixers raised other red flags about focus and late-game strategy, which again would have been ancillary matters in the past.
But any hope for that frontcourt marriage has ended. With the thinking being that Asik was too valuable to just give up, Kevin McHale tried in vain to pair his two centers together for 12 minutes per game. The results were disastrous and the plug has been pulled. Now Asik has yet again asked out and will inevitably be dealt.
But while that matter is of a transactional nature, the on-court implications are of paramount concern. In previous years, the focus in these situations was placed upon greatest value return (or whatever star was available, for that matter). Now the key words now are “stretch 4” and “rim protection.” The Rockets have a set manner in which they play and a set foundation, and whomever they acquire for Asik must fit neatly into that master scheme. We care now about floor spacing and the interior defense when Howard is not on the court; we’re no longer only counting dollars under the cap.
The Morey Model that we've come to know would point toward an obvious route: selling high on Parsons and plugging in a cheaper replacement. That familiar paradigm would likely say that Parsons, not a true star, probably wasn’t worth what he’ll command on the market. But these are different days in Houston, when the games are played on the court rather than strictly on spreadsheets.
We've reached that point where “cashing out” is no longer an option. Cutting ties with Parsons would mean relinquishing the longest tenured Rocket, the team’s “glue guy.” It would disrupt the chemistry and stability. And as some have said, these things matter. And with Howard and Harden now in the fold, the Rockets are in position to take heed, to embrace the intangibles that quantitative analysis might miss.
We've reached the point where Morey no longer has to -- or needs to -- play Moreyball.
But for most unfortunate teams, the enduring question is how to compete for championships without that type of league-altering talent. Without one, the goal is to get into position to acquire a franchise cornerstone, but how does that happen? And if it does, when is the right time to make the big splash?
On the “Franchises in Transition” panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, decision-makers from different sports, in charge of organizations at different points on the development spectrum, shed light on their processes and the challenges they face.
Conference organizer Daryl Morey provided the NBA general manager’s perspective, but his fellow panelists helped to underscore both the fruits of and the commitment to forming a plan and sticking to it.
Paraag Marathe (coming off of an unlikely division championship in his first season as COO of the San Francisco 49ers), George Postolos (entering his first season as President and CEO of the rebuilding Houston Astros), Drew Carey (minority owner of the MLS Seattle Sounders), and Rita Benson LeBlanc (owner and executive VP of the New Orleans Saints) apply these values differently in the contexts of the economic models of their respective leagues, but many of their messages were consistent throughout.
They all preached building through the draft and trades, rather than spending big money on the open market. Each sport is different -- the Astros, for example, could outspend other teams and sign every All-Star free agent on the market if their owner so chose and the All-Stars so agreed -- but the consensus among this group was that the most sustainable way to build a team into a contender is to invest in young talent.
And that investment, which Marathe compared to shopping wholesale, pales in comparison to the cost of competing with every other team for premium free agent talent, during which you are often forced to pay retail prices.
Morey referred to “The Winner’s Curse,” that almost every time you sign a fee agent, it means you paid more than anyone else was offering. Short of true superstars, that’s often a dangerous proposition. In the NBA in particular -- with the forces of a strict salary cap, maximum contracts and built-in market disadvantages -- simply offering maximum contracts to the most talented players is often not enough.
Morey inherited two such stars (Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, both of whom he called top-10 players), but has been charged with building the Rockets back into a contender since Yao retired and a hobbled McGrady moved on.
In an effort to “shift the odds in (his) favor,” Morey has attempted to do so simply by bringing in high-quality players. The idea is that by doing so, he will have what it takes to acquire another cornerstone should one become available. This approach has worked with players such as Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, Chandler Parsons, Aaron Brooks and Goran Dragic.
That his team has been competitive every year has been both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the fan base can count on a consistent brand of play that generally has the team in playoff contention. However, in a sport where superstars are most often taken in the first couple of picks in the draft, the Rockets are a great example of the downside of patiently building a team -- they aren’t bad enough to give themselves much of a chance at winning the lottery.
As every other panelist alluded to, this component of fielding a competitive team with which fans can connect is vital, at least to some degree. Carey, whose Seattle Sounders have no television contract and depend exclusively on their relationship with fans for revenue, has helped to implement radical initiatives such as a fan council to vote on the GM’s job every four years.
Benson believes strongly that the Saints commitment to the city of New Orleans went hand in hand with creating the right atmosphere to attract and foster the success of Drew Brees, but she also acknowledged the importance of offering the quarterback more money than the Dolphins were offering.
Morey believes that interacting with fans is essential, and that it’s the general manager’s job to sell them on the organization’s plan. He has done that in Houston, but he remains short of his ultimate goal of building a winner.
The biggest challenge for clubs is to honestly assess where they fall on the spectrum. Polostos points out that a lot of teams think and behave like they are one or two players away, but as Morey said, analytics make it hard to argue you are that close when you aren’t.
He believes that only when you are one piece away from title contention do you “overpay” for that missing piece, and he is ready to make his big move. He tried once as a part of the failed first Chris Paul trade, and with the trade deadline less than two weeks away, you can bet that he’ll be busy working to consolidate the assets he’s acquired and cultivated into the star for whom he has so meticulously worked.
Shaquille O’Neal is no longer the final piece for an NBA team, but for a team in Houston’s situation, the player they need might be out there. If they stick to the plan, it’s just a trade away.
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images
Kevin Martin is reunited with Rick Adelman and Brad Miller -- and couldn't be happier about it
There might not be a player in the league with a more confounding game than Kevin Martin. Take a look at the odd, left-leaning release on his jumper and you can imagine a nation of high school basketball coaches cringing. Martin's field-goal percentage and defensive game have never been all that impressive on the surface. But once you get past traditional measures -- both aesthetic and statistical -- you'll find a uniquely efficient perimeter player who thrives in systems that take advantage of those gifts.
Rick Adelman's read-and-react offense in Houston is one such system. Although Martin is a capable one-on-one player, he's always been most effective running off screens, cutting, curling or fading to the arc when the defense sags. Martin harbors an appreciation for his days in Sacramento, where he went from an obscure late first-rounder out of Western Carolina to the first option in the offense. But he's thrilled to be back with his first NBA coach, whom Martin credits with helping him become that marquee player.
We caught up by phone with Martin in Houston last week, and talked about the change in culture he's experienced since the trade that sent him from Sacramento to Houston, the limitations of his game and the influence of Brad Miller:
So what's your summer day like?
I decided to get a place in Tampa so I could do some extensive training.
What are you working on in specific?
The basics. Getting my form back because I had surgery on my left wrist last year, so we wanted to get my 3-point shot back. There were a couple of minor mechanical things. Also, defenses load up on me, so I'm working on a lot of counter-moves for when the defense stops that first move.
When you're not in the gym, what do you do in your down time? You a beach guy?
I'm more of a city guy. I like to roam around, maybe check out a restaurant. I also like playing with my electronics -- like the new iPad.
So you're a proud member of the Apple cult?
Sacramento to Houston -- the perception is that's a huge cultural move for you. "Culture" is a term that sportswriters -- and front office people when they're talking to sportswriters -- throw around a lot, but does "team culture" really exist from a player's standpoint?
There definitely is such a thing as team culture. It starts with the organization, what kind of veteran players they have. Here in Houston, Shane [Battier] and Yao [Ming] are the veterans. They set the tone for us on how to be professionals. They've been around the community a lot. They set a big example for young fellas and are just two great leaders with what they do.
So if someone were to drop you in a random locker room of some team you didn't know, you could totally tell whether it was a winning or a losing locker room?
Unfortunately, yes. I've been on both sides of it. We're all paid to play this sport we love. If you're on a team like that as a team leader, you wish it didn't happen and you try to minimize it, but you can only control so much. It's up to the players to be professional about it. But you can definitely tell the difference.
How do they do things differently in Houston?
First, it's a veteran ball club with guys who just want to win. We all made names for ourselves in the league and the only legacy we're trying to leave now is winning. We can all put up nice numbers and things like that. You have to give credit to [general manager] Daryl [Morey] for bringing in those kind of people -- players with a lot of class and who are motivated. Of all the guys on our roster, there's really only one player who came into the league with big expectations, and that's Yao. The rest of us -- we've been the hard workers. I was like the 15th player on the roster my rookie year and had to work my way up. Then I was the No. 1 player for three years. This isn't to disrespect guys, but it's not about hype in Houston. These are guys who have worked their way up the ladder. I'm definitely happy to be in an organization like this. You know what you need to do and you just go out there and get it done. You don't need anyone on your throat all the time.
With Trevor Ariza on the move, what does the situation look like at the small forward on the court for the Rockets?
It shows how much faith Daryl has put in our other 3s -- in Shane and Chase [Budinger]. With the starting lineup we have now, Shane is the defensive stopper, and that helps us a lot there. Those guys will have to pick up Trevor's production on both ends of the court. I think we have a great system that allows other guys to do that.
How do you rate yourself as a defensive player?
Great question. I've never had anyone ask me that. I get judged a lot on it. I try to work hard, but the last three years I was a guy who had to put up 25 points a game just to not lose by 10. But my first two years under Rick Adelman, that's how I stayed on the court. It was because of defense. And I could because I had four offensive players around me. I know I have to get back to that, but I also think Houston is a better place to allow me to get back to that because I won't have to be the No. 1 option every night. Now I can do other things on the court.
So it's true that guys conserve energy on the defensive end because so much is asked of them offensively? That means their defense is less intense.
For some players that's true. Everyone has their roles.
Stat-heads love you because your true shooting percentage -- which takes into account 3-pointers and free throws -- is always impressive. You have this knack for drawing contact and getting to the line, or just draining the 3. But one thing I've never completely understood is how a player like you makes decisions. When you have the ball in your hands out on the perimeter, are you looking to either shoot or draw contact? I'm either going to get a clean shot or I'm drawing a foul? Are you looking to do both? How do you decide in the moment?
There are always different scouting reports on how to guard me. Guys know my first step is so quick so they might back up off me. Right there, I'm just going to take the open shot because I'd rather do that then try to go in there against all those big guys and get hammered on the floor. Then other nights, guys are like, "He's such a great shooter," and they try to get up on me. That's when I use my quickness. Once I get by you, I just know the rules -- you can't bump a guy off his path. If I'm going to the hole, and I've gotten past you, you can't get back in my path. That's how I get a lot of those calls. It's tricky and you have to have a lot of moves in your arsenal and trust your game. As the No. 1 guy the last three years, I've gotten knowledgeable about knowing how the defense plays me.
You didn't pass the ball a lot in Sacramento. Was that a function of the system or is that just not your game?
If you watched those games, when I'm making a move, I'm going to make that move and try to score. Also, there's time where my assists weren't there because maybe I'm not the greatest playmaker, but I will pass the ball and give other guys chances. That's how that went. Over my three years in Sactown, they got rid of (Ron) Artest and I was playing with a lot of guys who were trying to make names for themselves in the league. They were young guys and just learning the game. Once Artest was gone, I was playing with four starters who had never started before. But I also think that's what made me the player I am today because I had all the attention of opposing teams.
So we should expect your assist totals to go up this year, just by virtue of Rick Adelman's system?
When we say that a perimeter player knows how "to play off a big man," what does that mean?
I've always wanted to play with a guy like Yao. I think the trick is to keep them happy. You give them the ball when they're in great scoring position and you make the right plays when they give you the ball -- like me and Brad [Miller]. My offensive game is where it is today because of Brad Miller. The way he and Rick taught me how to cut and things like that made me so much better. The last three years in Sacramento, it was all, like, one-on-one. Now I'm back in a system where I can cut. Playing with big guys like Yao who get rebounds for you, you feed them back. Keep them happy.
Let's talk more about Brad Miller and Rick's system.
Rick's system is all about read-and-react. When you're young and watching film, you like to watch a couple of guys who you're modeling your game after, and mine was always Rip Hamilton. I always looked at how he came off screens. That's where my shooting and curling evolved. That was my bread and butter my first three years. Then I moved on to other things. Playing with Brad, he's the one who taught me how to cut at the right time -- not cut too early. When I started doing more iso stuff, I watched film of [Dwyane] Wade iso situations. You put all this together and that's how you become a more complete player.
So Brad was like Yoda Big Man? How did he impart this knowledge to you?
With Brad and me, it was always on the court. And I also got a chance to watch him and Peja [Stojakovic] play a lot my first year because I didn't really play too much. He and Peja had a great connection. I knew I was a lot quicker and had a lot more agility than Peja. So at the beginning, I would always do everything so fast. I'd be too fast before the cut, during the cut, after the cut. Brad would say, "Slow down! You're faster than everybody out here, but you have to read it!" He showed me the ins and outs of making those cuts and reads -- when to come around. Like when a guy plays under you, come around and take the jumper. And when a guy is playing you tight, you just go back door. Brad taught me how to play.
- I like Phoenix over Portland in a tough, 7-game series, but Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns aptly points to a huge concern for Phoenix: "I’m not sure if the Suns have a plan to keep Camby off the boards, but they sure need one. When the Suns win the rebounding battle, they often win the game, and believe it or not they out-rebound their opponents. Controlling Camby is one of Phoenix’s biggest keys to the series in my mind."
- Daryl Morey to Jason Friedman on elite free agency movement this summer: "I actually think they’ll all go sign-and-trade. Even the teams with room often will sign-and-trade into the room and get something back from the team. A free agent is picking where he wants to go more or less, so he eventually tells the team, 'I want to go there,' and the team doesn’t want to lose him for nothing, so they try to work out some sort of arrangement."
- For those who believe Shawn Marion lacks that killer instinct. (Hat Tip: Two Man Game)
- Orlando-Charlotte might be the series with the lowest Q Rating, but it's a chance to watch a chess match between two of the more cerebral coaches in basketball. Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball talks with Queen City Hoops' Brett Hainline about what the Bobcats need to do to compete with the Magic. Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie makes a pointed argument that the Magic can't afford to have Rashard Lewis go M.I.A. if they want to be playing in June.
- Few teams have a less certain future than the Chicago Bulls, writes Matt McHale of By the Horns: "Rose and Noah are the foundation of the team. Beyond that, anything is possible. The Bulls are going to be rebuilt over the summer. In the end, this season has been about developing Derrick, Joakim, and even Taj. To that extent, the season was a success."
- At Basketball Prospectus, Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle offer all kinds of great stuff headed into the first weekend of the postseason. In the Lakers-Thunder preview, Pelton touches on my biggest concern for Oklahoma City: "When Durant has the basketball and the starting lineup is on the floor, only Jeff Green (33.3 percent) is any kind of threat from beyond the arc, which will allow the Lakers to offer help to Artest." As vulnerable as the Lakers seem right now, their proficiency for overloading defensively in the half court is still very, very strong. A team like the Thunder which doesn't shoot well from the perimeter and has few ball-movers can have a lot of trouble against that kind of strong-side pressure.
- The 1st Annual Tarence Kinsey Award goes to ...
- Liberty Ballers itemize what's gone wrong in Philadelphia.
- Darius Soriano of Forum Blue & Gold jots down a playoff wish list that includes more insults from Ty Lawson and traffic paralysis in central Los Angeles sometime in mid-June. As someone who uses Figueroa Street as a primary north-south thoroughfare, I'll concur on the first and punt on the second.
- Bethlehem Shoals and Tom Ziller apply Bill James' log5 method to prognosticate the first-round playoff series. Bulls fans, look away.
- You'll need at least $200 for a seat in the lower bowl at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City next Thursday night for the Thunder's first home playoff game.
- How a New England transplant and die-hard Red Sox fan came to love the Thunder and started to warm to the NBA.
- Zaza Pachulia isn't impressed with Mo Evans' spring fashion.
Wow. Really? Could that be so? The Rockets are 40-38 right now, with games against the Bobcats, Suns, Kings and Hornets on the docket. They'd have to win half their remaining games just to finish above .500. They've been out of the playoff hunt for a while now.
Has every team better than that, in NBA history, really had an All-Star?
I looked at this year's standings for a moment, and quickly came up with the Milwaukee Bucks. They have 44 wins already and I sure don't remember seeing any Bucks in that All-Star game in the Dallas Cowboys' Death Star.
Morey clarified by e-mail, saying the Rockets are the "only team since ABA/NBA merger (1976) with over a .500 record without an All-Star playing over 100 minutes. Michael Redd played 492 minutes for Bucks this year..."
He went on to explain that by "All-Star" he meant anyone who had ever been an All-Star, not just a current one, a measure by which the Bucks would be further disqualified thanks to Jerry Stackhouse.
Nobody sets out to be the best starless team ever. Not if you finish out of the playoffs. There's nothing dreamy about it. But it's still a nifty distinction for a Yao-less season in Houston. It's a decent feather in the cap of Morey's merry band of stat geeks, too, I suppose. Not only can they find the best role players, but they can also find this obscure statistic.
The interesting thing about it is that it's at once a tribute to Rick Adelman and the less famous Rockets he coaches -- nice going Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola and the gang -- while also a powerful ode to superstars, who are evidently entirely essential.
UPDATE: Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference digs in and finds several teams that won more, but had players who went on to be All-Stars:
- The Rockets still need to win two more games to clinch a winning record and the top spot on this list.
- If any one of the Rockets regular players (Kevin Martin, Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, etc.) is selected to an All-Star Game in the future, the 2009-10 Rockets will drop off of this list.
"Statistics," he says, "are like bikinis. They're really nice to look at but they don't tell you the whole story."
Barry attended the recent MIT Sloan Sports Conference with an NBA camera crew, and captured meaningful insight from the likes of Bill Simmons, Daryl Morey, Adam Silver and Mark Cuban.
My favorite moment comes when Barry asks Johnson if stats have ever really helped him as a coach, and Johnson talks about when he coached the Mavericks in a playoff series against the Rockets.
The numbers showed that Dallas was getting killed whenever Brent's brother, Jon Barry, checked into the game.
Brent, at this point, accuses Johnson of lying.
Then Johnson goes on to explain how, with this insight, the Mavericks changed tactics and went small whenever Jon Barry checked into the game, and it turned things around for them.
Lewis asked Morey if he believed in clutch stats, long a controversial difference between common fans - who worship the art of the clutch - and statheads - who tend to believe that the idea of clutch statistics are not definitive and conclusive.
Morey artfully answered, "We don't make any decisions based on the belief of that." Interestingly, Cuban disagreed, and said that that was one reason he wanted Kidd, whom he believes plays differently in "win time" than he does in the other 45 minutes of the game.
On the same day, Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee quoted three Kings: Sean May, Spencer Hawes, and Tyreke Evans, talking about how the strange minutes distribution (pity Donte Greene, who started a game, sat after four minutes, and never got back in) has been difficult for players.
To my reading, the most pointed quotes of all came from Evans, who was clear that he thinks the coach's decisions are hurting performance:
"Guys never know when they'll be having their time to play or they might be (starting)," Evans said.
"They're going into the game confused, and when they get into the game they want to impress the coach and (try) to play well. … It's probably hard for a player to keep that focus when they know that if they're playing bad they might not go in again."
Hawes, meanwhile, was mushier, mostly just saying that it was tough, which is fairly obvious:
"All year we've kind of been dealing with that," he said. "When you think you have kind of gotten over that hump, it comes back up again. That's the philosophy, so you've just got to deal with it.
"Everyone up and down the roster has had a taste of that, so everyone can relate. I think it's kind of tough, the not-knowing part on a game-to-game basis, to get in that rhythm. But that's the way it's going and there's not a whole lot you can do about it."
In any case, rather than reacting to all that feedback with some ode to improved consistency, Westphal instead decided to try another new roster manuever. He made Hawes (and only Hawes) inactive last night against Detroit. That was specifically in response to those kinds of comments. Hawes has started the majority of the games this season. Westphal explained the move to the Bee's Jason Jones:
"I saw where he's having a hard time understanding his role," said Kings coach Paul Westphal. "He should understand it (after) tonight."
I know what you're thinking. What a lot of drama! I wonder what the next conversation between Hawes and Westphal will be like?
They could make a reality show out of that locker room scene!
Well, in a hilarious, imagined, animated robotic way, they did. I insist you watch that. Honestly.
UPDATE: Similar insight into Daryl Morey's negotiations with Donnie Walsh.
- The Rockets made out like bandits in yesterday's three-team trade with Sacramento and New York. Jason Friedman gets to the heart of what Daryl Morey & Company were able to accomplish: "In Martin, the Rockets have filled a glaring void at the 2-guard spot. And this isn’t simply some band-aid, stop-gap solution. Martin is one of the NBA’s most efficient scoring weapons, a player who drains 3s and draws fouls in bunches, which has allowed him to post a True Shooting Percentage above 60% for four consecutive seasons. In other words, he’s the perfect fit for a team which treats efficiency like it’s the Holy Grail ... Then there are those draft picks. Oh, those wonderful draft picks ... the Rockets now own a pair of first round picks in 2011 and 2012 which gives Morey more of an opportunity to weave his magic, be it through savvy selections or additional wheeling and dealing. We’re talking about laying down this franchise’s foundation of the future here, people; one which suddenly looks so very bright not just for the rest of this year and (especially) the next – but for the years to come as well."
- At Hardwood Paroxysm, Wyn Douglas takes a historical look at the success and failure of teams after the trade deadline. Also at Hardwood Paroxysm, Jared Wade isn't ready to bury Tracy McGrady just yet. He wonders if McGrady can revive his career as a Grant Hill-like facilitator, and runs through the list of other superstar journeymen who have played for multiple teams.
- Lots of fun with player comps in a two-parter from Neil Paine at Basketball Reference. Fascinating stuff: Paine's project makes Andrei Kirilenko the modern equivalent of Marques Johnson.
- At the deadline, the Chicago Bulls acquired four ... gremlins?
- Byron Scott and Mychal Thompson engaged in a real-life boxing match. There's some disagreement about which former Laker won on points. In the same interview, Scott says that the Clippers head coaching job is intriguing: "I do think the Clipper job is a pretty good job for me. They have got some young talent.Obviously they are going to have a lot of cap room and another lottery pick coming in."
- The worst thing about blogging the Cavs, according to John Krolik of Cavs: the Blog.
- Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company looks at Carmelo Anthony's big shot against LeBron James.
- Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns delves into the host of questions surrounding Amare Stoudemire's staying put in Phoenix.
- "Shake" -- not just a liquified dessert, but a way to measure a player's consistency.
- You know that remixed "Defense" NBA spot? The most amusing clip in the ad is the unintentional irony of Eddie House in the Celtics huddle yelling, "Keep playing defense!" House was dealt from Boston to New York yesterday. At Celtics Hub, Zach Lowe bids farewell to the C's inveterate shooter, focusing on his favorite House moment, which occurred in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals.
- Matthew Bunch of Hot Hot Hoops says sometimes the best move at the deadline is no move at all.
- The best thing about the Bucks' deal for John Salmons? Milwaukee hung onto its picks and got some draft considerations from Chicago.
- Knickerblogger draws up an extensive report card on New York's deadline moves.
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images
Aaron Brooks in the lane, working against all the Timberwolves.
24 hours ago, nobody would have picked Minnesota at Houston as the game of the night, but that's why they play the games! You never know what's going to happen, and that one turned into a triple overtime thriller, which the home team won by a millimeter.
The play of the night, in case you haven't seen it already, came at the end of regulation when Corey Brewer -- a player whose 3-point shooting stats are marred by the fact that he throws up half-court buzzer-beaters every chance he gets -- showed why every player should send up prayers:
Despite that make, this was really a story of misses.
The Timberwolves, the NBA's 29th-ranked offense, know what it's like to be cold. For the Rockets, it was apparently a story of playing on the second night of a back-to-back and just not feeling it.
Houston's offense typically features players like Trevor Ariza, Shane Battier and Kyle Lowry standing on the wings, ready to catch the ball and score points. Those three missed everything they threw up in the first quarter. Battier and Ariza made one each in the second quarter, and Battier made two field goals in the third quarter. None made a field goal in the fourth quarter or first overtime, but not for lack of trying. They finished a combined 12 of 37 from the field, which is bad even for three players who are averaging just south of 40% from the floor this season.
Houston needed a savior, and early in the fourth quarter, one of the younger, best-conditioned Rockets -- Aaron Brooks (who played 59 minutes in this game, more than any other player this season) -- turned it on. He finished with 43 points.
Now that's a guy with a hot hand.
Right? Did you see that last play? Aaron Brooks basically beat all five Minnesota defenders by himself.
But ... that play made me think. Doesn't Aaron Brooks play for Houston GM Daryl Morey, who organized the conference in Boston (this year's is coming up, by the way -- get on that) where John Huizinga (the agent of Yao Ming, who also plays for Morey) and Sandy Weil presented a convincing paper demonstrating that the hot hand, if it exists at all, is extremely rare?
Is there such a thing as hotness? Was Aaron Brooks really infused with something special last night?
"I," says David Thorpe, "absolutely believe in the hot hand. No doubt about it."
Watch that highlight reel above again, and stop if with 48 seconds left in the fourth quarter. There's Brooks, in the paint, staring down the entire state of Minnesota. Wide open to his left is the cold Battier. Wide open to his right is the colder Trevor Ariza. What's the best play for the Rockets? Small man vs. big world, or wide-open shooters?
If you believe Brooks was hot, and Battier and Ariza were cold, then you'll take Brooks. But if you don't believe in the hot hand, then don't you have to go with the open shooters?
Morey shared some thoughts on this by e-mail. He had no specific answer about whether or not Brooks should have shot or passed on that play. But he did care that Brooks was rolling: "I believe that generally younger players play better (and this can include shot making) when confident, and making shots absolutely impacts their confidence. Shane Battier, Luis Scola and David Andersen are all very consistent players whose play seems unaffected by whether their last shot has gone in or the game situation (e.g. end of a close game), etc. I do think the rest of the team is affected by their recent play and the game situation to different degrees depending on the player."
That could be taken as an argument that, having made some shots, Brooks was poised to play better than average.
If hotness exists, however, then so does coldness. I pointed out a possession to Morey, late in the game, when Battier seemed to be demonstrating belief in his own coldness -- having just missed a long jumper, he was open for a second attempt, but didn't even look at the hoop. If the research at Morey's conference was correct, Battier should not let a few misses keep him from taking a good shot. "If Shane passes up an open 3-point look, that is obviously not something we want," says Morey, "but often when he does it is because he sees the possibility of getting something better (e.g. he will pass it up for a deep post touch)."
By and large, Morey says the Rockets are looking for a good shot, without regard to who's hot, which is in keeping with the research. But he leaves himself some wiggle room for one of the most cherished ideas in hoops, that players get hot. "I think I can speak for the coaches in that we are just looking for a solid shot each possession, regardless of what has happened in the recent past," writes Morey. But he adds that "Coach will often fluctuate minutes based on if players are having a good/poor night overall," he writes, "which can include shot making ('hot hand') but is generally all encompassing (they are playing solid defense, their matchup is good, etc.).
Brooks cooled off in the overtimes, making two of his seven field goals (both 3s, although he made seven-of-eight overtime free throws.)
With 8.4 seconds left in the second overtime, the Rockets inbounded, in a tie game. It was deja vu. Brooks drove into all of the Minnesota defense. It was the exact same play that had been the highlight of the Rockets' fourth quarter. Ariza, Battier and Lowry were dotted around the perimeter, wide open. Once again, Brooks ignored them all, and wound his way through defenders eager not to foul.
This time, he missed. On to the third overtime.
Had the Rockets made a mistake in not using the open shooters that are the bread and butter of their offense?
In the final overtime, the Rockets clung to a three-point lead. All night, despite Brooks' excellence, the Rockets had been unable to build a meaningful lead when it mattered. Then, with 1:54 left, something amazing happened. One of Houston's three cold wing players finally hit a 3. Battier got one to fall from the corner, and the Rockets, up six, never looked back.
Still at issue: Quadruple- or quintuple-teamed, is it smarter have Brooks shoot or pass? It was the same play in the fourth quarter, and in the second overtime. One tough make and one tough miss. Was Brooks, in fact, hot? Or was he keeping the Rockets from their best available shots with the idea that he was hot?
It's something basketball people are going to argue about for a long time.
This is the third biggest trade discussion time of the year. The trade deadline is the biggest obviously, then the draft and also now since as of two days ago almost all the players became available. So, yeah, a lot of phone calls and I do agree that we have a lot of players that teams want. We can provide financial relief, we can provide players who can help you win now, we can provide players who can help you for the future -- so we’re sort of like Target right now in that we can provide everything under one roof. We can give it all and handle any need.
Obviously our goals are high though, so I’d expect nothing will happen. But if the right thing comes along and we can upgrade the team then that’s why I’m here.
Worth pointing out: Morey goes to some trouble to point out that he doesn't actually see players as "pieces" to be traded, but instead as humans, which is nice.
Later in the conversation, Morey addresses the nickname Bill Simmons gave him: Dork Elvis.
I don’t think that’s accurate, actually. I’m much more under the radar and stay out of the spotlight. I think I’m more like the Dork Cat Stevens.
Posted by Timothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell.
Woody Allen likes to tell a joke. A mother and the local priest go to see her son's boxing match. Through the opening rounds the mother is horrified to see her son get clobbered by his opponent, a much more aggressive, skilled fighter. Unable to watch the beating, she turns to her priest with a desperate plea, "Father, Father, please won't you pray for him?" "I'd be happy to pray for him," the priest responds, "but it would help if he landed some punches."
I often think of that joke in relation to college stars trying to find their way into the NBA. As someone who chronicles the Spurs, my appreciation runs deep for players who take an early beating but eventually land enough punches to make a fight of it. It's a lesson in the psychology of a Spurs fan. Call it Bruce Bowen sentimentalism.
Central Florida's Jermaine Taylor signed with the Rockets yesterday. He's landing punches.
Taylor's professional career is in its infancy, but he already knows the hard truth about life as a professional athlete. It's a struggle.
This spring Taylor was on the draft bubble. But he converted a strong showing at Portsmouth into an early second round selection. That early second round selection became an opportunity to register a solid week of play at summer league. After summer league, Jermaine Taylor made good for himself at the annual oasis in the desert that is Tim Grgurich's carefully guarded camp.
Players like Taylor give me reason to cheer.