Executive of the Year

Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey

Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey

Genius.

That’s the best way I can describe Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey.

What else can you say for an executive who transformed a team from coming off a 3rd straight respectable but mediocre-ceiling to championship calibre season in less than 2 years?

Daryl Morey could have done the safe thing. He could have stuck it out with the roster that he had. Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry as the core to go along with some nice young talent in Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson and Chase Budinger. The sky was by no means the limit but this team had playoff potential.

As he should have, Daryl Morey said “screw that”.

The NBA, or professional sports in general, are not about making the playoffs. It’s about winning championships. Even though the NBA offers very little in the way of competitive balance, being content with making the playoffs is like settling for ground beef when you can have filet mignon.

In the immortal words of Herm Edwards, “you play to win the game!”

When so many teams are hell-bent on sneaking their way into the playoffs, Daryl Morey wasn’t having any of it. His job would have been secure if he was able to finish a 7th or 8th seed. The Western Conference is almost as tough as the MLB’s AL East division, almost.

Yet, he still decided to blow it up.

Daryl Morey was going to do it his way and he didn’t care what anyone thought of his plan.

That’s the crux of being a general manager. If you’re going to be terrible, you might as well be terrible on your own terms. Don’t be terrible by bowing down to media, fans and other voices in the front office. It’s hard enough being a GM, but it must be even more difficult if you’re not going with your instinct.

What Morey did took guts.

He didn’t blow up the team conventionally though. This wasn’t going into full tank mode as so many fans and media types (including myself) would recommend for situations such as the one the Rockets were in. He went pushed the reset button and made it work.

First, he traded an inconsistent Kyle Lowry to polar opposite GM Bryan Colangelo and the Toronto Raptors. He got a pretty much guaranteed lottery pick in return. Then, he boldly went after a questionable commodity in Jeremy Lin, stealing him away from the Toronto Raptors and the New York Knicks. He gambled on Omer Asik. He amnestied another solid player in Luis Scola, while trading away Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger and Marcus Camby to stash away a bunch of draft picks.

Most incredibly, Morey found the star player that every franchise needs. He traded some players, picks (the ones he stashed) and Kevin Martin for James Harden. Another questionable commodity, Harden was acquired to be a franchise cornerstone even though no one had any idea if he could actually be one.

Daryl Morey didn’t let that phase him. He knew he needed to make bold moves, despite the fact that every one of those decisions could have blown up in his face.

Jeremy Lin could have been more Sebastian Telfair than Mike Conley. Omer Asik could have been more Kwame Brown than Emeka Okafor. James Harden could have been more Rudy Gay than Kevin Durant.

That didn’t happen though. Daryl Morey is a genius with a rabbit’s foot and four-leaf clover in his pocket.

Whatever. You gotta be good to be lucky and lucky to be good, right?

Lucky and plucky.

He deconstructed and reconstructed an average team into a championship contender in less than 2 years. No matter what you think of Dwight Howard, he makes Houston a legitimate threat in the Western Conference.

Without D-12, the Rockets made the playoffs and didn’t have a Milwaukee Bucks type exit from the first round. With Dwight Howard, the Rockets will be picked by some to win an NBA championship. Just like the Lakers!!!

Nevertheless, Morey tried something that very few GM’s would have ever even thought of, much less attempted. Although he could have very easily been kicked to the curb of the Houston Rockets training facility for a failed retool, Morey is now reaping the rewards of a sequence of events that deserves to be immortalized in a New York Times bestseller.

Whether the Rockets go the way of the Lakers or the Heat doesn’t matter because what Daryl Morey has been able to accomplish is something special. He is the real story of this never-ending Dwightmare.

All he needs now is for someone to put a ring on it.

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Hating on Howard Will Stop

It’s a match made in heaven that even eHarmony could have figured out. The Hollywood personality finally getting a taste of what Hollywood life is.

Dwight Howard and Brooklyn never really seemed right.

Now it’s time for the public to stop hating on Dwight Howard. I’m not telling them to stop hating. Rather, I’m saying it’s only a matter of time before Howard starts to feel the love again.

People are already starting to forget about the whole ‘indecision’ saga and are envisioning the Lakers sexy starting 5 of Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta Word Peace, Pau Gasol and Superman himself. They are talking about whether the Lakers have the depth to match up against the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat. They are dreaming of alley-hoops and comedy sketches between one of the all-time great point guards and one of the most athletic 7-footers to ever step foot on an NBA floor.

I said all the way back in March that Dwight Howard will only be booed by the Orlando fans. Heck, that might not even be the case anymore by the time the Lakers take the court in Orlando next season.

The sports world is a very forgiving one.

A lot of guys would now rather have a beer with Tiger Woods, for reasons you can imagine, than condemn him like so many did only a couple of years ago. Michael Vick has gone from dog fighter back to NFL fan favourite, you know, when he’s not injured. Lebron James is no longer a villain simply because he won a championship and, apparently, winning cures all that ails.

People were appalled when Tiger Woods was caught cheating with 896 women. They were disgusted when Michael Vick was found to be cruel and unusual to man’s best friend. Clevelanders and non-Clevelanders burned jerseys and tore down posters when Lebron somewhat predictably spurned the Cavs.

However, people seem genuinely excited about the possibilities with Dwight Howard in a Lakers uniform.

Dwight Howard’s situation is not nearly as shocking as the others because his events were dragged out over the course of the past year. Nevertheless, hate is not the word that would define the reaction to Superman’s relocation.

Now that it is all over, Dwight Howard will probably get nothing more than a slap on the wrist in comparison to Lebron James. The NBA world will forget about Dwight Howard as fast as they will forget about 95% of the athletes in the 2012 Olympics. His immaturity will soon turn back to lovability.

D-12 is no longer the focal point either. He is the 3rd superstar on one of Los Angeles’s many prominent professional sports teams.

Dwight Howard toyed with a fan base that isn’t close to a championship with or without him. The rest of the NBA was just annoyed. Unlike Lebron James, who’s decision felt like a Mike Tyson punch to the noggin, all Dwight Howard kept doing was poking us in the arm like an infuriating little brother would.

The indecision wasn’t the worst thing in the world. It only felt like that in the moment.

The NBA world jumped on the hate Howard bandwagon. Most of them aren’t real Dwight Howard haters though. They have already jumped off and are running after the LA Lakers wagon.

Dwight Howard and all.

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Stan Should Still Be the Man

Coaches are expendable. Players are not. That’s the traditional wisdom.

It’s hard to disagree with it. Someone try convincing the city of Cleveland that Mike Brown was worth more than Lebron James. Yeah, that would be impossible.

However, it’s time to do away with traditional wisdom in Orlando.

Sure, franchise players are incredibly hard to come by. These guys are your rare, one of a kind, Koh-i-Noor kind of diamonds only found in the British Crown Jewels collection. You don’t simply pick Dwight Howard’s up at the local corner store. That’s why you have to do whatever you can to keep the gem, no matter what the cost may be. Well, supposedly.

The Orlando Magic have been patient enough now. Their patience was partially rewarded when Superman rescinded his trade demand, for now, and picked up his player option for the 2012-13 season. They had been given a reprieve.

Then Stan Van Gundy went to the media to inform them that Howard wanted a new coach, leading to one of the most awkward moments in sports interviewing history. Most people assumed that was Stan’s swan song. All that was left was for the fat man to sing.

Apparently, a fat man doesn’t do the trick.

In a series where just about every man, woman, child and alien gave the Orlando Magic Hell freezing over odds, Stan Van Gundy’s boys went out and took home court away from the Pacers with an ugly, yet impressive 81-77 victory. An opening game win versus the sexy dark horse team of the 2011-12 playoffs with a generously listed 6-9 Big Baby Davis starting at center in place of Dwight Howard was shocking to say the least.

The victory, as shocking as it was, should also be very telling to the Orlando Magic front office.

Whatever the outcome of this series, Stan Van Gundy has to stay on as coach of the Orlando Magic. This game 1 victory wasn’t a result of some hot shooting as you would probably expect. The Magic didn’t even shoot 40% for the game. The victory was a result of them scratching and clawing their way to a typical grind it out, playoff victory.

It’s not the win that should impress you, it’s the way the Magic team have responded to Van Gundy in Dwight Howard’s absence. It is clear that there is only one person that isn’t buying what Stan Van Gundy is selling. Right now, that certain someone is out with a back injury. This performance speaks volumes about Stan’s ability as a coach. How he has been able to keep an entire locker room on his side despite the face of the franchise mailing it in is beyond me.

A coach like that doesn’t come around every day.

I didn’t have a problem with the Magic telling Dwight Howard that he could choose his own coach a while ago. It seemed like the right thing at the time. Do whatever you got to do to keep Superman around. The Magic have spent every year since Dwight Howard was drafted building a team around him. I felt that they had no choice because of that reason alone.

I don’t see it that way now.

Dwight Howard should be the one to go. For the past year he has caused nothing but problems for the city of Orlando and the fact that he is the one guy on the team unwilling to open his mind to Van Gundy is more than a little concerning.

Screw him. Let the baby have his bottle. Send him to Brooklyn, Los Angeles or wherever someone will take him on. Orlando doesn’t need that head case for another wasted year.

Related: Indecision Does Not Compare to The Decision

It is almost inevitable that Dwight Howard will be on his way out of Orlando in a year. Picking up his option was just a desperate attempt to regain some public support and prove that he is a loyal person. Sorry Dwight, it’s too late.

Stan Van Gundy is the more valuable commodity for the Magic. The Magic are going to be left without Dwight Howard soon enough. They don’t want to be left without Stan Van Gundy as well. No need to delay, they can start their rebuilding project a year earlier. Everyone knows they aren’t going to win a championship next season anyways.

Cleveland was left for dead after Lebron spurned them. Orlando GM Otis Smith has the opportunity to begin his rebuild with some real assets instead of starting completely from scratch. Some real assets and, of course, one of the best coaches in the National Basketball Association.

It takes a special man to take a Mike Tyson, in his prime, style beating and come out of it smelling of roses.

The Magic ownership and front office cannot see this situation any other way.

Stan Van Gundy must remain in Orlando.

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Indecision Does Not Compare to The Decision

Dwight Howard is not Lebron James. Not even close.

Has everyone already forgotten the magnitude of the decision? Dwight Howard’s cat and mouse game has baffled us all but it doesn’t come close to reaching the 9.0 on the Richter scale that Lebron’s decision did. Lebron James shook the entire world and changed the entire landscape of the NBA. Dwight Howard is mildly disrupting it.

What is almost as mind-boggling as Dwight Howard’s Mitt Romney-like flip-flopping, is the amount of analysts who are equating this indecision, and even putting it above, “The Decision.” Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated says D-12 will be “every bit the villain Lebron James was in Cleveland” if he stays with Orlando for remainder of the season and signs elsewhere as a free agent.

Absolute nonsense.

Lebron James gave a sexy tease to one of the hardest luck sports cities in North America, only to embarrass them on national TV to create a super team in Miami. Cleveland’s hopes and dreams for some sort of meaningful professional sports championship rested solely in the gigantic hands of Lebron James and he spurned them in the worst way imaginable. Cleveland may have taken it a bit hard but that was to be expected considering the manner in which Lebron handed down his remorseless verdict.

Lebron is still a villain. He can’t shake the label because he is not likeable. He never was. For some reason, it took “The Decision” for people to see it. Nevertheless, Lebron is now loved by fans about as much as a 1st grader loves Brussels sprouts. That won’t change anytime soon.

Dwight is a fan favourite. He is Superman. You can’t stay mad at Superman forever. Seriously though, Dwight is beloved. Lebron was a fan favourite but it was never the same as Dwight. Howard’s antics right now are rubbing people the wrong way but one of those patented Stan Van Gundy impressions will turn the fans back around. If not, his Hollywood smile will. The King sneers while Superman smiles.

Even though Dwight Howard seems to be getting damage control lessons from the Lebron James entourage school of public relations these days, he hasn’t done enough to soil his reputation the way LBJ did. Heck, Superman could hold his own TV special and he wouldn’t be half the villain Lebron is.

Orlando residents don’t long for a championship the way the Cleveland fans did and still do. The front office and fans might be doing just as much as Cleveland did (maybe more?) to keep Howard in a Magic uniform but the animosity towards him following their inevitable split could never be the same.

Dwight Howard will be booed when he comes back to Orlando in a *insert team name here*jersey but he won’t be booed around the league.

This doesn’t “rival Lebron James’ exodus from Cleveland” as Sam Amick tries to tell us. It would be foolish to think that Dwight Howard could ever be thought of in the same light as Lebron James. Dwight Howard has yet to give up on his team despite the trade demands. His quietness stopped playing in game 5 of the Eastern Finals when hopes for a championship and his return to the city of Cleveland were still sky-high.

“The Decision” was the O.J. trial for the sports world.

Dwight’s indecision hardly tops the ‘Melo drama we were witness to last year.

Superman should have known better than to anger the masses in a way more befitting Batman. I cannot tell you the reason why he was unable to learn from Lebron and Carmelo. Dwight Howard has screwed up big time. I get it.

Just don’t go around likening it to “The Decision.”

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Mark Jackson’s Tunnel Vision

It doesn’t surprise me that Mark Jackson employed his hack-a-Howard last night. It didn’t surprise me when he did it on Christmas Day to Deandre Jordan and the LA Clippers. Mark Jackson was always a lobbyist for teams taking advantage of the rules as best they could when he called games for ESPN. As disgusting as flopping, intentional fouling and guys jumping into defenders for free throws is to many of us, Mark Jackson was always applauding from his court side seat. Thank goodness Jeff Van Gundy was there to put him in his place.

It’s just too bad for Mark Jackson that Jeff Van Gundy isn’t on his coaching staff in Golden State.

Since last night’s game, where Dwight Howard attempted an NBA record 39 free throw attempts, Jackson’s hack-a-Howard strategy has been debated fiercely. Whether from a strategic stand point the choice to foul Howard throughout the game was right or wrong, Jackson’s implementation of this tactic does not bode well for his long-term future.

I think we can safely assume that Mark Jackson aspires to be an all-time coaching great. When all is said and done, he will want to be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Jerry Sloan and Pat Riley.

It won’t happen if he continues to think like 15-year-old – unable to look farther in the future than Friday night. As a first year head coach on a team that lacks basic defensive principles, Mark Jackson should be laying a solid foundation for years to come. Instead, all he seems to care about is a meaningless January win on a team that is bound to be golfing come playoff time.

Mark Jackson clearly cannot comprehend the idea of short-term pain for long-term gain. Too bad that his attempt to prove himself as an outside-the-box thinking NBA coach will cause him not only short-term pain but long-term pain as well.

By putting his excessive hack-a-poor free throw shooter strategy into practice from day one, Mark Jackson has told his team they can’t play defence and he isn’t even going to bother trying. It isn’t possible for Jackson’s players to ever learn to trust him if he won’t put any faith into them. It’s not a good sign for the Warriors franchise that they have a coach who is so short-sighted.

His comments following yesterday’s game did nothing except reinforce his narrow-minded philosophy. He said “I can understand people thinking, ‘Why?’ But don’t get caught up in the free throws. Think about the times we didn’t foul him. It was dunks, hooks, plays at the rim. He’s a great player and a bad free-throw shooter. We were giving ourselves the best possible chance by messing up their rhythm.”

Let’s go with Mark and believe that those 39 free throw attempts did in fact give his team the best chance to win. So what? Teaching your guys how to intentionally foul a far superior individual isn’t doing anything to benefit the long-term future of your franchise and you personally as a coach. I don’t care that Kwame Brown was injured and they had no true center to guard Dwight Howard. It’s not about that.

Give a man a fish he’ll eat for a day but teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. Sadly, Mark Jackson’s men didn’t even get to eat for a day.

Mark Jackson shouldn’t be looking for a few cheap wins here and there. Hack-a-Howard won’t help instil a gritty, hard-nosed, defensive culture in his team that was absent in Don Nelson’s run and gun, high-octane offensive system.

The Warriors may lack the personnel to be a great defensive team but it doesn’t mean they can’t try. Mark Jackson should look at the way Toronto Raptor’s first year coach Dwane Casey has implemented a refreshing brand of hustle into a team that was the NBA’s worst defence last season. Despite the lockout and a starting line-up that still features Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon, Casey has transformed a previously inept Raptor defence into respectability. Casey talked before the season of bringing a new brand of basketball to the city of Toronto and he has done that.

Unlike Dwane Casey and contrary to what Mark Jackson might believe, he hasn’t walked the walked.

Last night, unbeknownst to Jackson, he waved the white flag and surrendered to the Orlando Magic. He thought he was fighting for his team but really he was telling them that he shouldn’t be the general leading them into battle. Some players would jump in front of a bullet for their coach. There’s probably a few Warrior’s right now who would push Mark Jackson into the line of fire.

It may be too early to write Mark Jackson off as a legitimate NBA coach but the alarm bells are ringing. If he doesn’t change his ways and continues looking only in the short-term, he won’t have to worry much about the long-term state of the Warriors.

No problem though, Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen will welcome him back with open arms.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will happily return the favour.

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