Behind the Rockets: Daryl Morey, from “Math Nerd” to NBA GM

Photo courtesy of The NY Times

“I lead verbally, not by example.” – Daryl Morey

Those are the words that Daryl Morey has lived by all his life from Baraboo, Wisconsin to becoming the General Manager of the Houston Rockets. His life has taken him from “math nerd” to leader of one of the most successful franchises in the last 12 years.

Early life and education

Baraboo, Wisconsin is where Morey spent his early childhood. Morey, speaking to Bill Simmons on his podcast, proclaimed himself “a math nerd”. For instance, he started playing fantasy baseball with his childhood friends in the early ’80s. Morey grew up a huge fan of Bill James, one of the early sportswriters who emphasized stats. He honed his love of stats on computer games like Earl Weaver Baseball on his Commodore 64. He continued his love affair with numbers into high school where he graduated from Highland High school in Medina, Ohio which is 23 miles from another person you may have heard of, Lebron James.

Being a math genius and lover of numbers, there was no surprise that Morey attended Northwestern. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science with an emphasis on statistics. From there, he continued his education earning his MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Morey began work as a principal consultant with an emphasis on sports at The Parthenon Group. Morey was also a statistical consultant with STATS, Inc with a focus on sports. Here, he met his future wife to be, Ellen Morey, while working at STATS Inc.

Start of professional career

Morey stated in a interview with the Rick Nolan of The Gazzete, “When I graduated, I figured, ‘Now it’s time to get a job in sports,’” Morey said. “I really tried and couldn’t. I was really frustrated, so my get-rich plan was to go to business school and focus on starting company.”

His big break was working with a consulting firm that was hired by the Boston Red Sox. He later served three years as SVP Operations for the Boston Celtics. Morey worked under Danny Ainge and was given the responsibility of his first official draft pick, a late second-round forward named Brandon Hunter with the 56th pick. Even though this pick did not work out, it began Morey stat-driven draft picks going forward.

Takeoff: Houston Rocket career

After working with the Celtics for 3 years, the Houston Rockets hired Morey in 2006. Owner Leslie Alexander named Morey assistant general manager of the Houston Rockets on April 3, 2006. Morey worked under longtime Rockets former assistant coach and General Manager Carol Dawson. He then took over the following year when Dawson stepped down. Morey inherited a team coming off an injury-filled season from its stars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. Unfortunately, this trend would continue over the next few years where one or both stars would not finish the season.

The superstars’ windows had closed and on February 2010, McGrady was sent to the New York Knicks in a three-team trade that brought Sacramento shooter Kevin Martin to Houston. A year later, Ming retired which brought the Rockets to a crossroad.

GM Daryl Morey and James Harden introductory press conference
Photo courtesy of The Big Lead

The Beard arrives

Over in OKC James Harden received an offer of four years, $53-$54 million but that wasn’t enough to get Harden to re-sign. On October 27, 2012, Morey traded Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for James Harden.

Determined to build around his new star, Morey would pair him with Dwight Howard in 2013. After a lack of success for the first few years of the Harden era, the 2015-2016 season saw a coaching change. Head coach Kevin McHale was let go and Mike D’Antoni was brought in to lead the Rockets on a path to success.

The pairing with Howard ended sourly so Morey knew he had to make a change. In the 2017-2018 offseason, Morey pulled off another blockbuster move by bringing in future Hall-of-Famer Chris Paul to pair with Harden. The combination of Harden, Paul and D’Antoni turned the Rockets into one of the most dominant offenses in NBA history. As a result, the Rockets, since 2012, have had five 50-win seasons. The Rockets were one hamstring injury from Chris Paul away from possibly winning the NBA championship in Paul’s first year. Last season’s 4-2 second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors ended the Paul era in Houston. Morey acquired former MVP Russell Westbrook this past month in a big trade.

Final word

From the NBA-themed musicals he created and founder of the Sloan Analytics conference to being a avid table tennis player, Daryl Morey has charted his own path. He ushered in NBA analytics as we know it today. With Harden and now Westbrook, he may just reach his crowning achievement: a NBA championship.

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