While he was in Las Vegas during the NBA summer league tournament, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson admitted he didn’t speak with star player Carmelo Anthony regarding the offseason moves of the franchise.
Maybe it was nothing or maybe it was something, but it was a different approach taken by the Knicks in comparison to other teams that involved their players in big decisions.
Make the Houston Rockets one of those teams.
When the Rockets made a risky blockbuster deal in sending four reserves, a lottery-protected 2016 first-round pick and cash considerations to Denver for point guard Ty Lawson, Rockeys GM Daryl Morey and his staff listened to their players.
Each gave their approval.
“My job is really to steward the players' careers,” Morey said. “James Harden is only going to have one career, Dwight Howard is only going to have one career and we’re only going to go [as] far as pretty much they carry us. I think it works best when we work in collaboration with them to set up the team. We’re not always going to agree, but I feel like they’re part of the process and they are part of the process.”
When the 2014-15 season ended, Harden was tired. He had led the league in minutes and was second in scoring and the MVP vote to Stephen Curry. Harden wouldn’t admit it, but he missed someone else taking more control of the ball. In his exit interviews with the Rockets he said another playmaker would be needed to improve things. He said he would speak with Morey and coach Kevin McHale once the offseason heated up.
The Rockets tried to obtain a playmaking point guard and were rebuffed by Real Madrid’s Sergio Llull, who will play overseas this upcoming season again instead of plying his trade in the NBA.
With little room under the salary cap, the Rockets flirted with signing LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency. To sign him, the Rockets would need to clear about $16 million in cap space and that would mean trading Trevor Ariza, not signing sixth-man Corey Brewer and starting point guard Patrick Beverley.
When Aldridge decided to sign with San Antonio, the Rockets moved on to taking care of Brewer and Beverley in free agency with new contracts but let key contributor Josh Smith go as he signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Still, Morey kept Harden and Howard looped in on the process, believing that something was going to happen. When Lawson was arrested last week in Los Angeles on suspicion on DUI, it opened the door for the Rockets to make a move.
“Some of this recent draft and the incident made them move a little quicker,” Morey said of Denver, which selected point guard Emmanuel Mudiay in the first round. “And we’ve been looking for a way to upgrade the team and when you’re a team that made the Western Conference finals, it’s more difficult to upgrade your team. So the opportunities don’t come along too often and when they come you sort of have to pounce on them.”
One of the great things about Morey and his staff is that while they are analytics driven, they listen to an old-school veteran coach like McHale who does talk about chemistry on the floor in addition to making things work analytically.
Morey also listens to his players and when one of them, in this case, Harden stepped up asking for more help, everybody listened.
“You get a lot more of a team unity and chemistry, and that’s the case with this trade,” Morey said. “Both Dwight Howard and James Harden were two guys I had consulted with, both felt like Ty Lawson was a good player for our team to add and both are very excited.”