Q&A: Rockets GM Daryl Morey says no 'close deals' at trade deadline

PHOENIX – After the trading deadline, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey was able to relax. Briefly. His team, currently the eighth seed in the Western Conference, has expectations of moving up. On Friday, Morey talked about those expectations with ESPN.com, including the trade he made -- getting a first-round pick for Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton -- Dwight Howard and whether or not James Harden and Howard wanted each other traded.

ESPN: How important was it to get a first-round pick?

Daryl Morey: Very important. I think what we’re trying to do at this deadline, if we could upgrade the team, we could, but we didn’t find any good options there. If not upgrade, we wanted to keep ourselves where we could be as competitive as last year but also set ourselves up for the summer. We can use that summer to bring a player in and if we pick him, they can help us down the road. They’re even more important as the cap rises dramatically.

How close were you to trading Dwight Howard?

Morey: I don’t want to get into any details of any trades; there were lots of rumors with all our players. There weren’t any close deals. I don’t love a lot of the noise that got out there, but it happens at the deadline.

Earlier in the year there was noise about trading Ty Lawson and you talked to him about not moving him. Did you do the same with Howard?

Morey: We know how this team works, conference finals, won two-thirds of our games -- we know this group works. It’s not working right now and we have time to turn it around and still make noise in the playoffs. During trade deadline, we pretty much tell every player, look, there’s lots of names, lots of everything for every player in the league. So it’s best to tune it out because every team’s job is to explore things and you don’t like when things get out, but it’s silly to kill or accentuate rumors during deadline week. So stuff is going to be out there no matter what.

So you don’t feel the need to speak with him?

Morey: I’m in conversations with all our players but the point is, it’s just a lot of noise for the trade deadline week.

Tough to trade Donatas Motiejunas?

Morey: Very hard. He’s got everything we want in terms of hard worker, great cultural fit, obviously -- he’s given us huge minutes in the past, a unique game, post up, spread the floor. It was a deal we felt like we had to do. There are scenarios where this summer we couldn’t even have his restricted rights. It was just a deal that made sense for us.

Confident this team can move up from the eighth seed right now?

Morey: We’re not playing well. We know this group can do it; right now, talk is cheap. We’re either going to do it or we’re not. I like that attitude and the approach the guys have taken the last couple of days. It doesn’t matter unless it translates [to games]. We have to turn our defense around. We’re in the bottom ten, and we got to get that much higher if we want to get to where we want to be.

There’s a NBA.com report saying James Harden and Dwight Howard wanted to get each other traded. Is that true? What’s your reaction?

Morey: I hadn’t seen it, but that’s not true.

You don’t have to be "boys" to get things going?

Morey: We know this group works. We made the Western Conference finals, and on any given team what happens off the court is not as important as what happens on, and we know on-the-court works.

Most frustrated you’ve been as a GM?

Morey: Yeah, probably the toughest year, to have a group, not even a question, if you know that group of players can win. But to not be playing up to expectations is frustrating.