With the Houston Rockets ahead 2-0 in their first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, general manager Daryl Morey sat down with ESPN to talk about, among other things, his team's lead in the series, the possibility of Josh Smith returning as an impending free agent and the lack of Coach of the Year votes for Kevin McHale.
ESPN: How do you like your team through two games?
Daryl Morey: I just feel a stronger purpose of mission. I think we’re excited by how the team is playing, by how Dwight Howard looks coming off injury, and we want to keep executing and make the season as special as we can make it.
ESPN: Kevin McHale has the team really focused on the one-game-at-a-time approach. How happy are you the team has embraced that philosophy?
Morey: We got a lot of veterans who have won a lot of important championships, a lot of guys who have made the Finals, and that experience comes with it. The Rockets know we can’t get too up with a 2-0 lead because we’ve had some struggles in the past with that. I think we want to remain focused and take care of business and get the third win and then get the fourth win and see what happens from there.
ESPN: Are you surprised McHale wasn’t higher in the Coach of the Year voting?
Morey: I thought it was terrible. I continue to not understand what criteria people are using. Our own hometown paper didn’t vote him first, second or third, and it’s very frustrating.
ESPN: McHale praised you about the moves you’ve made to upgrade the roster. When you see how you and the rest of your staff acquired talent, how do you feel about how things have played out?
Morey: A, we haven’t really accomplished much yet. B, it’s a team effort and I appreciate Coach McHale saying some nice things, but at the end of the day, a guy like Josh Smith, he was very excited to play for Coach McHale. A guy like Corey Brewer, Kevin drafted him [in Minnesota] and Corey always felt his best years were under Coach McHale, so he was excited to come. It’s obvious our staff, along with the owner, tries to do a good job of presenting options and putting a team in a good position to be a place for people to want to play. But the head coach has a huge impact on whether or not people want to play with a certain team.
ESPN: Josh Smith will be a free agent after the season. How open are you to wanting to bring him back?
Morey: We’re pretty focused on now, but obviously pretty much everyone on this team, we’re going to be focused on trying to bring them back. We got quite a few free agents, Josh Smith is one, we're going to address in the offseason. We feel if our team can keep executing, we feel like we can keep getting better with the group that we have here.
ESPN: Tell me about Clint Capela, who has earned the trust of Coach McHale as a rookie to get playing time.
Morey: I think Coach McHale is like an Easter egg he unwraps every playoff for us. Last year, he really worked and developed Troy Daniels, who gave us good minutes in the playoffs. He was a big part of that Corey Brewer trade, so unfortunately we couldn’t keep Troy. But Clint is another guy Coach McHale has worked with all year and has been grooming to give us minutes, but frankly most of us felt that it was going to be in the future. But for him to really step up the way that he has is a testament to his work ethic and how much time he’s put into both practice and the games and with his [D-League team].
ESPN: It still amazes you that James Harden continues to produce complete games?
Morey: It was a little upsetting in the MVP chatter that he only focuses on scoring and all that, and the reality is that’s not true. James is just focused on helping us win and he’s so focused on helping us get as high a seed as possible. He got very fixated on getting us that 2-seed, down the stretch once it looked like Golden State was not going to be a team we were going to catch. The reality was with all of our injuries we needed him to score at a very high level all year. That was the only reason he put up those numbers like he did. You saw down the stretch Russell Westbrook was putting up 50-point games and James was not out there trying to match it, he was just [letting] the game come to him and trying to help us win.
ESPN: MVP vote going to be close?
Morey: It seems like it’s got to be close, they’re six very deserving candidates and I think that makes for a close race. I think James had separated from the pack, but there were quite a few others that had very good seasons. I do think it will be one of those presidential elections where no one gets half the vote.
ESPN: In a few years, the salary cap could increase to $100 million. How does that affect the process of putting a roster together?
Morey: I think just like every team we got to factor in what the cap in the future is going to do and all our decisions, and obviously those are a little ways away. We’re still focusing on the playoffs. It’s a big part of our planning. The biggest factor with our planning, it’s not only the cap room we have or don’t have, it’s always your cap room or your cap room in [relation] to others is really what impacts you the most. We do a lot of planning, but right now we’re just focused on the playoffs.
ESPN: How excited is Rockets owner Leslie Alexander about the direction of the team right now?
Morey: He’s very excited. He loves that we have a great young team and how we’re coming together and what Coach McHale has done. He’s been a part of some really special Rockets runs, and we don’t really deserve to be thought of in that realm yet, but I think he sees the early stages, if we keep executing especially if Dwight can stay healthy, where things could come together where things can be special and hopefully we’ll execute.