Following a disappointing 2015/16 season, Rockets owner Leslie Alexander took on a larger role in his team’s roster-building process this summer, sources familiar with the process tell Zach Lowe of ESPN.com. According to Lowe, Alexander was “eager to rebound at any cost” after Houston underachieved last season.
Alexander’s increased involvement signals that Daryl Morey‘s hold on the general manager job may not be as secure as it once was, league sources tell Lowe. For his part, Morey says he doesn’t “feel more or less pressure” in his GM role than he has in previous years. However, Lowe suggests that the Rockets’ dismissal of former VP of player personnel Gianluca Pascucci earlier this year was “widely seen as a shot across the bow at Morey.” The GM says that decision was his.
As Lowe observes, the Rockets took a different approach to roster-building this summer than they have in the past under Morey. The team has typically made an effort to add another star or two to a roster headed by James Harden. However, as they lost Dwight Howard in free agency this July, the Rockets instead opted to use their cap room to sign solid – and expensive – complementary players like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. Houston still wanted to add star power, and will keep an eye out for a top player going forward, but Morey suggests that last year’s disappointing showing had an impact on the club’s ability to recruit top-tier players this summer.
“Last year hurt us in terms of perception around the league,” Morey said. “We felt like if we didn’t have a more successful season this year, our ability to be a top destination would be hurt. … We had a choice: keep our powder dry and value play, or go for two blue-chip players past the obvious superstars. It was a tough cap environment. You have to spend the money on someone.”
According to Lowe, Morey and the Rockets believe players like Anderson, Gordon, and others will thrive this season in Mike D’Antoni’s system, boosting their trade value. So Houston will be a team worth watching at February’s trade deadline. If Morey’s bet doesn’t pay off, it will also be worth keeping an eye on whether his grip on his GM job grows more tenuous.