Rafael Stone

Rockets Coaching Candidates Knew Of Morey’s Decision

While Daryl Morey’s decision to step down as the Rockets’ GM surfaced this week, he said that coaching candidates were notified during the interviewing process that he was departing, Kelly Iko and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

Morey made up his mind nearly a month ago, a day after the team was eliminated from the Western Conference playoffs. Family considerations were the main reason why he chose to leave at this time.

“I mean he just said, ‘You know, I’m kind of just struggling and don’t know what I want to do,’” owner Tilman Fertitta said. “To tell y’all, when we signed Daryl’s last extension, Daryl told me, ‘You know, I’m not going to always be here (and) when my last son graduates (I might leave).'”

Head coach Mike D’Antoni decided he didn’t want to remain in the organization on the plane ride home and Morey said all of D’Antoni’s potential replacements were told that he was headed out, as well.

“We’ve been up front with all the candidates that this was coming and they’ve been respectful to not have it get out early,” said Morey, who added that D’Antoni’s parting did not impact his decision. “It’s been baked in.”

The Athletic duo, though, said that it hasn’t been quite that transparent. At least two of those candidates were uncertain why Rafael Stone, the executive VP of basketball operations who is replacing Morey as GM, was leading the interviewing process. They were not directly told Morey was going to step down.

Morey had essentially been operating as a consultant the past few weeks, The Athletic confirmed.

Houston has interviewed Jeff Van Gundy, Ty Lue, Kenny Atkinson, Stephen Silas, David Vanterpool, Wes Unseld Jr., and John Lucas for the vacant coaching job. Lue has agreed to coach the Clippers, while Van Gundy, Silas and Lucas appear to be the top remaining candidates for the Rockets.

Rockets Notes: Morey, Stone, Silas, Johnson

Longtime Rockets general manager Daryl Morey announced on Thursday he’ll be stepping down from his role with the franchise on November 1, effectively ending a 14-year run with the franchise.

Morey was the engine behind several notable transactions in recent years, including signing Chris Paul to a four-year, $160MM deal, trading him for nine-time All-Star Russell Westbrook and moving center Clint Capela to usher the team into an unprecedented version of small-ball.

“After returning from Orlando and reflecting on what has been an amazing 14 years with the Houston Rockets, and after discussing my thoughts with family and close friends, I’ve decided I’ll be stepping away from the Rockets organization effective November 1st,” Morey said in a statement. “[Owner] Tilman [Fertitta] and I have had many conversations since I returned, and his unwavering support and counsel during our time together has been critical to our success.

“It has been the most gratifying experience of my professional life to lead the Rockets basketball organization, and I look forward to working with Tilman and the management team on the transition. I am very confident that the future – for the Rockets, and for our incredible fans – is in great hands, and that the Rockets will continue to perform at the highest level.”

Morey met with Fertitta on Thursday to inform him of his decision. Houston acted quickly on filling his soon-to-be-vacated position, promoting EVP of Basketball Operations Rafael Stone to GM and giving Eli Witus an increased role as assistant GM.

“On behalf of the entire Rockets organization, I would like to thank Daryl Morey for his hard work and dedication over the past 14 seasons,” Fertitta said. “Daryl is a brilliant innovator who helped the Rockets become a perennial contender. I have truly enjoyed working with Daryl and couldn’t have asked for a better general manager to have at the start of my ownership.  I wish him and his family all the best.”

There’s more out of Houston today:

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle examines the rise of new GM Rafael Stone, who originally joined the franchise back in 2005. Feigen notes in a separate story that Stone will lead the team’s search for a new head coach in the coming days and weeks.
  • Houston will interview Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas for a second time on Friday, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon and Brian Windhorst (Twitter link). The Rockets have reportedly focused on the trio of Silas, Jeff Van Gundy and John Lucas for the team’s vacant head coaching position.
  • Longtime Rockets scout Brent ‘B.J.’ Johnson tragically passed away on Thursday due to a bicycle accident, Feigen relays in a story for the Houston Chronicle. “He was riding his bike and hit a culvert,” Johnson’s wife Claudette said. “There was construction. They are thinking he fell forward and broke his neck because there was no blood.” Johnson is described by those who knew him as hard-working, positive and influential. He was hired by the organization back in 1994. “BJ was beloved and respected not only throughout the Rockets organization, but across the league and the basketball world,” the Rockets said as part of a larger statement on social media (Twitter links).

Daryl Morey Stepping Down As Rockets GM

Longtime Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is stepping down from his position in Houston’s front office, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Rockets’ plan is to promote executive VP of basketball operations Rafael Stone to fill Morey’s vacated GM role, sources tell ESPN. Eli Witus will also take on increased responsibility as Houston’s assistant general manager.

As Wojnarowski explains, Morey approached team owner Tilman Fertitta following the Rockets’ postseason elimination this summer to discuss the idea of leaving his job, despite having signed a five-year extension in 2019. Morey and Fertitta quietly negotiated an agreement to part ways, per Woj.

For the time being, Morey will remain with the franchise in an advisory role, helping the Rockets hire a new head coach to replace Mike D’Antoni. However, he’s only expected to remain in that role for a short period, according to Wojnarowski.

While Morey isn’t ruling out taking another job in a team’s front office at some point, it doesn’t sound like he’ll be looking for such an opportunity right away. Wojnarowski says the veteran NBA executive wants to spend some time with his family and explore what else might interest him professionally.

Morey has served as the general manager in Houston since all the way back in 2007, when Rick Adelman was coaching a roster headlined by Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. During his 13-year tenure, Morey oversaw 10 playoff berths and a pair of appearances in the Western Conference Finals in 2015 and 2018. The Rockets had the league’s second-best regular season record during those 13 years, according to ESPN.

Although Morey’s teams were never able to get over the hump and win a championship, he made some of the most memorable roster moves and personnel decisions of the last decade, including his trade for James Harden and his pivot to a three-pointer-heavy style of small-ball (and, in 2019/20, to “micro-ball”).

Morey came under fire last fall when he published a tweet in support of protestors in Hong Kong. He quickly deleted the tweet, but it generated major tension between the NBA and China, one of the league’s largest markets. A number of Chinese partners and advertisers severed ties with the NBA on a temporary or permanent basis, costing the league hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

China’s push for the NBA to discipline Morey and/or the Rockets to fire him led to leaguewide speculation about his job security over the last year. However, the league and the team never took action, with Fertitta insisting that he was standing by his GM.

Morey’s decision to step down was “100 percent” his own, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).

With Morey out of the picture, it will be fascinating to see what direction the Rockets’ offseason takes under Stone. Harden and Russell Westbrook remain under contract for the next three seasons, so there’s no need for the club to make major changes or overhaul its roster yet, but the new decision-makers likely won’t be satisfied to simply run it back with the same group in 2020/21.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.