Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 6/26/12
This, it appears, is when Daryl Morey finally pushes the big red button. The Houston Rockets are finally done assembling their stockpile and sorting their parts. They are finally done playing Moneyball. Six years. That was the number for Morey. As he enters his sixth season as the Rockets general manager, the ignition sequence has started. If you want to hold your breath, nobody will blame you. The Rockets traded swingman Chase Budinger to the Timberwolves in exchange for the 18th pick in the first round of Thursday's NBA draft. This gives the Rockets three first-round picks (Nos. 14, 16 and 18), which they will try to turn into more and better draft picks and hope this all doesn't end with Morey standing there at the end with a 1978 Trans-Am and a handful of Star Wars pogs. The big idea, of course, is to package those assets and probably a couple others so that some way or another Dwight Howard will wind up in Houston for the final year of his current contract. And then the big idea is to pray he likes Tex-Mex. It does not take an Olympic leap of the imagination to see this as the pivotal moment in Morey's career, for better or for worse. Let's fast forward to November of 2013 and let's say Dwight Howard is not on the Rockets' roster. This would mean one of three things: (1) They traded for him and he left via free agency after the 2012 season. (2) They traded for him, realized he wasn't going to sign a longterm deal with Houston and traded him again. (3) They never got him in the first place. In that scenario, we would be talking about a general manager who will be starting his seventh season in the position, having (possibly) presided over no division championships and one playoff series win and (maybe) once again returning a roster with no star player and no clear plan to acquire one. If you want to see this as the panic button, nobody will blame you. Morey's tenure and legacy as the general manager of the Houston Rockets very likely depend on the outcome of this attempted trade for Howard. What is it Jeff Van Gundy is always saying? It's a make-or-miss league? That applies to GMs, too. The Rockets have been running their stuff for five years and now Morey has to shoot. He's either going to make it or miss it, and that will be that. Granted, the Rockets will still be at least one more star player away from contending for an NBA title, but that player will be easier to acquire if he knows he gets to play with Howard, and Howard will be easier to retain if he knows he gets to play with another star. One player begets two, and two beget three and before you know it people are getting begotten all over the place. Landing Howard would guarantee nothing, but it would be the clearest path to contention for the Rockets. Deron Williams would reportedly be interested in joining the Rockets if it meant joining Howard, and that would be the case for others too. Between this year and next, the following players are among those scheduled to be unrestricted free agents: Williams (2012), Chris Paul (2013), Steve Nash (2012) and Andrew Bynum (2013). Then there are some restricted free agents of note: Stephen Curry (2013), Michael Beasley (2012), Eric Gordon (2012) and James Harden (2013). Throw in trade possibilities and you wear out yourself putting together a speculative 2013 Rockets roster. Daryl Morey is the smartest guy in the room, especially if that room is just him and a bunch of sportswriters. He is widely respected within his own industry. It is obvious he knows how to manage a business and it is obvious he has done a decent job as general manager of the Rockets. If the Rockets were an oil company, he would be rocketing up the ladder. It would be clear that bad things that had happened to Rocket Oil Co. were not his fault and that his management had put the company in the black every year. But sports are unique. Being in the black satisfies no one. In business, being No. 2 is a great success. In sports, second place in the first loser. In sports, you get a few years to build your rocket, and the thing is either going to fly or it's going to blow up, and at some point you just have to push the big red button and hold your breath.
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