If one thing in the Rockets off-season from hell symbolizes the frustrations many have with Daryl Morey, it was during their pursuit of Carmelo Anthony, when he put Carmelo in a jersey with Jeremy Lin's number on it. Under Morey, Houston has developed the reputation of a franchise that treats its players like commodities, assets to be accumulated and then flipped. Of course, that's the attitude of every NBA team on some level, but few take it to the extent of the Rockets.
If you take a look at their rosters since Morey came to Houston, the lack of continuity is pretty glaring. Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas are their two longest-tenured players and they came into the league two years ago. The approach got them two stars in their prime in James Harden and Dwight Howard, but it may have showed its downside this off-season, when they lost Chandler Parsons and appear to have taken a step backwards after improving their win total in each of the last 3 seasons.
According to Morey, the Rockets didn't match Parsons offer sheet with the Mavs because it was one ofthe most "untradeable" contracts in the league. That's just how they view their roster - does anyone think Trevor Ariza finishes out his new 4-year deal in Houston?
However, there is some upside to being treated like a commodity. No one in Houston gets judged off their reputation or their personality - everyone gets a fair shake. Under Morey and Kevin McHale, the Rockets run a genuine meritocracy, where playing time is given out based on merit, not past performance or contracts. They may treat everyone like a number, but they also let the numbers speak for themselves.
There are examples up and down their roster. They brought in Patrick Beverley on a minimum contract and let him compete with Jeremy Lin for the starting PG spot, even though they signed Lin to a 3-year $25 million deal. Lin had the gaudier scoring average and the bigger name, but Beverley was a better defender and the more complete player, making him a better fit next to Harden. While some NBA teams give out backup PG spots based on name value and starting spots on tenure, the Rockets signed a guy off the street and gave him a fair chance to compete.
Over the last two seasons, Houston held an open competition at PF that featured five different first-round picks - Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson, Jones and Motiejunas. Patterson, Morris and Robinson were all drafted higher than Jones and Motiejunas was a better fit with the Rockets 3's and dunks philosophy, but Jones proved he was the best two-way player of the bunch and earned the starting spot. That may sound like it the standard operating procedure in the NBA, but it's really not.
Just look at what happened in last year's playoffs, when Troy Daniels, an undrafted free agent from VCU, earned a spot in their rotation with a three-point shooting barrage. McHale had to bench Francisco Garcia, a well-respected 10-year veteran, in order to give Daniels a chance. Now, after scoring 17 points in a playoff game, including hitting a game-winner, Daniels has a guaranteed contract and a chance to stick in the NBA long-term. Not many teams would have been willing to give an UDFA like Daniels a real chance, especially over a locker room leader with intangibles like Garcia.
This season, after clearing out their bench, the Rockets will have plenty of openings in their rotation. That means a real chance for guys like Isaiah Canaan, Nick Johnson and Robert Covington. All three have a chance to stick in the league, but none has the talent to where it's any type of certainty. They don't have more talent than a lot of other guys who were taken in the second round, but they are playing for an organization with no compunctions about giving unproven guys a chance.
The playoffs were filled with teams and coaching staffs who chose to go down with their beloved veterans rather than divvy out playing time based on merit. Oklahoma City, where Scott Brooks fascination with Derek Fisher became a running joke, was the most egregious example, but they were hardly the only one. See: Battier, Shane and Haslem, Udonis in Miami. Those guys were no longer NBA players by the end of last season, but they received shot after shot because of who they were, not what they could do. That kind of thing would never happen in Houston, which is one of the reasons Morey is such a polarizing figure in the league.