The Rockets may be on the hunt for a new head coach after Mike D'Antoni's departure on Sunday, but the structure of the organization appears to be remaining intact ahead of next season.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta announced on Tuesday that general manager Daryl Morey will be returning in 2020-21, marking his 14th season with Houston. Morey will be tasked with leading the franchise's coaching search four years after he tabbed D'Antoni to replace Kevin McHale.
"I personally wouldn’t know what coach to hire. That’s why you have a basketball operations team," Fertitta said on CNBC. "I wouldn’t know how to interview a basketball coach."
"To be successful in business—and I say this in my book—you better know what you know, and you better know what don’t know. And I surely know what I don’t know, when it comes to basketball."
Fertitta is far from the NBA's quietest owner, and he's expressed his displeasure with the team amid low points in the last three seasons. But despite his public bombast, Fertitta isn't exactly one to meddle. He allowed Morey to dive headfirst into the small-ball era, and even with a second-round exit, it's unlikely Houston reverses course ahead of 2020-21. You can quibble with Fertitta's handling of D'Antoni's contract. The writing for a potential exit was on the wall entering 2019-20. But in terms of personnel, Morey remains the driving factor. He molded Houston into a contender in the last decade. He'll continue to shape the franchise in the 2020's.
Morey's job is now safe entering next season, and he has a bit of a laundry list ahead of 2020-21. Houston's coaching search is the top priority, and even with a deep pool of candidates, finding the right match isn't the easiest proposition. The next Rockets coach will need to work effectively with James Harden and uphold Houston's small-ball scheme, managing perhaps the NBA's most unconventional roster. A new coach is unlikely to bring radical change to the organization.
There's then the matter of Houston's roster, one which will at least be tweaked after another second-round exit. Harden isn't going anywhere, and the idea of a Russell Westbrook trade is more fantasy than reality. Morey will most likely hunt for size on the free-agent market, and Morey has Houston's 2022 and 2023 first rounders at his disposal. A player like Jerami Grant is ideal for Houston, providing legitimate size, mobility and stretch. Unfortunately, the Rockets will likely get outbid for the Nuggets forward. But it's not hard to spot the kind of addition Morey is looking for. The Rockets aren't reversing course on their small-ball experiment after it flashed championship potential. Any additions to the Rockets will made to augment their system, not replace it.
Morey's task ahead is difficult as the franchise faces a relative crossroads. The next Houston coach will likely be the last of Harden's prime, and there is nothing short of Finals expectations even in a crowded Western Conference. Morey built Houston from mediocre to good to great. Making the Rockets champions is his hardest task to date.