Following a disappointing fourth-place finish and a second-round playoff exit, Daryl Morey has reportedly stepped down as general manager of the Houston Rockets on Thursday about a year after igniting an international controversy with a tweet supporting anti-Beijing protesters in Hong Kong.
ESPN was first to report the news, which has not been announced officially.
The team is already searching a replacement for outgoing coach Mike D’Antoni, and according to ESPN, Morey will remain on in an advisory role to help fill that vacancy. Former Rockets coach-turned-ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy met with team ownership and management on Wednesday to discuss his possible return to the franchise, according to the network.
Following a disappointing fourth-place finish and a second-round playoff exit, Daryl Morey has reportedly stepped down as general manager of the Houston Rockets about a year after igniting an international controversy with a tweet supporting protesters in Hong Kong
Houston Rockets’ general manager, Daryl Morey, apologized for the tweet he swiftly deleted that included an image of the activists’ rally cry: ‘Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong’
Chinese workers have been filmed ripping down NBA signs in Shanghai after state broadcasters vowed not to air league games in the aftermath of Morey’s tweet last year
Morey has not ruled out a return to the NBA, but wanted to spend more time with his college-age children, who are taking a sabbatical from their education during the pandemic.
After the Rockets fell to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakes in the second round of the NBA playoffs inside the league’s Disney World bubble, Morey reportedly approached new franchise owner Tilman Fertitta about ending his 13-year tenure as GM.
Executive vice president of basketball operations Rafael Stone is expected to be promoted to replace Morey, according to ESPN.
There is no indication that Morey’s exit is in any way related to his October 2019 tweet supporting protesters in Hong Kong, which set off a year-long quarrel between the NBA and China, a reported $4 billion market for the league.
Former Rockets coach-turned-ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy (left) met with team ownership and management on Wednesday to discuss his possible return to the franchise, according to the network
In response, China banned the NBA from state television for one year – a hiatus that recently ended, allowing the country to broadcast Games 5 and 6 of the Finals.
Morey deleted his tweet shortly after posting it, and in a statement, the NBA called the incident ‘regrettable,’ but the longtime NBA executive was never punished, nor did the league offer an apology to China.
Chinese streaming giant, Tencent, continued to air NBA games following Morey’s tweet; but as the Los Angeles Times reported in February, the number of league broadcasts was reduced and several advertisers bailed in the aftermath of the controversy.
Morey had tweeted in support of the protests in Hong Kong, a Chinese-ruled city embroiled in a political crisis due to months of anti-government protests stemming from a controversial extradition bill.
State media, including CCTV, criticized Morey for his tweet, which was labelled an example of Western interference in a bid to foment unrest and stir up anti-China sentiment, while Chinese partners severed or suspended ties with the NBA.
Anti-NBA protests followed in both mainland China, where fans took aim at LeBron James, and among Hong Kong protesters. And in the US, Chinese-American fans began wearing pro-Hong Kong apparel to preseason games while protesting the regime in Beijing.
In the end, the NBA lost about $400 million in Chinese business, according to league commissioner Adam Silver, and faced criticism in the US for its perceived kowtowing to the communist regime.
The Rockets were considered title contenders prior to the season following Morey’s acquisition of former league MVP Russell Westbrook in a deal that sent point guard Chris Paul to Oklahoma City.
Unfortunately for Houston, Westbrook struggled to adapt to the Rockets’ up-tempo style as his three-point accuracy – an ever important stat on any team assembled by Morey – plummeted to just 25.8 percent.
Now the Rockets have over 60 percent of their salary cap space tied up in two players – Wesbtrook and Harden – and unlikely to land any major free agents or move up in November’s NBA Draft in an effort to improve the team.
Morey, somewhat similar to Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane of ‘Moneyball’ fame, has been closely associated with analytics, and has encouraged his teams to focus on scoring near the basket, from three-point range, and at the free throw line at the expense of mid-range jump shots.
Morey exits with the league’s second-best regular season record over his 13 seasons as general manager, according to ESPN. He previously signed a five-year extension in March of 2019, but the details of the deal were not revealed at the time.