Houston Rockets Move on Without Rick Adelman, but Can They Move Forward?

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IApril 20, 2011

Daryl Morey said he believed the time for change had arrived, which is funny, since no one who follows the Houston Rockets was aware the GM knew the definition of constancy, much less practiced it.

The franchise has operated like a haywire carousel since the MIT grad succeeded Carrol Dawson in the front office. The numbers have never stopped coming, nor has the roster upheaval or the sense that job security is a punchline within the organization.

Forgive Rick Adelman for failing to see the humor in Morey's growth plan.

The two could not agree on a singular vision, and the coach with the highest winning percentage in team history left those interviews with a heave-ho and the chance to latch on with a contender.

The Rockets, as enjoyable as the post-All Star break squad was to watch, cannot claim they are close to hoisting a third Larry O' Brien trophy.

Only the few privy to the Morey-Adelman discussions will know what either man said. Morey and Adelman did not divulge any details when asked by hoops scribes Tuesday. Each described the accordant divorce as both difficult and necessary.

It was clear, though, when Morey did not tender Adelman a contract extension offer, that he and owner Leslie Alexander did not want the coach back. Why Houston let a 945-win mentor walk may remain a mystery forever. The discord may have been mutual, but one party wanted to part ways more than the other.

Plenty of defamers cheered Adelman's departure, but the logic behind their complaints was faulty from the start.

He did not develop young talent? I seem to remember some guys in their 20's named Kyle Lowry, Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee who thrived under his tutelage. Did Kevin Martin, 28, not just deliver the best season of his career?

Those who lambasted Adelman for not affording Lee enough minutes early in the 2010-2011 campaign were not off base, but just remember that he lobbied for the sideline tactician's return as much as any player.

He did not give youngsters the proper chance to shine? Those vernal athletes did not earn that daylight in practice, and any winning teacher should make merit-based decisions.

Hasheem Thabeet and Terrence Williams are not ready to help the Rockets conquer NBA-level competition for different reasons. Morey landed both acquisitions because two other reputable coaches felt the same way.

What prompted Adelman's exit is fodder for those living in the past. Morey cannot stop following the road signs, hoping each one will lead to his preferred destination.

Alexander, Morey and Adelman desire the same champagne-bath finish, but they could not come to terms on the optimal way to get there. The GM kept tinkering with the roster in his quest for the holy grail. The coach just wanted to know he'd have the same employees for an entire season.

That guarantee was never going to come from Morey's mouth. He built his reputation as a sagacious, avant-garde by embracing risk and transmutation. What's one more change, even if it involves one of finest coaches ever?

Lamenting Adelman's egress will not alter the reality that he is gone from Houston for good.

The question now: What willl Morey do to bring stability to a franchise in need of it?

A championship edifice has never been built on such shaky ground. More than 30 Rockets players changed addresses while Adelman helmed the bench. Some unpacked their bags or at least spread out their luggage. Others made good use of their frequent flier miles.

Morey signed Trevor Ariza to a five-year deal in July 2009, citing the former L.A. Laker as a potential building block and a project worthy of mid-level free-agent money. One year later, he banished Ariza to the French Quarter in a trade that netted Lee.

Morey unleashed the same superlatives in addressing his latest prize. Then, he listened to offers involving Lee but did not pull the trigger.

Remember David Andersen, the top-rated center playing in Europe who was supposed to ameliorate his game in a Rocket uniform? Morey dealt him to the Toronto Raptors for a harmless draft pick after a spotty rookie year.

Aaron Brooks turned from late first-round steal and a Most Improved Player winner to cheap trade bait in the span of 12 months.

That cannot continue when the next guy shows up to steer this rudderless ship. It does not matter that Brooks sulked and clanged his way out of town or that Andersen would have struggled to stymie a tree stump or that Ariza tossed more flying downtown bricks than a wrecking ball.

When Sheryl Crow sang, "a change will do you good," she didn't mean this much.

Adelman kept a star-crossed squad in the postseason hunt longer than anyone thought possible because he crafted gameplans that fit his personnel. Given his GM's propensity for transactions, the guess here is he used an Etch A Sketch to devise his starting lineups.

The injury bug doomed the team and forced Morey and Adelman to prepare for life without Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. That was never going to be easy. The follow-through has proven equal parts spellbinding and alarming.

Yao's absence forced Adelman to start 6'6" Chuck Hayes at center two consecutive seasons. It forced Morey to seek out rotation pieces in a dried up market.

The Rockets were not in the mix for Carmelo Anthony because the prime-time scorer all but demanded a trade to New York, and the Denver Nuggets refused to deal with a Western Conference opponent.

Chris Bosh did not wait for July 1, 2010, so he could team up with a hobbled Yao and the Brooks-Lowry tandem. Most figured he would join Dwyane Wade or LeBron James in a new city. Instead, he found the best possible scenario when he became one-third of Miami's monster trio.

Nothing short of mind manipulation on Morey's part would have produced different results. Plus, Bosh and Anthony have shown enough flaws in Miami and New York that suggest each would have struggled and fizzled here as the franchise player.

Misfortune, not mismanagement, handicapped the Rockets for years. It takes amplified serendipity to construct a champion. A plan is also a must.

Does Morey have one anymore? Adelman did, and it worked. He knew his roster was a defensive disaster, so he emphasized hard cuts, swift ball movement and high-possession counts. He asked his players to effort stops but did not expect suffocation.

Houston often had to outscore and outshoot foes to have a chance. There was no other way with this roll call. The Rockets hung with the superior Heat twice by running at every opportunity and milking long balls as long as they continued to fall.

Miami's stars, much like the squads Houston chased for a postseason berth, were just better when it counted most.

Adelman squeezed all any coach could from whatever group Morey provided him. The players respected and loved him enough to beg the GM, without being asked, to retain the coach.

In four seasons, the current group demonstrated the best grasp of his offensive principles. Hayes, Lowry and Goran Dragic notched their first career triple-doubles in the span of a month. Budinger topped the 30-point mark twice and sometimes approximated the full-time starting small forward the Rockets need.

A new hire will install his own schemes and must foster rapport with his cogs the way his predecessor did. Adelman's Houston highlights included a 22-game winning streak (second longest in NBA history) and the first second-round appearance since 1997.

Good luck getting that from someone else. Morey learned soon after taking the job that luck runs faster than a Kenyan sprinter.

Lead San Antonio assistant Mike Budenholzer deserves serious consideration. More on him in a later column. Adelman assistants Jack Sikma and Elston Turner have been assured interviews, according to Houston Chronicle writer Jonathan Feigen. Former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown is a popular name within the Toyota Center walls, Feigen said.

Who gets the gig matters less than what Morey pledges to do before that guy draws up his first play. Or maybe it should be what he pledges to not do.

Morey cannot continue his trigger-happy ways—at least if most moves ship out or reel in role players—with Adelman's successor. He owes the next guy some solidity.

He keeps salivating, anticipating that moment when a core-shaking move validates his moneyball reign. The big splash this week was a future Hall of Famer paddling away after his bosses politely shoved him off the dock.

Will he swim to L.A. next to follow Phil Jackson?

Someone will surely pull Adelman out of the water soon. He made it clear he wants to coach again.

The focus in Houston shifts to Morey and his long-term plan. He touted it again at a Tuesday press conference.

"I feel like we need change," he said. Rockets fans have to wonder if he will ever say anything else. 


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