The Houston Rockets remained undefeated with a 98-81 victory against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night, decisively claiming their sixth win as they continue a virtually impeccable debut to the 2014-15 season.
One man is especially satisfied with Houston's start, and that's general manager Daryl Morey.
His front office was responsible for parting ways with Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. His plans to acquire Carmelo Anthony and later Chris Bosh were foiled in short order. The Rockets roster appeared to have taken a significant step back under Morey's watch.
For the moment, that narrative seems to be seriously flawed.
And it's one Morey himself has never taken to heart.
"It comes with the territory," he told reporters in July. "When we traded for [James] Harden and signed Dwight [Howard], I think everyone was positive about everything. I don't see many stories like 'that was a pretty good job' or 'that was slightly below average.' You either get, 'that's amazing' or 'that's completely ridiculous and terrible.'"
Some have already defended Morey's thinking, including his decision not to match Parsons' offer from the Dallas Mavericks in restricted free agency, when he instead opted to sign swingman Trevor Ariza away from the Washington Wizards.
In July, Kevin O'Connor argued for Hardwood Paroxysm that, "Parsons is a better all-around player because of his scoring versatility, age and upside, but it's arguable that Ariza is a better fit for Houston's current situation, especially considering he'll be $6.2 million cheaper next season."
Whatever you make of Morey's summer maneuvers, the results are beyond dispute. This team may be a long way from winning its first championship since 1995, but it's been nothing short of dominant through its first six games.
The Rockets have won those games by an average of 14.7 points per contest, holding opponents to just 89.7 points per outing. Though sample sizes remain limited, Houston currently ranks second league-wide with 110.7 points per 100 possessions, according to Hollinger Stats. And the 95.5 points it's yielding per 100 possessions ranks fourth, indicating significant improvement on the defensive end.
Some of those numbers may come back down to earth as the season grinds on, but even skeptics have to admit this club is outperforming expectations.
Morey and Co. are making the rest of us think twice before questioning his master plan.
Asked if he felt vindicated after Houston won its first five games, owner Leslie Alexander took the high road while putting a positive spin on Morey's work, via the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen:
I don't want to answer it that way, but I think we made good moves. I think [Trevor] Ariza was a real good move to come here. He's helped the team in many ways. I think [Kostas] Papanikolaou has helped us dramatically. On both sides, he's been really good. And the players who were here last year are improving. I don't think we diminished the team the way people think we have.
Ariza has been especially valuable so far, making 22 of his first 40 three-point attempts and solidifying Houston's perimeter defense. Morey signed him to a reasonable four-year deal that pays $8.6 million this season and subsequently declines in value.
Quietly adding veteran spark plug Jason Terry to the mix may emerge as another savvy move. The 37-year-old dropped 16 points on San Antonio and is averaging over 21 minutes per contest after a forgettable season in which he never suited up for the Sacramento Kings and played sparingly in 35 games with the Brooklyn Nets.
Even with starting point guard Patrick Beverley sitting out three games due to hamstring issues, you wouldn't be able to tell the Rockets miss Lin. Reserve Isaiah Canaan has filled in admirably, scoring a combined 42 points over his last four games and providing a measure of backcourt stability.
Third-year power forward Terrence Jones is also showing signs of improvement. Prior to sitting out the past two games with a leg injury, the 22-year-old averaged 14.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks through his first four games.
Harden and Howard have been predictably brilliant thus far, but few would have imagined this kind of show from the supporting cast.
And give Harden some credit for keeping that supporting cast involved. He's had at least five assists in every game this season, twice tallying 10 of them. After averaging a career-high 6.1 dimes a season ago, the two-time All-Star is establishing himself as more than the "professional scorer" he's been billed.
This guy makes plays for others, too. Lots of them.
He was one of the initiators feeding Howard in what seemed like an alley-oop drill against the Spurs, making his presence abundantly felt despite a relatively modest 20 points (in just 33 minutes).
There may be no Anthony or Bosh, but the Rockets probably have all the star power they need. The bigger question coming into this season was whether the other pieces would fit—and whether they'd be enough.
So far, so good.
Even after an offseason that was anything but.
"It was a very difficult offseason," Alexander conceded to Feigen. "There were big decisions that really didn't go our way. It was tough. It was tough going through it and hoping you'd be able to rebound and have a really good team. I liked the moves that we made. And we still have flexibility to make other moves, which I believe is important."
Important, though perhaps unnecessary.
This iteration of the Rockets has become fast friends, building on chemistry born a season ago—Howard's first with the club. There may be room for improvement, but some of that improvement will almost certainly continue to come from within, from guys like Canaan and Jones.
Or from 24-year-old big man Donatas Motiejunas, a third-year veteran still trying to carve out a more prominent role in the rotation.
So long as these Rockets keep winning—and winning big—it'll be hard to justify tweaking this roster. And even harder to justify criticizing this roster.
Not that the judgment-passing public really factors into head coach Kevin McHale's equation. When ESPN Insider's Tom Haberstroh asked McHale "if he thought that people were sleeping on his team a bit" after the uninspiring offseason, the former Celtics great pivoted to his bottom line (subscription required):
I don't know, man. Let me tell you something—this is the truth, too—I don't care what anybody thinks. Why would I care what you thought? I don't care about anything. I care about what we do in that locker room with our guys. All that caring goes away as soon as you step on that floor. Then you have to go out there and compete.
By all appearances, McHale's Rockets have taken that mantra to heart.
And made their GM look like a genius in the process.