Sources: Morey stepping down as Rockets GMon October 15, 2020 at 9:26 pm

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is stepping down effective Nov. 1, Morey and the team announced Thursday.

In the aftermath of Houston’s elimination from the NBA’s restart in Orlando, Florida, Morey approached owner Tilman Fertitta with the idea of leaving the job, and the sides quietly worked through an exit agreement to conclude his 13 seasons running the franchise’s basketball operations and 14 years overall with the team, sources said.

Morey isn’t ruling out a future return to the NBA on the team side, but he has become increasingly determined to explore what else might interest him professionally, sources said. Morey also saw an opportunity to spend time with two college-age children who are each taking a gap year academically during the coronavirus pandemic.

Morey will remain in an advisory role for a short period to assist in the Rockets’ completion of their head-coaching search, sources said.

“After discussing my thoughts with family and close friends, I’ve decided I’ll be stepping away from the Rockets organization effective November 1st,” Morey said in a statement. “Tilman and I have had many conversations since I returned, and his unwavering support and counsel during our time together has been critical to our success. It has been the most gratifying experience of my professional life to lead the Rockets basketball organization, and I look forward to working with Tilman and the management team on the transition. I am very confident that the future – for the Rockets, and for our incredible fans – is in great hands, and that the Rockets will continue to perform at the highest level.”

The Rockets are planning to promote executive vice president of basketball operations Rafael Stone to general manager, sources said. Stone has played a significant part in the Rockets’ team-building throughout his tenure and will become the 10th current Black executive to hold the general manager title in the NBA.

Houston is also promoting Eli Witus to assistant general manager, sources said.

“On behalf of the entire Rockets organization, I would like to thank Daryl Morey for his hard work and dedication over the past 14 seasons,” Fertitta said in a statement. “Daryl is a brilliant innovator who helped the Rockets become a perennial contender. I have truly enjoyed working with Daryl and couldn’t have asked for a better general manager to have at the start of my ownership. I wish him and his family all the best.”

Under Morey, the Rockets have the league’s longest consecutive playoff appearance streak with eight — advancing in the Western Conference playoffs in each of the past four years.

Nevertheless, his final season on the job became engulfed in scrutiny after a tweet supporting freedom in Hong Kong led to China pulling the NBA off its airwaves and suspending sponsorship agreements with the league.

China returned the NBA to its airwaves for the first time during the NBA Finals.

Commissioner Adam Silver and Fertitta supported Morey, despite China’s calls for his dismissal. Silver estimated that the league’s losses in revenue could cost in the neighborhood of $400 million.

There had been leaguewide uncertainty about Morey’s job security since his tweet affected the NBA’s and Rockets’ business relationships with China, costing Fertitta millions of dollars in sponsorship money. Through it all, Fertitta remained consistently adamant that he was committed to Morey, calling him “the best general manager in the league” in an interview with ESPN on the night of the tweet. Fertitta never seemed to waver in his plan for Morey to continue running the Rockets’ basketball operations.

Despite the economic turmoil of the pandemic, Fertitta has publicly and privately insisted that he is committed to keeping the Rockets a contender in the Western Conference, even if that means elevating the team’s payroll into the luxury tax.

Morey has been the Rockets’ general manager since 2007-08. The team has the league’s second-best regular-season record over his 13 years as general manager and 14 years with the franchise. He signed a five-year contract extension in March 2019.

Under Morey as general manager, the Rockets made 77 trades — the second most in the NBA since May 2007, behind only the Philadelphia 76ers with 78. Among the deals were trades for James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul.

Stone, who played basketball at Williams College and received a law degree from Stanford, has served as the Rockets’ general counsel since 2005. He was promoted to executive vice president of basketball operations in April 2019, shortly before former Rockets executive Gersson Rosas left to become the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ president of basketball operations.

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.

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