Morey ‘safe,’ will pick coach, Rockets owner says

Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has declared his intention to rely on Daryl Morey to lead the franchise’s coaching search, squashing speculation that Fertitta would also seek to make a change at general manager.

“Daryl Morey’s job is safe, and I’m sure he’s going to pick the right head coach,” Fertitta said Tuesday during his weekly appearance on CNBC.

The Rockets, who were eliminated by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals, are searching for a new head coach after Mike D’Antoni informed the franchise on Sunday that he did not intend to return. D’Antoni’s contract expired at the end of the season after extension discussions broke down last summer.

There had been leaguewide speculation about Morey’s job security since his tweet supporting protesters in Hong Kong in October damaged the NBA’s and Rockets’ business relationships with China, costing Fertitta millions of dollars in sponsorship money. However, Fertitta has been 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 controversial tweet and never wavering in his plan for Morey to continue running the Rockets’ basketball operations.

Morey has been the Rockets’ general manager since 2007-08, and Houston has not had a losing record during his tenure, advancing to the playoffs in each of the past eight seasons. He signed a five-year contract extension in March 2019.

This will be the fourth coaching search that Morey has conducted with the Rockets but the first since Fertitta bought the franchise. Fertitta made it clear that Morey will be primarily responsible for the hire to replace D’Antoni, whose 217-101 record with the Rockets gave him the best winning percentage (.682) in franchise history.

“I personally wouldn’t know what coach to hire,” Fertitta said on CNBC. “That’s why you have a basketball operations team made up of a half-dozen people that use all sorts of analytics and experience. They’ll make a recommendation to me. I’m the sign-off guy.

“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 you don’t know. And I surely know what I don’t know when it comes to basketball.”