Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, is stepping down from his post on Nov. 1, he announced Thursday.
Morey said managing the Rockets was “the most gratifying experience of my professional life” and that he was confident Houston would “continue to perform at the highest level.”
The move came after the Rockets were knocked out of the N.B.A. playoffs in the second round and more than a year after Morey shared an image on Twitter in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The tweet upended relations between the N.B.A. and the Chinese government. China’s state-run television network did not broadcast any N.B.A. games from then until Game 5 of the N.B.A. finals last Friday night.
Morey’s tweet, on Oct. 4, 2019, got an immediate rebuke from Tilman Fertitta, the owner of the Rockets, who said in a post on Twitter: “Listen…[email protected] does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets.”
Shortly after the tweet, Commissioner Adam Silver said the Chinese government demanded that Morey lose his job, a request he said he denied. Several Chinese sponsors, including the shoe company Li-Ning and the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank Credit Card Center, suspended their partnerships with the Rockets. In the wake of the controversy, Fertitta referred to Morey as “the best general manager in the league.”
In an interview, Morey and Fertitta declined to answer questions about the China uproar and abruptly ended the interview after receiving questions about it. Morey did say the decision to leave Houston was his own. Fertitta said their relationship was not affected by the Hong Kong tweet. “We’ve never had a cross word over it,” he said.
Morey said their relationship had “been great the whole time” and that he was not leaving because of a disagreement over the team’s strategy or direction.
Morey was an aggressive dealmaker who made 77 trades during his 13-plus years in charge, and he had been at the forefront of the rising use of advanced statistics in N.B.A. front offices over the past decade.
In September, shortly after Houston’s elimination from the playoffs, Fertitta said that Morey’s job was “safe” and that he was sure Morey would “pick the right head coach” after Coach Mike D’Antoni’s contract expired.
In a statement on Thursday, Fertitta praised Morey as a “brilliant innovator who helped the Rockets become a perennial contender.”
Morey was named the league’s executive of the year in the 2017-18 season and has been the general manager of the franchise since May 2007. His rise in the basketball world was considered unusual at the time. He had been a front office executive for the Boston Celtics, but had never played or coached professional basketball, nor had he been a scout. His background was in consulting.
Morey is credited with bringing to the N.B.A. the basketball equivalent of “Moneyball,” a way of building team rosters based on advanced statistics. He co-founded the M.I.T. Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which is held yearly and has grown into a large event attracting those connected to basketball far beyond statistics. In 2018, former President Barack Obama was a speaker.
The Rockets have made the playoffs 10 times during Morey’s tenure as general manager. They made the Western Conference finals twice — in 2015 and 2018, each time being foiled by the Golden State Warriors. Morey developed a penchant for making unconventional moves, such as trading away a young, talented center in Clint Capela in February in an effort to play an entirely small lineup. The 2017-18 Rockets put a scare into the Warriors, taking a 3-2 series lead in the conference finals before succumbing to one of the most talented rosters in N.B.A. history in seven games.
Morey was also able to acquire superstars, often for a bargain, such as James Harden and Chris Paul, in addition to finding undervalued talent. He gained a reputation as one of the best front office executives in the league, despite the Rockets never getting to the N.B.A. finals. In 2018, Morey was heavily pursued to take over the Philadelphia 76ers, but he ultimately declined their offer.
His resignation comes at an awkward time for the franchise: The team is in the process of hiring a new coach and has begun interviews. Houston has not yet announced Morey’s successor, but the strong expectation is that Rafael Stone, the team’s executive vice president for basketball operations and longtime general counsel, will take over, according to the person briefed on the decision.