For months, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has unleashed a barrage of slights and snipes onto the Houston Rockets, framing the regime of general manager Daryl Morey in the most unflattering of ways. It has been an undermining, calculated campaign. Just understand this, though: No longer does it go unanswered.
In this fierce feud born of bitter competition – from Cuban deriding Dwight Howard's decision to choose Houston, to hiring Rockets executive Gersson Rosas as GM only to have him resign and return to Houston months later, to stealing free agent Chandler Parsons with a maximum contract – Cuban has fully engaged Houston and escalated a rivalry into a burgeoning blood war.
Morey has played a part in feeding the frenzy, too. "I think [Cuban's] pissed that we went after Dirk [Nowitzki] in free agency, however unsuccessful it was," Morey told Yahoo Sports. Yes, Morey respects the tactical purposes behind Cuban's crusade, but rejects his reasoning as flawed – even downright untrue.
"We've been pretty good, and I think he's doing a smart thing to take on a rival," Morey told Yahoo Sports late Sunday. "He should want to beat up on San Antonio, too, but it's hard to paint the Spurs that way. So he's directed his bully pulpit onto us. Our owner stays above the fray, so I'm outgunned honestly.
"But let's be clear: If the money's equal between the Rockets and Mavericks, I think players are picking Houston. Every time. For Dwight [Howard], I just don't think it was a hard choice between us and Dallas. If you want to win, you're going to want to join our organization. We have a first-team All-NBA player in his prime [James Harden]. They have an enormously talented superstar [Dirk Nowitzki] but he obviously isn't 24 years old.
"The choice was pretty obvious between the two teams. Dwight is the smart guy in this."
In Cuban's most recent baiting of the Rockets, he proclaimed that Morey had little regard for player chemistry, relying largely on the merits of math. Morey seethed over the premise and fired back to Yahoo Sports: "I completely reject it."
"Our teams have had great chemistry, and it's something we believe in. Hey, if Mark believed so much in chemistry, he wouldn't have busted up a title team for cap room. He's trying to reunite a lot of those people now, bringing back the center [Tyson Chandler] from that title team. Maybe he's got some chemistry religion recently.
"He's tripled his analytics staff. If he's equating analytics with not caring about chemistry, well, he's tripling down on it. I think he's smart to paint a competitor in a negative light, but none of those statements are lining up. He says that we're the team that you sign with and then we will trade you, when that's what he said he would've done with Dwight.
"We don't care about chemistry, but he busted up a championship team for what he hoped cap room could do."
These franchises have come to loathe each other. On the eve of training camp, the Rockets and Mavericks promise a season of downright disdain. Morey has tremendous respect for Cuban's intellect and accomplishments, readily accepting this: "He has a ring. I don't."
Nevertheless, Morey has grown disillusioned over how unchallenged Cuban's criticisms have been in the public discord. From the fact that Cuban contends Houston shuffles players in and out without regard to loyalty, that the Rockets are forever angling to recruit good players in pursuit of someone better, Morey wondered this: How did it differ from Dallas' model.
"We're no different than other teams," Morey told Yahoo Sports. "We have a core of two players – Dwight Howard and James Harden – who we are going to build around and never trade. San Antonio has had three core guys who they've done an unbelievable job of building around, making a lot of changes around that core. We had Tracy McGrady and Yao [Ming] and we made changes around them. And Mark's had a core of one [Nowitzki], who was there since before he bought the team."
Morey forever loves to parade his proud old champions and Hall of Famers into his free agent recruiting processes, the Olajuwons and Drexlers, the stars forever loyal to the franchise's history. Cuban is the Mavericks history, and he deserves immense praise for the championship culture created under his watch.
This rivalry has grown nasty, a touch personal and has the feel of old-time Southwest Conference recruiting. The Mavericks and Rockets are going to be terrific this season, Western Conference contenders, and the hard feelings promise to get only edgier.
"We're fighting for the hearts and minds of free agents," Morey said, and finally, the general manager of these Houston Rockets had joined the fray, too. Perhaps he's right – Mark Cuban has him outgunned – but no longer do Dallas' shots go unanswered, no longer do the Rockets stay out of the scrum. This is getting good now. In the shadow of San Antonio, this is Texas' championship chase.
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