On the Astros: LeBron, Daryl Morey and riding the knife's edge of rebuilding plans

Bob Levey

Taking a lesson from basketball to give Astros fans hope for the rebuild currently in progress.

With one decision, Rockets GM Daryl Morey's multi-year plan becomes an almost certain reality.

When LeBron James chose to go back to Cleveland, it opened the door for all of Morey's moves to transpire this weekend. LeBron to Cleveland means Chris Bosh is free to join Dwight Howard and James Harden in Houston. LeBron's decision dropping Friday gives Morey enough time to match Chandler Parsons' offer sheet from Dallas and keep his core four together.

In two years, the Rockets have gone from having zero "foundational players," as Morey calls them, to having three with another exciting young star filling out the cast. How did this happen? It was all part of Morey's long-term vision for the franchise.

The odds, though, were almost certainly prohibitive.

At each step of Morey's Grand Plan, things could have fallen apart. He struck out in his initial foray into free agency, trying to lure stars to Houston. Instead, he had to take advantage of Oklahoma City's willingness to deal James Harden, just as the voices in Houston began crying for his head.

Next, he had to find another star to pair with Harden. When he struck out on his initial attempt to trade for Dwight Howard, he had to hope the big center would eschew living in L.A. for Houston.

Now, he had to sweat LeBron's decision coming within a 72-hour window that began ticking once Parsons' agreed-upon offer sheet was delivered to him Thursday afternoon. He's still got to clear cap space, complete trades for Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin and get under the cap enough to offer Chris Bosh a max-level deal.

But, when the smoke clears this weekend, Houston looks to have built a title contender. It's also a rarity for a sports franchise to rebuild like the Rockets did, much less to do it without any top draft picks. Every GM has a plan (well, maybe not Isaiah Thomas), but not every plan actually works out.

Why do you care as an Astros fan?

Daryl Morey isn't the only stat-head GM in pro sports. There are plenty of general managers who take an analytical approach to building a team and develop a multi-year plan for accomplishing it. Not all of those plans work out. As Keith Law noted on Twitter the other day, battle plans rarely survive the first taste of battle. It's what GMs do after that which defines success.

But, Morey does give Astros fans hope that a sustained plan can be carried out successfully. It may not be a picture-perfect look at what was planned, but the broad strokes of a rebuild can be set up and accomplished.

Baseball and basketball rosters get constructed in different ways. Players in basketball have a much bigger immediate impact than those in baseball. They also have a larger effect on the game, since a starter in basketball is one of five players on the court. Baseball players have less than half the impact, just from a numbers-in-the-lineup perspective.

What Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has done is similar to what Morey did. He cleared the books of any long-term contract. He's rebuilt the farm system. He's found complimentary players that will add to the core group of stars going forward. He's locked in some of those core players long-term, like Jose Altuve and Jon Singleton.

Still, Luhnow's grand plan for the Astros rebuild still balances on the blade of a knife. At any point, something could go wrong. A disastrous injury to a top prospect could set the team back. Top draft picks may struggle badly and lose the coveted Prospect Ranking Battle.

Overall, though, the Astros are right on schedule. They've played .500 ball since May 11. In a recent poll conducted by SB Nation's own Grant Brisbee, more fans wanted to be GM of the Astros for the future than the Rangers. Take that, Arlington. Houston's in a good situation, but it's still precarious.

It's also not over yet. Luhnow's plan didn't stop after a couple years. It was long and it was extensive. It's not over now and it hasn't worked perfectly. But, one glance at fellow Houston sports czar Darryl Morey on Friday should give Astros fans hope.

Long-term plans can pay off. It just takes a little patience and a lot of luck.

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