There have been nearly two decades of change and challenge, success and struggle. However, no season has been like, or as difficult as last season.
For Tad Brown, entering his 20th season with the Rockets and 15 as CEO, there is no question of what season was the toughest. As with most of what 2020 touches, he won’t have to search his memory for the toughest picks, making him excited to move on to a new season that is sure to bring challenges like no other.
“It is without question the most challenging professionally or personally for all the reasons everyone experiences,” Brown said. “It’s been challenging, it’s also very useful to see how everyone is responding; staff, ownership, players. Getting through last season was a tremendous achievement for the NBA and our organization. “
The test doesn’t end there. Mike D’Antoni resigned as Rockets coach before the charter from Orlando landed. Daryl Morey, the Rockets’ general manager for most of Brown’s tenure as CEO, left a few weeks later.
All of that comes as the NBA has drawn up protocols to try to hold a season among a spike in COVID-19 cases across the country and as Brown prepares various options to potentially have fans at the Toyota Center in less than a month. In fact it comes with the knowledge that all NBA planning, team and local health and government officials are trying to bow to the virus’s ability to change things.
“It will be a challenge, but what we look forward to,” said Brown. “It is very important for us to continue to build the right infrastructure, especially to ensure that we follow all safety protocols as directed nationally, as directed from the league, as directed from local health professionals and city and local leaders.”
Fans will not attend pre-season matches at the Toyota Center on December 15 and 17. Brown said it was too early to outline protocols that would be in place for fans to attend regular season games, including how many would be allowed at the Toyota Center, as they could change repeatedly in the coming weeks. But preparations for various scenarios have been going on for months.
“I believe it’s the right thing to do,” said Brown. “We hope to move forward, but it will use the highest security protocols. It changes day by day and I think it will be a situation that changes over the year. We plan to have fans at the game. Much of this will be based on the information we have as we move forward. “
The Rockets have been testing players and staff involved in training for weeks, following guidelines that will become mandatory on Tuesday. The league, according to the memo received by the team on Saturday, will also need a long list of specialists, officers and managers to guide and oversee health and safety protocols including testing and tracking of players and staff as well as cleanliness of arenas and facilities.
“We’ve got everyone ready,” said Brown. “That’s something Keith Jones (Rockets senior vice president for basketball operations) and I talked about. We’ve been doing this for five, six months, before we even hit the bubble in Orlando. We started thinking about what would be needed and for months (have been) talking to the league and health professionals about what to expect when we return to the public facilities. “
The challenges have changed but don’t just start with trying to find a way to organize matches during the pandemic.
In many ways, the Rockets’ 2019-20 season started with Morey’s tweet in support of the Hong Kong protesters, leading to a loss of sponsorship and a sizable revenue loss for the Rockets and the NBA as a whole.
Of course, everyone supports Daryl and supports Daryl. Brown said. “It’s probably just the intensity of the response. That’s what surprised everyone. It was something that I thought was an intense moment in time. Once we entered the season… we just focused on basketball. “
Over the years, Brown and Morey have partnered in running the Rockets on the business and basketball sides respectively. The lines between the third floor and the basketball office downstairs are often blurred, with Morey and Brown sharing the decision.
Even in the seamless transition with the Rockets quickly elevating longtime executive Rafael Stone, Morey’s absence was striking.
“It’s different,” said Brown. “Daryl is a good friend of mine and he is a wonderful business partner. We did it all together for 14 years. I miss her. I respect his decision. We will be friends for many years. When you are together over the years, there are shorthand terms in communication and decisions made in an organization.
“It’s different now, but in a good sense. There is a new voice with Rafael and a new voice with Stephen (Silas, coach of the Rockets). I can’t wait to see how they succeed in the organization and the league and take us to new heights. “
That remains another challenge. The Rockets kick off training camp next week amid reports that star guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook want to be traded. The Rockets intend to have both with the team and Brown said he believes the additions and changes made will see the Rockets compete in the Western Conference.
“We think we are making some changes in which we will compete in the West,” he said. “And we have to keep getting better. Christian Wood I think it will give Coach Silas immense flexibility, for James, for Russell to open it up a bit more. We will see everything to become a championship team. That’s what we focused on from Tilman (Fertitta, owner of the Rockets) onwards. “
Even in a season that’s definitely unique, the goal remains to win your way through adversity. While some of the moves – the disclosure of the new “City Edition” kit and the sponsorship of the kit, training camp and the start of the season – are certain, last season’s experience shows some tests are unpredictable. But if nothing else, Brown could continue at least knowing the start of a new season means the previous season is behind him.
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