NBA Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose tweet supporting Hong Kong freedom in 2019 led to a costly China split with the NBA, is stepping down after masterminding the Rockets basketball operations since 2007, according to multiple reports Thursday

New York (AFP) - Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose tweet last year supporting Hong Kong freedom led to a China rift with the NBA, stepped down Thursday.

Morey departed of his own choice after guiding the Rockets basketball operations since the 2007-2008 season, making the decision after the Rockets were beaten in the second round of the NBA playoffs in the Covid-19 quarantine bubble in Orlando.

“After returning from Orlando and reflecting on what has been an amazing 14 years with the Houston Rockets, and after discussing my thoughts with family and close friends, I’ve decided I’ll be stepping away from the Rockets organization effective November 1,” Morey said in a statement.

His final campaign brought severe scrutiny after a tweet one year ago regarding Hong Kong protests that led to China suspending sponsorship deals with the NBA and pulling NBA game telecasts off Chinese television for a year, resuming only with last Friday’s fifth game of the NBA Finals.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta both backed Morey, the 2018 NBA Executive of the Year, despite Chinese calls for his dismissal and what Silver estimated were financial losses to the NBA of about $400 million.

“Tilman and I have had many conversations since I returned and his unwavering support and counsel during our time together has been critical to our success,” Morey said.

After the Rockets were eliminated from this year’s NBA playoffs in the Covid-19 quarantine bubble at Orlando, Morey approached Fertitta about leaving and an exit deal was completed.

“Daryl is a brilliant innovator who helped the Rockets become a perennial contender,” Fertitta said. “I have truly enjoyed working with Daryl and couldn’t have asked for a better general manager to have at the start of my ownership.”

Morey, who had signed a five-year contract extension in March 2019, remains to the end of October to help the Rockets complete their search for a new coach.

Rafael Stone, the Rockets’ executive vice president of basketball operations, will be promoted into Morey’s old job while Eli Witus will be promoted to assistant general manager, according to the reports.

“I am very confident that the future -– for the Rockets and for our incredible fans –- is in great hands, and that the Rockets will continue to perform at the highest level,” Morey said.

The Rockets have made the NBA playoffs for each of the past eight seasons, the league’s longest active run. They lost to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semi-finals.