The Houston Rockets aren’t at the level of the Spurs. They’re 10-11, and lost at home to San Antonio Monday despite a 38-point performance by Jeremy Lin, a season-high that came with fellow star James Harden sitting out. (That’s Harden above, in the background, decked out in a powder blue three-piece suit.)

But since acquiring Lin and Harden, the Rockets once again have promise–and real star power. The duo is currently gracing the cover of ESPN the Magazine, and their acquisition prompted Sports Illustrated  to profile Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and his number-loving, unconventional approach. It’s a subject that’s been chewed over every season that Morey’s had the job, but the piece is a must-read, for its insights into both Morey’s personality and life story, and his intellectual take on basketball.

Writer Chris Ballard also gets a little bit behind-the-scenes of Morey’s deal for Harden:

…[O]n the afternoon of Oct. 27, Morey received the call that changed the future of the franchise. He was sitting in his Lexus SUV in the suburbs of Houston, as his 10-year-old son played soccer. Morey watches from the car because otherwise he tends to become, as he says, “way too intense.” Morey knows this is ridiculous. After all, it’s just a soccer game and, what’s more, his son claims to not even pay attention to him when he gets agitated. Still, Morey is a man who endeavors to live according to rational principles. Spontaneous eruptions of emotion can be embarrassing.

So there Morey was, watching his son’s game from the front seat of his Lexus, windows rolled up, when his Blackberry buzzed. He looked and saw the name SAM PRESTI. Before that moment, Morey thought there was a 5% to 10% chance the Thunder G.M. would call that day. Morey had made a strong offer for James Harden, Oklahoma City’s multitalented 23-year-old sixth man, whom Presti needed to re-sign by Oct. 31 or potentially lose as a restricted free agent at season’s end. Morey considered Harden such a unique talent that he had tried to trade for him more than half a dozen times since draft night in 2009, offering packages of players and picks so valuable that, had Rockets fans been aware of them, they would have despaired.

Morey picked up the buzzing phone and, as his son’s team headed toward its coach to talk second-half strategy, shoving orange wedges into their mouths, he and Presti completed a shocking trade that sent the Thunder an offensive-minded shooting guard (Kevin Martin), a raw but talented rookie (Jeremy Lamb), two first-round picks and a second-rounder. It was a lot to part with for a single player, but Morey was elated.

When the trade became official, fans in Houston were ecstatic. They were even more excited when Harden erupted for 37 points in his first game and 45 in his second. For the first time since the end of the Yao Ming era the Rockets had a franchise player. Season ticket sales jumped, and are now up 25% over last year.

For ESPN the Magazine‘s “Interview Issue,” Pablo S. Torre sat down with Lin and Harden for a Q&A that found him quizzing the two newcomers about how well they know the other player. 

The true-false story found them each getting three questions about their teammate right, including these two moments:

True or false? James’s mother has never asked him to change his beard. 
LIN: I’m going to say … FALSE. ‘Cause if I tried to do something like that, my mom would definitely ask me to cut it off.
The correct answer is FALSE! James, care to explain your mom’s position toward your facial growth?
HARDEN: Now she doesn’t really care. At first she definitely wanted me to cut it. But as time went on, she found out I was keeping the beard, and so she had to just ride along with it.
Jeremy, have you ever experimented with facial hair?
HARDEN: No. I’ll answer that for him: No.
LIN: [Stroking his chin] I can’t. I might get about 10 little different spots, and they look like whiskers.

True or false? While with the Knicks, Jeremy did not know where Times Square was for almost four months. 
HARDEN: TRUE … Am I right?
The correct answer is TRUE! And Times Square is arguably the most famous part of New York, and Madison Square Garden is literally nine blocks from Times Square. So Jeremy: How is this humanly possible?
LIN: Because, shoot, I did not go anywhere in New York. One time we were driving through Koreatown, and I thought Koreatown was Times Square. [Harden laughs.] Just ’cause we turned this corner and there were just lights everywhere, and I was like, Oh, is this Times Square? And [ex-Knicks big] Jared Jeffries looked at me like I was crazy. So, uh, yeah. I didn’t get to explore as much as I wish I did. (8)
Was this a problem in Oklahoma City, James?
HARDEN: No. Not at all. I knew where everything was.(9)
How about Houston? You know your way around yet?
HARDEN: Not me. I’ve only been here for a week or two, so … 
LIN: I GPS everything. There are infinity freeways.

You can also see some video of Lin and Harden from that story, though it’s not as good as this Rockets video, which started to go viral Thursday. Watch as Lin and several other players (though not Harden) get inclusive for the holidays by (for the most part) absolutely botching a Chanukkah tradition, “The Dreidel Song.” 

Oh well. It’s still better than Cartman.