Philadelphia 76ers

A Look Back At Daryl Morey’s First Year With The Sixers

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Sixers President of Basketball Operations has completed his first year in his new role. It’s time to take a look back at his season.

After getting swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics in the 2020 Playoffs, Philadelphia brought in former Houston Rockets General Manager, Daryl Morey, to better the team’s odds of winning a championship.

In the end-of-season press conference, Morey responded to the media, “In terms of what’s the next best step, [the NBA] gives us just three tools–free agency, trade, and draft–and we’re going to figure out how to make the team better.”

The 2018 NBA Executive of the Year‘s first attempt to bring a championship to the Sixers ended with a familiar experience of inescapable calamity. The following will provide details on Morey’s first year as Sixers President of Basketball Operations, as his second offseason with the franchise has abruptly approached. More specifically, transactions conducted this past season via trade, free agency, and the draft will be reviewed.


Draft

Chronologically, Morey’s first responsibility was the draft. The Sixers owned a first-round pick due to Mike Muscala’s clutch performance in a meaningless game on the last day of the season. His late-game shot-making forced Oklahoma City outside of the protections on their first-round pick. With that pick conveying at 21st overall, the Sixers selected Kentucky freshman Tyrese Maxey. In the second round, Morey was able to draft shooter Isaiah Joe and intriguing forward Paul Reed.

Morey saw promising trends from his most recent draft picks, stating to reporters, “We love the young players that are pushing our veterans.” Tyrese Maxey was the only one of the trio to see rotation minutes in the playoffs, with Joe and Reed seeing most of their production come in the G League. Maxey averaged a bit more than 15 minutes per game across 61 regular-season contests and was a key factor in the Sixers winning Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Paul Reed earned G League MVP honors featuring averages of 22.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals, and 1.8 blocks per game. In addition, Reed shot 62.8% from the field and 44.4% from three on 3.6 threes attempted per game. While his shooting numbers didn’t seem to carry over to his time with the Sixers, it is encouraging to see such a rapid rate of improvement.

Isaiah Joe only saw two regular season and three playoff games with Delaware. During the Blue Coats playoff run, Joe played almost 37 minutes per game and averaged 23.3 points while shooting 39.5% from three on nearly 13 attempts per game. Morey can be confident in saying he drafted future contributors that mostly fit the roles that would ideally surround the franchise’s core.

During a June 22nd media availability, Morey explained what he’s looking for in potential Sixers, “We’re in the situation where we need to make sure that the players we bring culturally fit with Joel, Ben, Tobias…the group Doc has put together.”


Trades

Morey is known to be active when trading players. His first move occurred on draft night–Josh Richardson and the 36th pick in 2020 Draft (Tyler Bey, Colorado) to Dallas for Seth Curry. Curry stepped into a productive role as the primary floor-spacer in a relatively crowded offense. The 30-year old accrued 12.5 points per game with 45% three-point shooting on 4.9 attempts. The first-year Sixer posted career highs with 2.7 assists per game while shooting 89.6% from the line. Curry, along with MVP runner-up Joel Embiid, carried the Sixers’ offense at times in the playoffs.

At the end-of-season press conference, Morey was optimistic about Curry, who is signed on a team-friendly contract for another two years, “Seth is improving before our eyes, which I think is super exciting.”

On November 23, 2020, the Sixers traded former first-round pick Zhaire Smith, to Detroit in exchange for Tony Bradley. In 20 games with Philly, Bradley played just over 14 minutes per game. The 23-year old center showed effectiveness in some backup center minutes and provided Doc Rivers with bench optionality.

About two weeks prior to the start of the 2020-21 season, Morey made an impactful trade that freed the franchise from a past front office blunder. Finalized on December 8, 2020, Philadelphia unloaded Al Horford along with a 2025 first-round pick, the 34th pick in the 2020 Draft (Theo Maledon), and overseas veteran Vasilije Micic to Oklahoma City. In return, the Sixers received Danny Green, Terrance Ferguson, and Vincent Poirier. The trade also brought in an $8.1 million traded player exception.

The absence of Horford opened up the floor for Embiid as he progressed into an MVP candidate. Danny Green played a crucial role in spacing the floor for the offense because of his shooting ability and matched up well on the perimeter defensively throughout the season. The veteran shooting guard accumulated averages of 28 minutes, 9.5 points, 1.3 steals, 0.8 blocks per game while shooting 40.5% from three on a career-high 6.3 attempts per game. The duo of Ferguson and Poirier only appeared in 23 combined games.

Morey’s next trade involvement happened on the day of the Trade Deadline. As part of a three-team trade, the Sixers acquired George Hill and Iggy Brazdeikis. They sent Tony Bradley, and two future second-round picks to OKC, along with Ferguson, overseas player Emir Preldzic, and two second-round picks to New York. Hill, battling an injury, only appeared in 16 games for Philly and his postseason impact was underwhelming as a result. Brazdeikis played in one game before finishing the season for the Orlando Magic.

The trades the Sixers were rumored to have interest in and didn’t get completed were more impactful to this team than the trades that were executed. Morey was said to be in the talks involving a Chris Paul trade before he got dealt to Phoenix, also James Harden during Harden’s final days in Houston, and Kyle Lowry, who did not get traded. You may notice a common theme between these three stars–which could imply a sense of a lack of confidence in the current primary ballhandler, Ben Simmons. The reality that one of these three stars was not attained proved to be harmful during the playoffs.


Sixers Free Agents

Morey created salary cap flexibility in the Horford deal. This flexibility was not used ideally, however. Morey’s most significant free agent to date has been signing Dwight Howard for the veteran’s minimum salary. Howard’s flaws can be tolerated during the regular season but are amplified in a playoff setting. The veteran center provided a rebounding presence for Rivers and the Sixers, but his incessant fouling and defensive mishaps caused frustration.

In response to a question from the media, Morey provided some reflection, “Are there opportunities where we could’ve done more? I think the answer to that is ‘yes.’ That’s on me.”

Morey’s inability to find a playable backup center didn’t help the team’s bench issues. Whether it be a stretch five or a competent rim protector, Morey wasn’t able to strengthen a vulnerable spot in the rotation. This failure to secure a reliable backup center may not have cost the team, but it certainly would have made circumstances easier. Anthony Tolliver was brought in as a veteran presence but did not find himself in Doc’s rotation. Additionally, the relatively shallow buyout market could have contributed to Morey’s struggles in finding reliable bench pieces.

If there’s a veteran out there that makes sense to add, we’re going to add him.

Daryl Morey

To the media, the Sixers front office captain provided more insight on the circumstances, “Nothing really presented itself that allowed us to address some of the things Doc was looking for. I made the assessment that George Hill would help us more than the Tony Bradley role. Is that right? I think it was still right.”

The two-way spots were used to take looks at different players as they become available. As a result, Morey got many opportunities to see what different fringe-NBA talent could do. When he took over, the two-way spots were held by Norvel Pelle and Marial Shayok. That duo quickly turned into Paul Reed and Dakota Mathias. Then, into Rayjon Tucker and Mason Jones before ending with Tucker and Gary Clark. Daryl Morey at the helm of the team’s decision-making should give Sixer fans a glimmer of confidence entering Morey’s second offseason, as his unrelenting willingness to improve the roster will prove to be highly beneficial.

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