76ers Hire Daryl Morey
Updated: Oct 31, 2020
Does it ever drive you crazy, just how fast the night changes? In just one day, the Philadelphia 76ers’ outlook has gone from bleak to bright. Sixers’ governorship painted the boldest of strokes on Wednesday: Daryl Morey will join the fray as President of Basketball Operations.
A head of basketball ops at all adds significant stability to the front office. There has been an amorphous leadership structure since Bryan Colangelo was let go in 2018, with a “collaborative effort” being the common caption. That needed to change, and Philly’s owners finally obliged.
They have had a kinship for Morey since that fated summer of 2018. It half heartedly went after him once the head of basketball ops was up for grabs, but that only resulted in an extension for Morey with his incumbent team.
After this season’s events, Morey had decided to step down from his position with those Houston Rockets, likely due to increasing influence from owner Tillman Fertitta. The Sixers had been in talks with him since he stepped down, and on Wednesday the deal was sealed.
Speaking of the Rockets, they have been at the forefront of basketball discourse for nearly a decade. From the buy-low trade for James Harden to the mathematized approach to hoops to a constant adaptation of the roster, Space City has been a point of contention in the league for quite some time—and Morey has been the leader through it all.
Houston was a transactional turbine during Morey's tenure. Stars like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook all saw time with the Rockets as Morey tried to constantly improve the roster around Harden. They made the last eight postseasons with him and Harden at the helm, one of the few constant results in Morey’s tenure there.
Another constant was championship success, which was a steady zero. The Rockets never made the Finals with Morey in charge (though they came quite close in 2018). For reasons that NBA fans constantly bicker over, Harden has yet to get over the hump. It’s unclear how much of that blame belongs on the front office; being a perpetual contender for that long isn’t easy.
Critics will wonder how Morey adapts to the Sixers’ situation. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are the furthest things from his fabled “Moreyball” strategy of firing as many 3s as possible. Embiid has made just 31.9% of his 3.6 career attempts per game from downtown, and Simmons has taken just 24 triples over three years, most of which were heaves.
The guys around them aren’t exactly snipers either. Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson combined for 889 threes attempted last season; Harden took 843 on his own. In fact, the 2017-18 Sixers were the most analytical of all: Robert Covington, J.J Redick and Dario Saric united to fire off 1409 threes that season. Pair any two of those three figures (550, 460 and 399 attempts respectively), and you surpass (or get close to) the 2019-20 lineup’s output.
So how is Morey, a man who has stressed 3s and layups and avoided the mid-range altogether, going to make use of a three-phobic roster?
Optimists think they’re asking the wrong questions. Morey did maximize the expected value of shots, and analytics tell nearly every player in the league to take more 3s, but there’s more to Morey’s track record than that.
The co-founder of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference has been adroit with adapting to a situation. After the Dwight Howard situation soured, he changed it, hiring Mike D’Antoni and shifting in a much faster direction that unlocked Harden. When that workload was too much for Harden, Morey traded for Paul. When Westbrook needed more space to wreak havoc, Morey flipped Clint Capela for Covington.
Another feather in Morey’s cap is his work on the margins. He found Covington before the Sixers did, turned Eric Gordon into a flamethrower for a few years, got the most out of Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell, and so on down the line. Lower-rung role players of all shapes and sizes came through Houston, and many came out better than when they were acquired. Morey had it down to a science.
Asset management is a core principle of his as well. He became very aggressive with draft capital towards the end of his stint, but he got a ton of use out of the picks he did use. Trades for stars, role players and more picks were all on the table, and Morey made sure to use every single asset to his advantage. That will be a welcome sight in Philly, where picks have been sold, traded and lit on fire since Sam Hinkie resigned.
Oh yeah, remember when that Hinkie guy ran the Sixers? Morey was his mentor. Hinkie worked under Morey for several years, and took many of Morey’s philosophies with him to Philadelphia. Tanking isn’t on the table, but shrewd restructuring and asset flipping definitely is.
Though Morey has done a great job and is highly touted for his work, it’s worth questioning just how much he can do for the Sixers. Harris and Horford are on very undesirable contracts, owed a combined $218 million over the next few years. Other teams aren’t salivating to add either of them at their cap hits.
But there are still positive pieces to be moved around. Richardson had a down year, but is owed a modest $10.8 million next season and can still be used as a sweetener. Matisse Thybulle is well on his way to being a defensive force who won’t get in the way offensively. Furkan Korkmaz isn’t guaranteed a cent this season and is a useful young player. And for the umpteenth straight year, the Sixers own multiple second round picks. The cupboard is much less stocked than it was two years ago, but it’s not barren.
And if there’s anyone who can make lemonade out of lemons, it’s Morey.