Addressing the media Monday via Zoom for the first time as the Sixers’ president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey admitted the occasion was hard to wrap his head around.
“I just can’t believe this is happening,” he said at one point during his initial remarks.
Morey’s deal with the Sixers is, in fact, official, and he kicked off work by answering questions from reporters for a little over a half hour alongside head coach Doc Rivers, general manager Elton Brand and managing partner Josh Harris. Below are four takeaways from Morey’s virtual introductory press conference at the Sixers’ practice facility in Camden, New Jersey:
Believing in the big man
When Morey and the Rockets traded away Clint Capela and acquired Robert Covington in February, Houston adopted a “micro-ball” style of play. To make the Sixers a center-less team would require a lot of convoluted maneuvering, and Morey isn’t planning on it.
“Joel is a dominant, dominant big man,” he said. “I’m excited to get back to that. I worked with Yao Ming. We got very close in Houston with Yao Ming, and I think we can go all the way with Joel.”
Morey stressed that a team built around Embiid is capable of winning titles.
“It doesn’t take much to look at when Joel is on the floor and healthy — and he’s been in here twice a day for quite a while, he’s very focused and motivated — this is an unbelievable defensive team,” he said. “And the fact that he’s also an extremely good offensive player … Joel’s the kind of player you win championships with, if you look back through history.”
He tweeted out a photo Monday night of a FaceTime conversation with a grinning Embiid.
Interestingly, Morey did not only focus on Embiid and Ben Simmons in explaining why he thinks highly of the Sixers’ roster. He named Al Horford, Josh Richardson and Tobias Harris, too, and said he feels “people are underrating the Sixers right now.”
So, in Morey’s view, what went wrong for the Sixers during the 2019-20 campaign? He mentioned Simmons’ season-ending left knee injury as a key factor in the Celtics’ first-round sweep of the Sixers and also acknowledged he’s not yet qualified to give a thorough answer.
“I would say I’m excited to answer that question, but it might be later,” he said. “I’m on Day 1. Elton and I have all-day, 10-plus-hour meetings scheduled for the next few days to understand better what we need to do. For me to come in and act like I know exactly what the Sixers need to do on Day 1 would not be very smart decision-making.”
Brand still has influence
Though Brand is no longer leading basketball operations for the Sixers, he’s signed a multi-year extension and is clearly seen by Morey as an important partner.
“I have a very collaborative style,” Morey said. “It’s why I was excited when Elton was open to having me join, it’s because I’ve heard the same about him. Look, you make great decisions by having great people who are all working toward the same goal and not worrying about what title someone is or, honestly, what role. The best ideas can come from anywhere — interns all the way up to hopefully Elton and I have a good idea every once in a while.
“All our job is, really, is to make great decisions. So we’re going to use great people all working together, and use data. Because I think if you have great people and you have data that gives you the ground truth of what you’re working towards, you’ll make great decisions in the draft, trades and free agency."
According to Brand, he’ll “follow Daryl’s lead” and be “selfless.” The exact responsibilities of each front office member will be determined in the coming days.
“We’ve had a lot of meetings,” Brand said. “He’s been at my house, we’ve spent hours together out on the Main Line. We’ve been in the city with Doc, meeting in secret places. But we’re figuring that out. In the next few days we’ll have the org chart and the roles and who’s going to do what. … But he’s excited about the hires that we’ve made, that I’ve made, and he looks forward to working with everyone.”
The Sixers hired executive VP of basketball operations Peter Dinwiddie and VP of player personnel Prosper Karangwa last month.
In August, Brand had said the Sixers’ “collaboration days didn’t work too well” in response to a question about whether CEO Scott O’Neil would be involved in the team’s coaching search. Alex Rucker, who’d served as the executive VP of basketball operations under Brand, has left the organization. Collaboration won’t disappear with Morey on board, but perhaps there will be different decision-making approaches with new personnel.
The extent to which Harris is involved in basketball matters remains a relevant question. He was excited Monday about the aggressive and successful pursuits of Morey and Rivers.
“When talent like Doc and Daryl becomes available, you move quickly,” Harris said.
No need to panic
Sam Hinkie, Morey’s former No. 2 in Houston and the Sixers’ GM during The Process, was known for his patience. While Morey is unafraid to make deals, he suggested that a dramatic, team-wide transformation this offseason might not be the most prudent path. He likes this roster and could wait a bit before doing anything franchise-altering.
“One thing I think where organizations make a mistake is they try to make sure the roster is perfect on Game 1,” he said. “The players who are going to thrive under Doc and how Doc utilizes them is going to teach Elton and I a lot about how to best fit the players around them. So if there’s a great opportunity, obviously we’re going to do it early.
“We’ve got some important windows coming up with the draft and free agency, and also a trade window in there before whenever we play our first game. The thing is you want to do great moves when they’re available, but often the best move is not a move that’s done right away. We want to increase our understanding before we start to make these moves.”
It’s a sensible philosophy from Morey, and interesting to consider with a player like Horford. In the first year of a four-year contract with $97 million guaranteed, Horford did not fit nearly as well as Brand and the Sixers envisioned. If he’s still on the team when next season begins, that’s not necessarily a disastrous scenario.
A decent start to the season might lead Horford’s value to be higher than it is now heading into the mid-season trade deadline. Maybe, depending on factors such as whether Morey adds another backup center, Rivers’ influence and how much interest other teams have in the 34-year-old, it’ll be worth keeping him.
One style doesn’t fit all
The Rockets led the league last year in three-point attempts and isolation possessions, while the Sixers were 22nd in attempted threes and first in post-ups. More shooting around Simmons and Embiid would almost certainly be helpful, but don’t expect Morey to try to morph the Sixers into his old team.
“The goal is not to shoot three-pointers, the goal is to win,” he said. “You can score on offense in a bunch of different ways. Joel happens to be one of the most efficient post-up players in the league. I used to get the question in Houston of, ‘What would you do if you had (Shaquille O’Neal)?’ And my answer was, ‘I would give Shaq the ball about a hundred times a game.’ Joel is a talent on both ends.
“And again, we played the way we played in Houston because that was the best way to utilize the talents we had in Houston. Doc knows how to win more than me — he’s at least one ring ahead of me — and so he’s going to figure out how best to use (the players). It doesn’t have to be a three.”