Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey joined 97.5 The Fanatic’s Mike Missanelli Show on Thursday and acknowledged several times that he understands fans’ frustration with where the Ben Simmons situation stands.
He was firm, however, in explaining why he does not believe the Sixers absolutely must deal away Simmons before the Feb. 10 trade deadline. In fact, Morey called a pre-deadline Simmons trade “less likely than likely.”
Below are a few of the notable segments from Morey’s interview with Missanelli:
How Embiid impacts everything
Morey described Joel Embiid’s 50-point night Wednesday as “mind-bending.”
What does the four-time All-Star’s continued improvement after an MVP runner-up season mean in terms of Morey’s approach with Simmons, who’s sat out the Sixers’ first 44 games following an offseason trade request? Morey indicated he feels obligated to make an odds-shifting deal, and that such a move might not be available over the next few weeks.
“I think if we’re talking any sort of trade, the odds are that we’ll probably … I like any year you have a chance,” Morey said. “Last year we made a trade at the deadline that didn’t quite work, but generally, historically, I personally have a good track record at bringing folks in at the trade deadline. So regardless of if it’s some of the big trades involving Ben that people are expecting or something (else), we would like to add to this team. It’s just obviously the Ben deal takes on more significance. That’s the deal. Everyone sees what’s happening with Joel and how special that is and all of our emotional reaction, including mine, is, ‘We have got to do whatever we can to help him.’ And that reaction is correct.
“But I think it’s the initial reaction that that means that we should just get the best thing possible in February. I think that leads you to a bad place. It’s precisely because Joel is playing so amazing that this deal has to be the one that addresses our needs — addresses our defense, which isn’t playoff good enough at this point; addresses our rebounding, which isn’t playoff good enough; addresses our playmaking, as (head coach Doc Rivers) said — very important that we improve that. It’s important we improve our transition (play).
“We actually have a lot of things we need to improve and anyone who watches a lot of NBA basketball throughout history knows that you cannot do that across multiple players. It just doesn’t work; they can’t all play. And as we add players, it means that really good, solid players like we have — like a (Matisse) Thybulle, as an example — they just play less. Or a (Tyrese) Maxey plays less.
“It really is important that the player we add to Joel … if we really want to take our odds from wherever they’re at right now to something materially higher, it has to come back in an impact player. … If you trade one of these great players for multiple (players), it does not move your championship odds enough to make a difference. It might take us from where we’re at now to a little bit better, but it’s very slightly better. And for Joel, we have to make sure we get this right and that we move ourselves in to a higher tier of ability to win championships — and not just nudge ourselves from having the seventh-best chance to maybe the sixth-best chance in the league. That just doesn’t make sense.”
That’s a lot to digest, but Morey’s main point is obvious: He said in October he wanted a difference-making player for Simmons, and that’s still the case.
As Morey acknowledged, his deadline trade last year for George Hill didn't pan out. The veteran guard did not add much in the postseason, while Tony Bradley might have been a nice playoff option behind Embiid.
Rivers said Wednesday that “you need playmakers in the playoffs.” The lack of playmaking among Sixers not named Embiid is a deficiency easy to tie to Simmons’ absence, along with the team’s decreased transition opportunities, rebounding woes and worse defensive performance. The logical counter to Morey’s assertion that the Sixers must get better in those areas through the addition of one player (besides Simmons) is that it’s an unrealistic notion.
Of course, Morey knows that no player would alleviate every one of the Sixers’ weaknesses. He’s aiming to boost the team’s championship odds and believes that’s most probable through adding one excellent player, not multiple role players.
An expanded list?
When pressed for specifics on what sort of trade would be sufficient, Morey essentially framed Embiid’s dominance as slightly lowering the bar.
“Because Joel’s playing amazing and has lifted us into probably five percent-plus title odds just on his play, now we might be able to do it with a top-40 player who’s a great fit. … It opens up possibilities,” Morey said. “Or we can do it where we do a trade, it helps the team, it’s a better fit, and maybe our future opportunities are still open because we get some draft picks as part of it. So it ups our odds enough this year, and we maybe have a draft pick or a young player who could help us into the future who might develop — like if we got a player of the caliber of a Maxey coming back.
“We might be able to say OK, we got a really solid player who’s maybe not in the top 30, but he’s a little bit below that, plus a solid young player who over Joel’s prime, which we’re sitting in, might develop into that. So it opens up more possibilities of deals, if that makes sense.”
Back in November, The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported there was a list of “approximately 30 players who would satisfy the Sixers in a Simmons swap.” Based on Morey’s comments Thursday, that list has since grown.
More Kings smoke
Though he didn’t delve into De’Aaron Fox’s pull-up shooting or Tyrese Haliburton’s potential, Morey was far more candid than the typical on-the-record executive when it came to the Sacramento Kings.
“I can’t talk about a specific (player),” he said. “I can tell you that for sure there are deals with the Sacramento Kings that I think would work. Will those deals ever happen? I have no idea. Are they just straight deals with the Kings? Probably not. Is it multiple teams? Probably. But for sure there are deals that are possible that would go over our line.”
Nothing monumental, but certainly intriguing to hear Morey publicly note he likes the idea of potential moves involving Sacramento. Multiple reports have linked the Sixers and Kings throughout the Simmons saga. Sacramento general manager and president of basketball operations Monte McNair worked under Morey with the Rockets.
Any chance Simmons comes back?
Morey admitted a recent meeting with Rich Paul, the CEO of Klutch Sports and Simmons’ agent, did not meaningfully sway either side; “those conversations have not progressed,” he said.
Though he didn’t provide reasons for optimism, Morey said he “100 percent” believes Simmons could play for the Sixers again.
“I think he can,” Morey said. “Obviously I think you’re right that the majority of people think that’s not possible. Look, my job is to win the title. My job is to continue to try to make it where we either make the right trade or we somehow hurdle the issues that Ben has with playing here and get him back here.”
And, in case it wasn’t already clear, here’s Morey’s articulation of what the “right trade” would be:
“We’re looking for a deal that makes us a championship contender in the top two or three of the league of winning the title. Those are the teams that win. If we do a deal that takes us from the eighth-best chance to win the championship to seventh, you’re looking at half a percent better. And everyone feels better because Ben Simmons, who people want gone … people will feel better that that name is no longer there. But our odds haven’t changed much at all, and now we’ve not only burned away this season, we’ve burned away our future, as well.”