The casual fan who watched a few Sixers games probably would’ve responded to the question with some version of “They need more shooting!”
Daryl Morey, though, was humble and cautious at his introductory press conference when asked what went wrong for the 2019-20 Sixers and the main problems the team needed to address.
“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,” he said a little over two weeks ago.
Though the Sixers were ninth in three-point percentage last season, the notion that they had sufficient shooting was unconvincing. Morey addressed an obvious area intelligently Wednesday night by trading away Al Horford and Josh Richardson and acquiring Danny Green and Seth Curry. For good measure, he added a pure shooter with the 49th pick in Arkansas’ Isaiah Joe.
Morey worked to rectify mistakes made by general manager Elton Brand and the Sixers’ collaboration-heavy previous regime. Unlike Brand, whose only prior experience as a GM was in the G League, Morey has been doing this for a while.
“I was a rookie thrust into the position to lead a team with championship aspirations that the fan base sacrificed and struggled for for some years,” Brand said in August. “My understanding of the game grew and how to manage and how to lead. I’ll admit I didn’t know a lot, but now, I do know a lot more. I’ve been through almost every situation there is so I’m looking forward to leading this offseason and figuring out how to get us back on the right path.”
Without being rash or sacrificing in excess, Morey rid the Sixers of Horford’s contract, something that had been hovering ominously like a glowing Halloween pumpkin on the porch in December. He also picked up a player in Curry who should be a better offensive fit than Richardson and has a lighter contract. Though the Sixers’ financial situation is fluid, there’s no doubt it improved Wednesday. Danny Green and Ferguson, the 22-year-old, defense-focused wing from Oklahoma City, are both on expiring contracts, and $24.5 million or so for three years of Curry is reasonable.
Of course, Morey was far too diplomatic to directly acknowledge his approach was about anywhere Brand and Co. had erred.
“I think the theme tonight … was trying to improve the fit,” he said. “We went in with a goal of increasing our flexibility. The first move we did allowed the second move with Seth. If we don’t do the first one, the second one isn’t possible. Having a truly gravity-elite shooter truly changes the dynamic for Ben (Simmons) and Joel (Embiid).
"Those who’ve watched the Sixers up close and personal — you have longer than me — know that when Joel and Ben have had that, it’s actually insane how good those lineups and how good those teams played when everyone was healthy. So that was really the theme for tonight. Getting Seth — you could argue for him as the best shooter in the NBA — was just really exciting.”
By the way, references to Simmons and Embiid pervaded Morey’s wee-hours press conference Thursday morning.
“Obviously Joel and Ben are going to be here a long time and we feel like all the guys we took are very good fits with those guys,” he said.
The first player Morey selected, combo guard Tyrese Maxey with the 21st pick, happened to slip below most projections. No trade-ups were necessary, a departure from Brand’s fixation on Matisse Thybulle last year. Maxey isn’t known as a shooter, though Morey called the Sixers “optimistic” on his jumper and was excited about the 20-year-old’s character, multi-position defensive talent and ability to play in transition.
There doesn’t seem to have been a single, inflexible first-round target. For the night, however, Morey and the Sixers had a clear, overarching philosophy.
“It was pretty universal that we needed to add these elements to the team,” he said. “Honestly, if you go back, it’s completely insane how good some of those Joel-Ben lineups were. Lineup analysis is pretty terrible in general, I’ll just be honest, but when you get to like 1,200-minute lineups that are playing at an historically great sort of ability to build the lead … listening, it became pretty obvious the right path for the roster.”
In the 2017-18 season, the Sixers had a plus-15.8 net rating when JJ Redick played with Simmons and Embiid. Trios of Simmons-Embiid-Dario Saric and Simmons-Embiid-Robert Covington sported plus-16.3 and plus-17.4 net ratings, respectively. Yes, the intuitive concept is backed up by the “analytics,” even if Morey apparently isn’t a fan of relying on lineup data.
Following the 2019 draft, Brand memorably said, “It’ll all make sense soon.”
We thought, as that offseason unfolded, that at least some of it might. For instance, we talked ourselves into the logic of doubling down on Tobias Harris, one of Brand’s signature expensive decisions, even though any observer could see the price was lofty for a player who’d never made an All-Star Game.
With Morey leading basketball operations, there’s no question. One night didn’t fix it all, but things make sense at the moment for the Sixers.