De’Anthony Melton will be a Sixer.
However, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey could not acknowledge that quite yet during his post-NBA draft press conference at the team’s practice facility in Camden, New Jersey. With the Sixers’ trade for Melton not finalized by the league, Morey made a wee-hours attempt to address the deal while also being able to claim, if anyone cared to review the tape, that he wasn’t addressing anything specific.
“We’re trying to win now,” Morey said. “We’re looking for players who can contribute. We were the No. 1 defense two years ago. We were good last year. We want to make sure we improve that. So if we can get a perimeter defender, maybe for a draft pick, we’d feel very good about that. I think someone like that is someone who can really contribute and be a two-way player. Someone like that would be a really nice addition.”
The hypothetical player in question just so happens to exist in the form of Melton, who celebrated his 24th birthday last month.
Morey also suggested that the Sixers view Melton’s youth and contract positively. Melton is due $16.25 million (as long as he's not waived by July 3 of 2023) over the next two years. With Joel Embiid in his prime, the Sixers want to maximize those seasons.
“I like having a mix of vets and young guys who are pushing the vets,” Morey said. “So I think we value draft picks pretty highly. … Look, it’s really valuable when you give up a pick, but we’re sort of in what we think is a very important window.
“Obviously we haven’t made it as far as we have wanted to. So we’re looking for more 'win now.' If we can get someone maybe earlier in their career but already contributing (who) could be here for a long time, that would be great, too.”
When asked to look ahead, Morey was again cautious about potentially crossing any lines. But he remained consistent in his public messaging on James Harden's contractual situation.
The 10-time All-Star has a $47.4 million player option for next season.
“Well, we can’t talk yet,” Morey said. “I would expect … actually, I don’t know. We’ll have conversations with him. As you guys have heard, it’s a mutual lovefest, so we feel like we’ll work it out.”
On the Sixers’ approach behind Embiid, Morey spoke more freely.
The team added two big men late in the second round of last year’s draft, picking Filip Petrušev 50th and Charles Bassey 53rd. Excluding theoretical small-ball options like Georges Niang and Tobias Harris, the Sixers now have two centers on their roster behind Embiid. And Paul Reed is the oldest at 23 years old. Petrušev will play for the Sixers in summer league after a season with Anadolu Efes in Turkey, according to Morey, but it's clearly not at all certain he’ll have a future in Philadelphia.
“I know (head coach Doc Rivers) is very excited with what Paul Reed gave us down the stretch,” Morey said. “And generally guys don’t really contribute much in their first year. … It’s a long shot on a great, winning team like ours, but the hope is that Bassey could contribute at some point this year. Paul will hopefully build on what he did at the end of last year.
“Again, we’re going to be opportunistic with a bigger spend in free agency. There will be opportunistic looks at minimum spends. But I think the bar will be high on a minimum spend at the backup center spot because we feel like we’ve got some guys who can contribute.”
Though limited in the details he could divulge, “contribute” was perhaps a telling go-to word for Morey.
And while it wouldn’t have made strategic sense to discuss the Sixers’ hopes in free agency with complete candor — any questions about P.J. Tucker would’ve been promptly deflected, for instance — Morey’s present-oriented attitude was undoubtedly sincere.
“Look, (managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer) are going to let us spend whatever we need to spend," he said. “The CBA constrains us in certain ways; sometimes you don’t get everyone you want because of that. But we think mapping it out the best we can with quite a few options — maybe eight to 12 that we think could contribute and might be in the range of what we’re allowed to do — we feel pretty good that we might get someone that’ll contribute and be in our playoff rotation.”