Daryl Morey flashed a smile and took a swig of water as he listened to the question via Zoom.
He needed no reminder of his NBA draft track record, nor of his reputation as an executive who doesn’t place an especially high value on first-round picks.
Before joining the Sixers as president of basketball operations in 2020, Morey’s last first-round selection was Sam Dekker at No. 18 in the 2015 draft. So, what swayed him and the Sixers to stay at their assigned slot the past two drafts, taking Tyrese Maxey last year with the 21st pick and Tennessee guard Jaden Springer at No. 28 on Thursday night?
“I’d say the biggest one is we have two — I’m sorry, three — extremely good players in their prime — Tobias (Harris), Ben (Simmons) and Joel (Embiid) — and with a long runway in our minds, in terms of being in their 20s," Morey said. “People pointed to a lot of us not using picks where I was before, and a lot of that was our key players were all in their 30s. We were reversing a lot of the draft capital into helping the team get over the final hump, and we didn’t quite get there, but we were pretty good.
“We’ve got three guys in their 20s in their prime and we feel like we can do both — increase our odds of winning now and also keep developing, as well. To your point, some of it is what opportunities were available relative to the quality of the player. That’s always something that you have to judge. We feel really good about who was available.”
Indeed, Morey’s excitement about being able to take Springer did not appear remotely manufactured. Though realistic about the 18-year-old’s 43.5 percent college three-point shooting mark likely not translating to the NBA, he gushed about Springer’s 3-and-D potential.
Morey said the Sixers had offers for the 28th pick.
“We preferred Jaden,” he said. “We’re excited about Jaden and thought he was a great fit. It’s pretty rare to have a guy, especially at 28, who’s already demonstrated a strong level of play in college before age 19. We just thought that combination was too unique to pass up.”
In 25 college games, Springer averaged 12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.2 steals. His jumper looks like it might be the skill that ties everything together for him offensively. It’s not broken, but Springer seemingly could benefit from a quicker, smoother weight transfer through the shot. As Morey noted, his 81 percent mark from the foul line is a promising sign.
As a defender, it will be interesting to see how many positions Springer can handle. He’s only 6-foot-3 without shoes but is physically strong and moves well laterally.
Morey was glad to talk about Springer and the Sixers’ two second-round selections, Filip Petrusev and Charles Bassey. If he’d made a major trade — dealing Simmons, for instance — he would have received few questions, if any, about the Sixers’ new youngsters.
Simmons is still a Sixer for the time being, though it would surprise nobody if that’s no longer the case at some point before the 2021-22 season begins. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Friday that the Sixers would like to get a Simmons trade done before training camp.
The next step in the offseason is free agency negotiations, which can begin next Monday at 6 p.m. ET. Teams can officially sign players to new deals starting Aug. 6 at 12:01 p.m. ET.
For Morey, this draft was more about the future than any pressing needs. While it’s always possible a blockbuster trade is in store with Morey running a team, he decided Thursday wasn’t the night for it.
“For me, I view the draft as just the really important blocking and tackling that you do,” Morey said, “if you’re going to have a consistent winner like we plan to have here in Philly. … Look, generally these players don’t pan out in Year 1 and it’s usually in Years 2, 3, 4 that they pan out. It’s almost like you’re planning (your) future ability to improve the team through their upgrades, or other ways. It goes to a lot of the little things that an NBA staff does, and that players do with offseason work — working on skills.
“These are the things that don’t pay off right away but over time, they become really important. They make you more flexible in free agency, because you have Maxey coming along. Maxey showed us so much in Year 1, now you can use your free-agent dollars in other places and give him a real shot. It’s really important and subtle and pushes you forward, and you have to do well. Hopefully we’re going to continue to do that.”