The most encouraging aspect of the 76ers' blockbuster hiring of Daryl Morey is the potential for change. When they hired Doc Rivers one month ago, they left the distinct impression that they considered their heavy lifting to be done. The biggest thing standing in the way of legitimate championship contention had been the head coach. Elton Brand would retool his front office. In consultation with Rivers, he would tweak the roster to provide him with the complementary pieces he felt he needed. But Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons would remain the centerpieces, and Tobias Harris would remain the third brick in the foundation. From a personnel standpoint, the Sixers would proceed without feeling the need for significant structural change. At least, that was the impression.
With the hiring of Morey, all of that has changed. While it would be a mistake to interpret the hiring of the longtime Rockets general manager as the first step in a radical evaluation of the structure of the Sixers' roster, his arrival marks a significant deviation in the trajectory that the organization has followed since Sam Hinkie’s departure four-and-a-half years ago. The significance of Morey’s installation above Brand lies in the arrival of a fresh set of eyes.
That’s something that the Sixers simply have not had since they drafted Ben Simmons with the first overall pick in 2016 and embarked on a future built around him and Embiid. Jerry Colangelo hired Bryan Colangelo, Bryan Colangelo hired Elton Brand, and Elton Brand became the nominal head of a front office that had accompanied the younger Colangelo throughout his ill-fated tenure as GM. In Morey, the Sixers placed their future in the hands of an executive who was not involved in and is thus unbeholden to any of the decisions that have been made over the previous four years.
During his introductory press conference on Monday afternoon, Morey came across as the exact type of leader the Sixers will need to shepherd them beyond their current moment of inflection. He demonstrated the personality, and the philosophy, and, most importantly, the track record that will be required to navigate the this roster off of its current plateau. He also offered some hints at how the Sixers' immediate future will unfold.
We are already more than three weeks into one of the most uncertain offseasons in NBA history. If things go according to plan, the 2020-21 season will tip-off in less than two months, with the interim accommodating a draft, a free agent signing period, and the readjustment of team finances to accommodate the dramatic loss of revenue that occurred as a result of the loss of ticket sales and advertising revenue.
In short, if there was ever an offseason when teams should err on the side of wait-and-see, this would be it. And waiting-and-seeing is exactly what the Sixers should be doing, particularly with regard to the futures of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
The single most notable theme of Morey’s remarks on Monday afternoon was the way they framed Embiid. Morey spoke at length about his appreciation for the team’s star center, comparing him to Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming while making the point that a center who has the physical talents of Embiid transcends the NBA’s shift toward a smaller, more versatile game. His featuring of Embiid was particularly notable when compared to his remarks – or lack thereof – about Simmons. The latter earned a passing mention from Morey when he noted that one of the appeals of the job was the presence of two uniquely talented stars who are still in the early stages of their primes. But Morey gave the same impression that Rivers previously expressed in his introductory press conference: Embiid is the centerpiece of this team.
That doesn’t mean that Simmons will be traded for James Harden or Bradley Beal before the season starts. Simmons is one of the more unique talents in the NBA, and championship teams are built around unique talent. But there seems to be no doubt about the new regime’s belief in Embiid’s viability in their long-term plans. Given the uneasy fit between Embiid and Simmons and their conflicting skill sets, any commitment to one necessarily raises some questions about the long-term future of the other.
Morey successfully avoided any talk about the more obvious specifics that will need to be addressed sooner rather than later. He did not offer any thoughts on the other three big pieces of the current lineup, but logic suggests that Josh Richardson and Al Horford are the two biggest wild cards. It doesn’t take one of the NBA’s brightest minds to realize that the best way to build around Embiid and Simmons is to surround them with players who can create space via shooting and ball handling, and that neither Horford nor Richardson offers an elite level of either. The Sixers will likely need to move someone in order to add the pieces that they obviously lack. And with Richardson entering the last year of his contract, the window to maximize his value on the trade market will close before the start of the season.
That being said, the immediate road map will depend on Morey’s intermediate-to-long-term vision for the roster. Richardson’s ability to contribute to a rotation and his $10.8 million salary offer the Sixers a valuable piece that could help facilitate a variety of transactions. Likewise, Horford’s salary is an important variable for matching purposes in the event Morey targets a big dollar star. As ill-fitting as he may be, Horford isn’t someone that the Sixers should give away to the first team willing to take on his contract.