Around 1:45 Friday morning, Daryl Morey materialized on a Zoom screen looking as if he had just descended an Appalachian mountain, beard full and furry on his round face, hair slightly disheveled, eyes bleary. Such was life for Morey, the Sixers’ president of basketball operations, on the night of the NBA draft, even when, as was the case on Thursday, the exercise was never going to deliver any kind of franchise-shaking change.
As drafts go, this was a humdrum one for the Sixers, at least for the night itself and for the foreseeable future. They stayed at No. 28 in the first round and picked 6-foot-4 guard, Jaden Springer, who is 18 and who started just 15 games in his only season of college basketball, from the University of Tennessee. They selected two post players in the second round. If next season Springer, Filip Petrusev, or Charles Bassey delivers anything close to the contribution that, say, Tyrese Maxey gave the Sixers last season, Morey will be pleased as punch.
“We don’t go into a season saying, ‘OK, we think you guys we just drafted are going to help us in year one,’” he said. “So that wouldn’t impact any of our free-agent decisions. ...
“I view the draft as just the really important blocking and tackling that you do if you’re going to have a consistent winner like we plan to have here in Philly and that I’ve had at many points in my history,” Morey continued. “Generally, these players don’t pan out in year one. It’s usually in years two, three, four when they pan out. It’s almost like you’re planning your future ability to improve the team through their upgrades or other ways.”
If those players’ presence and development wouldn’t affect any of the relatively smaller decisions that Morey has to make this offseason — say, re-signing Danny Green — then they certainly won’t play into the major decision with which he’s still grappling: what to do about Ben Simmons and when and how to do it.
Rightly billed upon his arrival last year as an executive who was unafraid and often eager to make a sweeping change to a roster, Morey hasn’t quite lived up those expectations. Granted, there’s a reason for that. Whether because of the timing of Simmons’ postseason meltdown or the Houston Rockets’ reluctance to broker a James Harden trade with their old GM, the circumstances for a major move haven’t been particularly favorable to Morey.
Take Thursday, for instance. Anyone who went into the draft thinking that Morey would pull off some uber-Woj-bomb-worthy trade to send Simmons to Washington or Sacramento or Los Angeles either doesn’t understand or was disregarding the nature of market forces. After Simmons’ struggles throughout the playoffs, his trade value is just about as low as it can be. Morey is much more likely to get a greater haul in return for him after (if?) Simmons regains his equilibrium and reminds everyone that he’s more than just a guy who freezes up when he’s faced with an open dunk or a foul shot.
Do the Sixers have to trade Simmons? Yeah, unless he comes back in September with a level of confidence in shooting a basketball that he has never possessed during his NBA career, they probably do. But there’s a way to do it without simply giving him away or getting back pennies on the metaphorical dollar, and that way could and probably will require a measure of patience. It might require waiting to see how unhappy Damian Lillard really is in Portland, or how much Maxey has improved from his first season to his second, or how ready for the NBA Springer turned out to be.
“These are the things that don’t pay off right away, but over time they become really important,” Morey said. “They make you more flexible in free agency because you have Maxey coming along. Because Maxey showed us so much in year one, now you can use your free-agent dollars in other places and give him a real shot. So it’s really important and subtle and pushes you forward, and you have to do well, and hopefully we’re going to continue to do that.”
It’s vital, actually, because each little step like that — a steal of a draft pick, an unknown youngster who grows into a valuable part of a team’s rotation, decisions that don’t seem like much on a boring draft night — makes it easier for Daryl Morey to make the kind of move that he was supposed to make by now. It makes it easier for him to do the job he was brought here, and that everyone expects him, to do: win the Sixers a championship.