In the end, Al Horford’s contract was of that classic NBA variety, the eminently movable immovable deal. Oklahoma City needed to pay somebody, the Sixers had someone they could pay, and all it cost the latter was a 26-year-old Serbian point guard and a first-round draft pick that may or may not convey before the world ends. In return, they unburdened themselves of more than $50 million in salary and luxury-tax charges and landed a veteran three-and-D wing who might actually contribute. Collectivized risk is a wonderful thing.
So, too, is shooting. But, then, you knew that. The real news is that the Sixers now have a president who knows it, too. Or, at least, they have one who is not wasting any time in acting upon that arcane bit of basketball wisdom. In a span of about four hours on Wednesday night, Daryl Morey added a pair of veteran 40-percent three-point shooters and an intriguing rookie combo guard, landing Danny Green in the Horford deal, drafting Tyrese Maxey out of Kentucky with the No. 21 pick, and then trading Josh Richardson to the Mavericks for Seth Curry, one of the league’s top sharpshooters.
In doing so, Morey firmly established himself as a True Sixer, ensuring that the organization will continue treating its fanbase to a never-ending series of sad ironies. For the sum total of a late first-round pick in 2020, a 2025 first-round pick, two second-round picks, an overseas player we didn’t even know existed, and negative $40 million in payroll, the Sixers added a trio of players who fit their roster far better than a couple of guys who last offseason cost them Jimmy Butler and about $38 million in 2019-20 salary.
If Morey’s immediate plan is to make the Sixers a better version of the team they already are, there could have been worse ones. While Green is coming off a subpar season, he does two important things at an elite level, which is two more than Richardson did. A tenacious defender with a career 40% conversion rate from three-point range, the 32-year-old veteran played a pivotal role in the Raptors’ title run in 2018-19 and then won another title with the Lakers in 2019-20. Curry, meanwhile, is coming off a season in which he shot 45 percent from three-point range and solidified himself as one of the top handful of pure shooters in the league. He can also dribble a little bit, and is signed to a reasonable contract for three more seasons (Richardson can become a free agent after this season).
The Sixers still have plenty of available avenues to add a primary ballhandler. In the meantime, a starting lineup that features Simmons, Green, Tobias Harris, and Embiid with Curry in the mix figures to be a lot less clunky than unit that tried to pretend it had roles for Richardson and Horford.
Heading into Wednesday’s NBA draft, the only question about Horford’s future was whether Morey could find a partner who would be complicit with him in ending it. Anybody associated with the team had long ago stopped pretending that there was a viable role for him moving forward. Not the old head coach. Not the new head coach. Not the old personnel chief, and certainly not the new one, who didn’t even offer a courtesy name check in his introductory news conference.
None of this is Horford’s fault, of course. He isn’t the first human being in history who allowed copious amounts of money to convince him that he could be something he was not, and he will not be the last. The Sixers’ decision to give him $97 million over four years was one of those things that was so crazy you had to seriously consider the possibility that they knew something everybody else did not. And, let’s not forget, there were a handful of moments when the world was treated to a glimpse of whatever it was that was going through their heads. They won their first five games of the season, including a convincing 107-93 victory over the Celtics on opening night. Two weeks before Christmas, they were on pace to win 60 games. In a 121-109 win over the Bucks on Christmas Day, Horford played 33 minutes and played a central role in holding Giannis Antetokounmpo to 18 points on 8-of-27 shooting. That being said, he could neither handle the ball nor catch it and shoot it, and the rest of their roster demanded someone who could do one if not both.
The big question now is what lies next. Given Morey’s history of blockbuster dealing, you’d be foolish not to wonder whether Wednesday’s flurry of moves was a precursor to a much bigger move. The addition of Green’s $15.4 million salary along with Terrence Ferguson’s $3.9 million expiring deal gives the Sixers more salary-matching optionality than they had in Horford’s albatross of a contract. It’s difficult to envision any of them factoring into a deal for one of the marquee names that have surfaced in the NBA’s relentless rumor mill.
The Sixers only have two conceivable trades that they could offer Houston for James Harden without being laughed off the phone, and one of those involves a player that Morey spent much of his introductory press conference fawning over. Assuming the Sixers are committed to Joel Embiid, that would leave them contemplating the wisdom of trading Ben Simmons’s potential for the final act of the 31-year-old Harden’s career.
The strongest argument against such a deal would involve the possibility of finding a significant addition elsewhere who could fit alongside Simmons and Embiid. But unless there’s another team that values Harris the way the Sixers did last season, it is difficult to see how the Sixers could put together a competitive package for a Bradley Beal or a Zach LaVine without including Simmons. There’s a viable path forward that sees them adding another complementary piece while keeping themselves in a position to make a trajectory-altering move at a later date.
One thing we saw last season was the danger of impulse shopping. In the Sixers’ defense, they had a certain amount of money that they needed to spend in order to maximize their payroll. Hindsight suggests the offseason was lost the moment they wavered in their commitment to Butler. That gave Morey a low bar to clear in his first attempt at shaping the roster. By the end of Wednesday night, he’d cleared it easily.