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November 19, 2020

Daryl Morey's first Sixers draft had a clear goal — complementing his 'superstars'

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Sixers head coach Doc Rivers, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, managing partner Josh Harris and general manager Elton Brand.

For the last three seasons, the Sixers have had glaring, neon needs around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. That it seemed so obvious to outsiders only made it more confusing that they seemed unable to get enough guards and shooters on the roster to complement the high-level talent in place. Shooting? Why add that when you can sign another center for $100+ million?

In one night, Daryl Morey offered a giant leap toward normalcy. And the guy best known as an executive for emphasizing the value of the three-point shot did it in the most straightforward way possible — he did everything he could to make life easier on his tentpole stars.

"Having a truly gravity elite shooter really changes the dynamic for Ben and Joel," Morey told reporters late Wednesday night, discussing the team's acquisition of Seth Curry. "Those who watch the Sixers up close and personal, like you have longer than me, when Joel and Ben have had that it’s actually insane how good those lineups and how good those teams played when everyone was healthy. So that was really the theme for tonight."

Gone is Al Horford, the center who complicated life for Joel Embiid, and in steps (we think) Danny Green, who Morey couldn't comment on because of the pending nature of the deal. Gone is Josh Richardson, a nice player who fits uneasily with the roster, and in steps Seth Curry, one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the history of the league. Even at pick No. 49, the Sixers managed to get Isaiah Joe, who Morey made sure to correct a reporter who called him a "good" shooter by naming him a "great" one.

As pure value propositions, the Sixers gave up a lot tonight. Horford and Richardson are solid basketball players with roles to play on good teams elsewhere, and there was value (perhaps considerable value, in the case of an outgoing future first) in the picks they sacrificed. What they received in return is a bunch of players who are good in their own right and will allow Embiid and Simmons to be the best versions of themselves, for better or worse.

Throughout his presser, Morey made reference to the success Philadelphia has had with lineups structured around their two young talents. For those who may have forgotten, the Sixers famously had one of the best lineups in the league by the numbers during Simmons' rookie season, with JJ Redick, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric at the 2-4 spots between the two. 

Believers in the fanbase (and in the media, in fairness) have hung onto those indicators as a reason not to give up hope in the pairing, in spite of the franchise's stagnation and the obvious fit question marks they've run into. Morey has said all the right things, but talking up your guys and attaching picks to chase better fit around them are two separate things. 

The trades Wednesday night were Morey's most powerful statement yet. The fabled shooters have arrived. And while Morey threw cold water on the use of lineup stats broadly, he and the powers that be in Philadelphia clearly see something worth holding onto, an outline to revisit after years of erratic shifts in team structure.

"It was pretty universal that we needed to add these elements to the team," Morey said. "And, honestly, if you go back, it's completely insane how good some of these Joel-Ben lineups were. Lineup analysis is pretty terrible in general, I'll just be honest, but when you get to like 1200 minute lineups that are playing at a historically great sort of ability to build a lead, it's pretty...listening, it became pretty obvious the right path for the roster."

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From the sound of things, the new collaborative process is working a lot better than the old one. Morey went to great lengths to acknowledge members of the front office new and old during his presser, name-dropping Elton Brand, Doc Rivers, Vince Rozman, Peter Dinwiddie, and Prosper Karangwa during his 20 minutes with the media, each chipping in their own expertise to get the Sixers across the finish line. 

Easier said than done. This group has been putting in 10-hour meetings and cram sessions to get onto the same page. They absorbed one of the most prominent decisionmakers in the league just weeks before the draft, a guy whose previous team did not own any draft picks this year as a result of pushing for contention.

It helps when the top dog is willing to listen. Morey, who arrived from Houston with a reputation for having an open mind (including in conversation with his players), is looking to continue that tradition here.

"I think you see why there’s now five or six executives from Houston on other teams. It’s because I push a lot of responsibility down," Morey said. "If you’ve got a good team, it’s really important to use them, make them excited, engaged. A big part of Elton and I working together and why he was excited for me to join is that I can learn from him and hopefully he picks up some stuff from me. And my goal would be in not too many years would be a lot of 76ers executives around the league."

But it didn't seem like this group needed a lot of convincing or debate with the selection of Tyrese Maxey at No. 21, a player they say they viewed as a blue-chip talent. The initial beauty of the Maxey selection, similar to the trades Philadelphia made, is in its simplicity. 

As Morey made sure to mention on the call, Maxey was a top high-school player who thrived at a blue-blood program, has suited up for USA Basketball, and whose underlying indicators suggest upside others may have missed on. Looking at his mechanics and underlying measurables, Morey said they believe he will be a better shooter than the numbers said he was at Kentucky, where he already showed comfort as a pull-up scorer and elite ability as a finisher around the rim.

Beyond that, they are betting on the most basic of all observations one can make about a professional of any sort — he cares about his craft.

"I was thrilled because teams tend to fixate on weaknesses instead of celebrating the strengths of guys who fall," Morey said. "This is a guy who constantly improves his game, improves his game every year, and is a big team guy. And those things are important. If you have top-level talent like him, plus you love basketball and you are willing to work and continue to improve, that's where you end up having a top player."

Seismic as the change was on Wednesday night, the Sixers don't seem like they're done, despite the assertion from Morey that they are happy with the group they have for the time being. If you can believe it, free agency is set to open almost immediately, with an entire offseason of movement capable of taking place by the time you wake up to go to work next Monday morning.

For the first time in a while, they have options. After spending one breath teasing the idea of Simmons spending some time as the nominal center in small-ball looks, Morey mentioned that in the post-Horford world, Doc Rivers' recruiting skills could be a major asset on the free-agent market, a means to convince another big they have a great opportunity for a role behind Embiid. Each move feeds another, which feeds another, which feeds another.

That's what the Sixers brought Daryl Morey here to do: set and execute a cohesive, coherent vision. So far, so good.

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