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July 16, 2018

Report: Sixers attempted to lure Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey to Philadelphia

When Brett Brown said the Sixers were going star-hunting this offseason, the assumption around the basketball world was that it applied predominantly to players. But a curveball came across the plate on Monday evening in the form of a report from Marc Stein of the New York Times, who says the Sixers were "rebuffed" in an attempt to hire Rockets GM Daryl Morey away from Houston.

Before getting down to business, here's the boring stuff. PhillyVoice spoke with a 76ers spokesperson on Monday evening, who said the team would not be commenting on the specifics of the GM search. This appears to be the standard reply, as Stein also noted the same on his Twitter feed.

Now, back to the fun stuff.

Yes, that's the same Daryl Morey who just won Executive of the Year, who traded for James Harden and watched him bloom into an NBA MVP, who traded for Chris Paul and turned Houston into a serious threat to win the West in spite of Golden State's dominance. And yes, it's the same Daryl Morey who was once a colleague and mentor to departed Sixers GM Sam Hinkie. To say this one came out of left field is a bit of an understatement.

Recent reports (and comments from owner Joshua Harris) have suggested the Sixers are not shying away from big names in their search. Spurs GM R.C. Buford popped up in a report from the Inquirer's Keith Pompey last week, and he's in power with one of the most consistently excellent organizations in sports. If a guy like that is on the table, it certainly makes sense that they'd kick the tires on Morey. Sam Presti is a name that popped up some in preliminary discussions around the league, sources told PhillyVoice, but that became a tougher sell once Paul George agreed to return to Oklahoma City.

There are a lot of questions that arise from this very barebones report, starting with who did the rebuffing Stein mentions in his tweet. In all likelihood, it was Morey turning down the job because he's in an enviable enough situation. He has the reigning MVP and another all-time great on one team, and though Houston got weaker this summer they'll almost certainly be a threat in the west again next season. Having seen his former protege get unceremoniously bounced from Philly before, Morey could also just have a general distrust of ownership here that would make this a non-starter.

Then again, could we say the same of the situation he finds himself in at his current job? The Rockets lost Trevor Ariza to Phoenix this summer because of a big offer, and Clint Capela remains unsigned as we approach late August for no immediately apparent reason. The Rockets ownership changed hands last September, and we have no real idea of what Tilman Fertitta's desire to spend into the luxury tax is as a result.

The more interesting development, however, is how this contrasts against what the Sixers have said about their preferences in this GM search, and what they've done previously. As a refresher, here's what Joshua Harris told several reporters in Vegas last week about potentially hiring an experienced GM:

I think it would be a plus. I think general manager experience and a track record is a plus. I mean, obviously we've lived through a science project. It had its benefits, but you may not be able to get that, right? Like you may not be able to get it. I think it's a plus, I don't think it's essential. I think the people that do the best are the people that take the existing group of people that they know, and they take an objective look at the people that they're joining, and they try to create the best team. I love that approach.

Morey certainly has the experience, but the idea that he would come here and leave things untouched seems a little off-base. Would someone with the universal respect Morey commands really come to Philadelphia and accept Bryan Colangelo's former staff wholesale? That seems unlikely, particularly since Colangelo uprooted former Rockets colleagues of Morey's when he took over, including former VP of Basketball Ops Sachin Gupta, in order to put his people in place.

Even without those personal connections, Morey is not exactly the name you'd cook up if you wanted someone to be part of a decisionmaking committee vs. having a singular powerful voice at the top of the food chain. The whole reason you go after someone like Morey is because he has an extended track record of success, and in those cases you are bringing the candidate in to impose that on your organization, not hamstring them with barriers and needless hurdles.

On top of that, what does this say about how the organization feels about letting Sam Hinkie go? Effectively pushing him out and then turning to his mentor just a couple years later is a dramatic turn, even if there's a lot of context to go along with that. Morey is not the quintessential "basketball guy" many pined for during the lowest points of Hinkie's tenure, and has been lovingly nicknamed "Dork Elvis" by The Ringer's Bill Simmons for his role in championing the analytics movement.

Granted, Morey has never taken the extreme path Hinkie did to rebuild, and the Rockets found their way to their current state while almost constantly existing in that weird area of NBA purgatory on the fringes of the playoff picture. Whether that was his choice or an ownership mandate is up for debate, but he skinned his cats in a very different way than Hinkie, and so some of their similarities in transactions and cap management are judged very differently as a result.

It should also be said that they're different people with their own strengths and weaknesses, even with the common ties. Morey has always embraced the media game a lot more than Hinkie ever did, and not for nothing but he has a much longer track record of success to point to. Wanting to hire the current Executive of the Year could very well just be about identifying another forward-thinking person with a strong resume, and say nothing about the team's misgivings about how they handled the past.

Still, it's quite a report to chew on, and only adds more intrigue to Philadelphia's pursuit of their next decisionmaker.

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