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May 17, 2023

The key takeaways from Daryl Morey's season-ending press conference

Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey gave his end-of-the-season presser on Wednesday. These are the key takeaways.

Three days after his team got launched to the moon in Game 7 and one day after he recommended the firing of head coach Doc Rivers, Daryl Morey sat down with reporters to give his take on where the team is at, where they could be heading, and why things broke down the way they did.

From that 25-minute meeting, here were the things I found most interesting and/or important.

The Sixers want James Harden to return

Doc Rivers was the first and biggest domino to fall in the Sixers' offseason, with the head coach serving as Philadelphia's first blood sacrifice ahead of a wild offseason. And if nothing else was clear in Daryl Morey's press conference on Wednesday, it was that the second step of the process involves getting James Harden back in the fold and committed to the team over the long term.

"We can't have those discussions yet, but we are interested in bringing him back," Morey said Wednesday. 

"We have to remember there's like 26 teams that would rather have our roster because we're starting with the MVP of the league. The draft lottery yesterday was hoping to get a top pick to hope that player becomes as good as the MVP of the league. We start in a great spot, and we have a lot of free agents, so we're going to lose some free agents. There's some key ones we'd like to bring back, but we feel good about the alternate scenarios as well. Scenario A would be to bring James back. Scenario B, if he's not back, we'll have to get creative, and we feel good about the tools available to us if that happens."

The frustration of Harden's playoff run was the proof he offered for his believers and doubters alike, sparking two different second-round victories with brilliant performances while fading into obscurity for most of the other five games.

Morey could not get into contract talk ahead of the free-agency process, but he suggested that the Sixers basically know what the road ahead entails, and his press conference coincided with a report from Bleacher Report's Chris Haynes on Harden's summer decision-making:

Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden intends to decline his $35.6 million player option to become an unrestricted free agent this summer in order to secure a long-term deal, league sources tell Bleacher Report. 

Harden, 33, took a sizable pay cut last offseason to help the Sixers build the roster out. The guard will now be seeking a four-year contract.


The Houston Rockets have long been a rumored destination, but sources say Harden will only entertain suitors that present a competitive roster and the basketball freedom for the star to be himself, sources say. [B/R]

"Four-year contract" is not "four-year max" for anyone reading that closely, and the financial details of that long-term commitment are likely to be the most important piece of the deal.

The head coaching search could take a while

While Morey was quick to shower praise on Rivers for the work he did in Philadelphia, he suggested that some of the coaching search urgency stems from where the market stands today.

"We're taking a careful process with the coach, we do not think it will move quickly," Morey said. "We're going to look at all the candidates, we're already very encouraged by the candidates that reached out. We have an MVP player, we have a great roster that lots of players want to play with, lots of coaches want to be with."

Notably, Morey said that his star players would not have a "direct input" on who the next head coach would be, a fairly significant detail with the rumors that are out there regarding Harden's desire for more freedom from the next head coach. 

Up to this point, the bulk of Philadelphia's known candidate pool is comprised of seasoned veterans in the lead chair, the lone exception being Sixers assistant Sam Cassell. It appears safe to say that while the Sixers are keeping their options open, they are focused more on head coaches with high-level experience and championship equity to present to the players, with Morey putting a premium on proven winners.

"It's a factor," Morey said. "Definitely not a litmus test, but all else equal, I do think that can lend a lot of credibility to players, like hey, I just did this. I think that matters. It's why adding like a P.J. Tucker last year is also a positive. 'Hey, when I just did this with Milwaukee, these were some of the key elements.' I know that gave him a lot of voice in the locker room."

One interesting bit from the coaching section — while Rivers came under fire for what he lacked in terms of the moment-to-moment tactical stuff, Morey said Wednesday that the X's and O's are only one small part of what makes a good coach.

"I actually think people put too much importance on that, like it ends up being a much smaller part of the game than people expect," Morey said. "Relative to you know, working with star players, recruiting star players, things like that. It is an important element, but it tends to get can only be one part of the puzzle."

The future is as murky as you'd think

One thing that has connected the offseasons of the last half-decade, even with different folks running the team, has been a clarity on what needs to come next. The Sixers needed to get tougher, or trade Ben Simmons, or fire this coach, or add younger, athletic rotation guys, and so on down the line. 

This is the first time that the path forward has felt so murky, in part because it was the star players who failed Philadelphia when it counted. It's hard to pinpoint a specific secondary move that would push the Joel Embiid/Harden combo to new heights, save for a drastic, major move that shakes up the core entirely.

And Morey conceded this while fielding questions about the team's needs this offseason, noting that some (if not most) of their improvements have to come from within.

"I think last year was a little more straightforward, especially the two-way player part," Morey said. "We do have some normal improvements that are coming this year. Maxey we think has a real shot to be one of the top players in the league. He is absolutely committed to putting the work in as we know, so I think that's an area that's pretty exciting. And then Joel Embiid, as you've seen, I wouldn't bet against him improving. He's done it every year since I've been here, he's done I believe every year before I got here." 

You're certainly entitled to skepticism regarding a big internal leap from this team. A head coach with a fresh perspective and the ability to tie together the different pieces of this organization could leave a sizable imprint, but we've thought the same in the past about structural changes to the roster and new voices in positions of power. It has not pushed Philadelphia any further in the playoffs or allowed Joel Embiid to play better when it matters, the latter of which is the most pressing concern right now.

(On that last subject — Morey essentially suggested that the Sixers needed to get Embiid "high-intensity defensive looks" during the regular season in order to prepare him for the gauntlet of looks teams throw at him in the playoffs. I'm not sure what that looks like, or how much more intense the regular season could be on a guy who is at the top of every Sixers scouting report as the league MVP. Maybe he just needs to be better.)

While the Sixers have been able to extract good value on the margins during Morey's tenure, the fanbase has entered the show, don't tell of this cycle, needing to see something out of the team in order to buy in once again. If you were hoping for Morey to lay down the hammer and solve all their problems with a presser, you came to the wrong guy. So all eyes will turn to the coaching search, as everyone looks for a source of hope in a situation where most of the main players will probably remain in place.

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