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November 03, 2020

If you're expecting Sixers trades, Daryl Morey cautions they might have to wait

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22_Tobias_Harris_Sixers_76ersvsCeltics_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Sixers forward Tobias Harris.

If you spent any amount of time watching the 2019-20 Sixers, you're probably sick of seeing this group together. No one sane could blame you. After opening last season with sky-high expectations and a lot of smart people picking them to win the title, they sputtered to a first-round exit, with lots of injuries, turnovers, and double post-ups along the way.

In steps Daryl Morey, the most active executive in the league. But if you're expecting him to make a trade for the sake of making one before the season begins, think again.

"One thing I think organizations make mistakes is they try to make sure the roster is perfect on Game 1. The players who are going to thrive under Doc and how Doc utilizes them is going to teach Elton and I a lot about how best to fit the players around them," Morey said during his introductory presser Monday. 

"If there's a great opportunity, obviously we're going to do it early. We've got some important windows coming up with the draft and free agency and also there before we play our first game. But the main thing is, you want to do great moves when they are available. But often the best move is not a move that is done right away. We want to increase our understanding before we start to make those moves."

There are three ways to interpret this quote:

  1. This is what Morey genuinely believes. And the simplest explanation might be the correct one — the Sixers didn't lure him and Doc Rivers to Philly because neither guy believed in the talent on hand. 
  2. Morey is sending a clear public message to opposing executives. Yes, he's the guy who was brought here to shake things up and get this thing right, but he's not going to get squeezed into a deal he doesn't believe in for the sake of making one.
  3. He's preparing the fanbase for the distinct possibility they can't find a good/fair deal for one of their big-money players, like Tobias Harris or Al Horford, before the season starts.

The truth is in a combination of all three ideas. The Sixers aren't going to make a deal just to make one, they want their fanbase to be prepared for that, and yes, it would benefit them to see what they have under a new regime before they throw the baby out with the bathwater. It's not the sexy or satisfying approach for anyone who wants shiny new toys right this second, but it could end up being the right one.

As has been said many times before, the Sixers were an elite home team last season and were undercut by their poor road record, which suggests there's a high-level team in there waiting to be pulled out. That's part of the bet they made changing head coaches at all, let alone upgrading as they did to Doc Rivers. From his opening press conference onward, Rivers has stressed that he believes they have what it takes to win on hand already.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in his shared thoughts on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Rivers is making an attempt to change the messaging on this duo — it's not that they can't win together, he says, they just haven't won together yet, an important distinction. 

"They’ve won 65 percent of the games they’ve played, right, so it clearly works when they play together," Rivers said at his opening presser. "I don’t care how we score, my teams have always been very good offensively, in the top five overall, and we score points. We score points in a lot of different ways. We have Ben who can score points, we have Joel, we have Tobias, we have Shake, we have Josh, this team is loaded with talent. We just have to figure out how to make it work the best. But as I go back just looking at the numbers, when those two play together, they win 65 percent of the games they play in. That’s a good thing."

"I spent a lot of time with Red Auerbach, who used to tell me and drill it in my head, if they can't do it, don't do it. Stay away from it. Do something else. Create an action. If you're not a great shooting team, create more movement. Increase your speed. Play from different spots...You have to be the best version of you, and not apologize for that. This team has great size, great athleticism, great multi-positional players."

Morey's belief in Rivers is not inauthentic. He wanted to bring Rivers to the Houston Rockets before he left town, and Morey signing on to lead the Sixers after Rivers became head coach says a lot about the respect he has for him. It's not the usual order of operations you see in pro sports, though it's made easier when it's a respected pro like Rivers.

It helps that Rivers has a track record with at least one of the players Philly could look to trade at some point. Tobias Harris' best ever stretch came under Rivers in L.A., and even if the Sixers end up wanting (or at least trying) to move on from him at some point, an uptick in production under Rivers would be good for the Sixers on multiple levels, whether you're talking on-court success or trade viability.

"I loved him. I loved coaching him. I like that he's a multi-positional player," Rivers said of his previous work with Harris. "He's a big 3, he's a quick 4, that's how we used him a lot in LA. We kept moving him back and forth to different spots. I love his shot, has a great in-between game, which is sometimes lost in today's game, and I think he's a terrific straight-line driver. We have to just get him into positions to be able to do that."

Throughout the opening presser, Morey dropped more hints about the work ahead of the collective brain trust running the team, referencing a litany of 10-hour meetings expected to take place in the coming days. Touching on the draft, Morey acknowledged the scattershot nature of preparing for a draft five months after it normally takes place, without the usual unfiltered access to workouts, interviews, etc. of a normal year, and that's all true before you change teams (and thus, priorities) with weeks to go before the big night.

Between the four men on stage Monday, it was an exercise in cautious optimism. Every positive claim was accompanied by an acknowledgment of the work ahead and the struggles of the organization to this point. They do not embark on this journey blind to the challenge.

But everything said so far suggests the Sixers are in no rush to get things sorted. It's the message they want other teams, their fans, and even their own players to hear, two months out from potentially suiting up together again.

“I hope you’ll at least give me a few minutes to be here," Morey said on Monday. "I’m still learning. I do think we have a very, very good roster. Our championship team probably isn’t going to have the same exact players that we have now. Do I think that the players that we have right now are very good and we can build around and continue to grow? I do believe that, absolutely. But we’re going to have to continue to improve, that’s Elton and my job. And we’ll see. 

"But to know exactly who’s going to work, at least give us until Day 2 when I have a full meeting with Elton’s staff.”

We can at least give him that.

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