March 26, 2021
Just hours after the close of the 2021 NBA trade deadline, Daryl Morey took to Zoom to chat with reporters about Philadelphia's eventful (and somewhat anti-climatic) day that culminated in their trade for George Hill. It's a move they believe solidifies a team already sitting at the top of the East, and though Morey conceded they may not be the favorites in their own conference, the Sixers head toward the playoffs confident they have a shot to go all the way.
"I think Brooklyn's gonna go into these playoffs the favorite. But I think we're right there," Morey said Thursday. "I don't think there's really a clear favorite in the league. I think, you know, there's probably five, probably five or six teams that have an extremely good chance to win it, and we're one of them. And that's where you like to be."
What else did Morey have to share? I'm glad you asked.
There is always a clear goal in mind when building around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons: get shooters on the floor. But that can be an oversimplification at times, as the Sixers learned the hard way during Simmons' rookie year. Put shooters who can't defend around them, and they're drawing dead against teams who can force switches (there are a lot of those).
In George Hill, Morey believes they have found someone who can help them continue defending at a high level without sacrificing the floor spacing they covet for their two best players.
"Defensively was hugely important. We feel like if we're gonna win that title, we have to be the best defense in the league," Morey said Thursday night. "And right now, I think we're number two, I believe we're going to finish the season number one. We felt like George solidified that. Teams often will attack your weakest defender on the floor, and we had quite a few lineups where there was an option for the other team to attack. So I would say probably, in terms of relative to our team, defense was probably [selling point] one."
"But it's very important that if you put a defender on our floor, especially with Joel and Ben, that that player can shoot, that player can be safe with the ball. George has always been a guy who's extremely safe with the ball makes the right play."
It was not lost on Philadelphia's front office that they acquired a guy who has been through numerous playoff battles over the years, and they are familiar with Hill through members of the organization who were already in place. Morey name-checked executive Peter Dinwiddie, who left the Pacers for the Sixers in the offseason, as a guy who knew Hill from back in his Pacers days. Defensive coordinator Dan Burke, who Morey listed as a critical component of their success this season, also saw his time overlap with Hill during his long run on the Pacers' bench, with Hill playing a role on the Indiana team that challenged the "Heatles" era Miami team led by LeBron James.
There is some uncertainty over Hill's status coming in, due to a thumb injury he opted for surgery for while with the Thunder. Though Philadelphia's medical team has yet to look at Hill, Morey said his understanding is that the procedure Hill underwent this year should ensure he doesn't have to deal with it moving forward.
"He's obviously going to be full-tilt by the playoffs," Morey said. "I don't say that because he won't be back earlier, but our medical staff hasn't had a chance to evaluate him yet. But our understanding is his time back is measured in...I don't want to give a timeline. But it's not long."
In the process of talking up his new man, Morey also made sure to show some love to his head coach, who he claims will have full say over whether Hill is a starter or bench player for these Sixers. For the more defensive-minded approach Morey is talking up, Hill taking Seth Curry's place in the starting lineup would make them an insanely tough group on defense, though it feels rather unlikely they would remove the team's best shooter to make that happen.
"I challenge you to find a player on the team not playing at their best of their career," Morey said. "Doc's done an amazing job, he's gonna decide those things. My job is just to add the talent and the players and let Doc decide what's best. But I think he has options. I think he can go a whole bunch of different ways and all of them should be pretty strong and hard to beat in a seven-game series."
Sam Hinkie must have been rolling over in
his grave Silicon Valley listening to Daryl Morey say "optionality" over and over again without a crusty beat writer complaining that he made up the word. The nerve of this guy!
Flexibility coming out of this deadline, though, was a key for Morey like it was for the former Sixers exec (and Morey protege) when he was running a much different sort of show. Morey couldn't comment on Kyle Lowry directly without risking a fine from the NBA, but he did note that keeping their options open in the future was important for them during this deadline period.
"We're very excited about the option we ended up with," Morey said. "We took an option that we thought really upgraded our team this year on both ends, and at the same time kept all our optionality alive in the future if George Hill becomes an integral part of this team. We think he will, we have the option to keep him and not have him go to free agency. We also kept all our important assets to upgrade the team going forward. So we felt good about this option, it allows us to really upgrade the team for the playoff wars to come, and at the same time keep all our bullets if an option in the future becomes available."
This was reflected in a lot of the chatter coming out of the organization in the weeks leading into the deadline. They got much closer to acquiring Lowry than they believed they would a couple of weeks prior — Philadelphia was initially under the impression the Raptors wouldn't be open for business at all — but they were preparing for a quieter deadline than most on the outside were projecting. "Seller's market" was a term tossed around liberally, noting that there were only so many high-level players available.
"We felt like there really were only two to three [options], with George being one of those. That feels like less than normal," Morey said Thursday. "Yeah, it does feel like there were less things we were focused on. But part of that's like, it's just really hard to upgrade a team that's on pace to win, you know, in a normal year, 55 to 65 games. Like, that's not easy to find upgrades generally."
Who might those bullets be saved for down the road? The Sixers obviously aren't going to go there yet, but Bradley Beal is likely to be the next big name on the market sometime over the next year, and the Wizards had shown no interest in moving him prior to this deadline. Ditto Zach LaVine in Chicago, who looks even less likely to move now following their trade for Nikola Vucevic on deadline day. With no young-ish stars out there, Philadelphia was faced with what ended up being an easy choice — pay a huge sticker price for Lowry or settle for a more modest upgrade.
They opted for the latter, preserving their depth and their pick collection to fight now and fight later. Making the move the Sixers did Thursday does not mean they sat on their hands, or that they weren't interested in a league-altering move, Morey says, but that they couldn't find the sweet spot between short and long term planning.
"I look a lot at championship probability, and so it really comes down to 'this move will increase our odds to win the title this year a certain amount, but, you know, we'll give up stuff that will lower odds in the future,' and we try to try to balance that," Morey said. "I think Doc, and Elton and myself, we're hoping to have a very long run here, and we have some amazing players in their prime. So what I'm trying to do is maximize our chance of winning the title over that window, with more weight this year."
"So if there's a move that ups our odds a little bit more this year, but really hurts our odds in the future, then that doesn't make sense...if it's a move that ups our odds a decent amount, but doesn't affect our future odds, then that's a move that looks pretty interesting. And so I think this move very materially increased our championship odds, and also kept our ones in the future preserved at a very high level."
And in case you've missed the 50 times Morey and the head coach have said it this season, they like this group a lot.
"We feel like we have 12 guys you can put out on the floor in a playoff series, which is obviously more than we're gonna play," Morey said Thursday night. "So we have some injury protection, we have some optionality, different ways we can play. So we feel pretty good about where we are, ready for the playoffs and the rest of the season."
The Sixers only moved one guy currently in the rotation on Thursday, with Tony Bradley heading to Oklahoma City as a part of the deal. That means, as Morey alluded to above, that spots on the floor are tough to find in Philadelphia. Could that hurt them on the buyout market?
Maybe. Morey noted it was a bit early to make any proclamations about the buyout market, which will shake out over time as players, teams, and agents weigh priorities for the final stretch of the season. Philadelphia's president noted that his preference is always to go with the best player available when you're looking to fill the final spot on the roster, but he was transparent about their best chance to lure a helpful player.
"I think the buyout market is often a conversation about opportunity and role, and we have probably more opportunity at that big spot, so I would expect a buyout would probably be more big, if we do any at all, we'd be more big," Morey said. "That said, we feel we feel good with Joel, Dwight can obviously play the five, more of a traditional five. Doc, if he chooses can put unique lineups on the floor with Ben and Tobias and Mike Scott. So, you know, we feel good about where we're at. But if you know, if a buyout comes along, it'd be more likely big."
Stay tuned on this one.
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