September 14, 2022
The Sixers are running it back with Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, and a James Harden that sure seems to be on a mission this summer after re-upping with the team for another two years.
It's been a busy summer trying to finally get the Sixers over the hump, and Morey discussed it all with NBC's John Clark on the latest Takeoff podcast posted Tuesday.
“James, he’s a little later in his career than Joel (Embiid), so I would say as you get farther along you realize each year is precious, each season is even more precious," Morey told Clark (via NBC Sports Philadelphia). He’s done more, I think, than maybe any star player’s ever done to take that much less money. We just got Montrezl Harrell. We couldn’t have done that without both him taking less money and constantly talking to Trez and saying, ‘Hey, let’s rekindle the magic we had in the past.’"
Harden was traded to the Sixers in February and was on the floor immediately even though he came over with a lingering hamstring issue playing for Brooklyn. At first, it didn't seem to be a problem. Harden and the Sixers were electric in the handful of games following the trade, but he noticeably began to slow down in the regular season's final stretch. That carried into the playoffs, which eventually saw the Sixers go home in the second round once again. The 33-year old guard admitted afterward that he wasn't fully healthy for the run.
With the team facing a cap crunch, Harden opted out of his current deal and signed a new two-year contract at a reduced salary to allow the Sixers to go and fill the depth roles they needed. He also made waves throughout the summer with a workout and diet program that showed a renewed commitment to the Sixers' title hopes, highlighted by the viral video of him throwing his birthday cake overboard.
“Look, between the money he gave up and his commitment to the franchise from Day 1 to do what (head coach Doc Rivers) wants … I’m someone who looks at data quite a bit," Morey said. "All the players on the team’s shooting percentages went way up off passes from him. Our team overall was elevated after he came. Joel and James were the No. 1 pick-and-roll combo — really in years. It wasn’t just last season. It just shows the overall impact and how he’s lifting the whole team to help us win a title.”
Of course, with the offseason signings, there is a noticeable trait shared between the three biggest ones. Tucker, House, and Harrell all played for the Morey-built, Harden-led Houston Rockets squads from the past several years, and Embiid said the Sixers were in need of a physical and aggressive presence like Tucker's after they were eliminated from the postseason by Miami. It all led credence to the joke, and concern, that Morey is trying to recreate those Houston teams in Philly that already fell short of the NBA Finals numerous times.
"We’ve added a lot of people who’ve worked both with Doc and myself in the past,” Morey said. “Trez, everyone likes to make fun of the fact that we have a lot of former Rockets, but Trez had his best years under Doc — Sixth Man of the Year (in 2019-20) — and he really flourished after that Chris Paul trade that brought him to the Clippers and working with (assistant coach) Sam Cassell… It’s never like a one-to-one thing. It’s really like, here’s the array of opportunities. I try to go in without a specific thing like, ‘We have to have X.’ And in fact, the Montrezl Harrell signing was one we didn’t think would maybe happen. So we were comfortable going in with what we had. We thought that if there was an issue, we could address it during the season… I would guess it’d come more in February or so. So you look at all the opportunities.
“I have discussions with our front office, with Coach Rivers, with ownership, and yes, also with our top players. When the top players are involved and see the range of options, and then see why we’re making the decisions we make, they feel more invested. They feel more a part of everything. It’s just a smart way to get everyone in the boat together. And so when they see all those options, yeah, there might be, like, ‘Hey, I could use a pick-and-roll partner. Montrezl Harrell could do that.’ Or we looked at other players who were better at maybe spacing the floor. ‘OK, if I don’t have a pick-and-roll partner, I could use a spacer who might open up lanes for me.’ So it’s more that than specific players." [NBCSP]
The Sixers will open the 2022-23 NBA season on October 18 in Boston against the Eastern Conference champion Celtics, but before that, they'll start their preseason stretch October 3 at Brooklyn.
You can check out the full conversation between Morey and Clark below.
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