I, for one, am completely shocked to find myself in a position to be able to write a piece about Daryl Morey, Sixers President of Basketball Operations.
After Morey sprung free from his 13-year partnership with the Houston Rockets, and then weeks went by with nary a whisper of any substantial interest in the exec on Philly’s end, I was sure that ship had sailed. The Sixers brass had spent the offseason leaking reports about how empowered General Manager Elton Brand finally was, and how big bad analytics were solely responsible for the team’s recent run of awful personnel decisions. I was especially resigned to Josh Harris and company passing on Morey once reports emerged that Peter Dinwiddie and Prosper Karangwa had been hired to key roles in the front office, just as Alex Rucker had been banished to a utility closet somewhere deep within the team’s Camden facility.
And then, of course, came the Wednesday Woj bomb that sent shockwaves through the Tri-State area.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Harris and David Blitzer ponied up both the capital and autonomy to lure one of the best executives in the NBA into an imperfect situation. The order of operations is fittingly muddled — why hire Karangwa and Dinwiddie while Morey was a free agent rather than wait to allow him to bring in his own people? Why deride analytics in public discourse while courting the most analytically-driven executive in league history?
My guess is that the two executive hires were made with assurances from Morey that these were two guys he liked. Reports suggest that the Sixers had been in contact with Morey since he stepped down from his post in Houston, so hiring two ancillary pieces with whom he wasn’t comfortable likely wouldn’t equal a happy ending. The analytics-blaming is most likely some veiled Alex Rucker-muckraking. Rucker was essentially the head of the team’s analytics department, and he seems to have taken the fall for the comedy of errors that have plagued the front office in recent years.
More will now fall into place. He will likely reshuffle a few things in the organizational structure, Brand will stay on as GM, Rucker will be excised completely. (Editor’s Note: News broke yesterday of Brand receiving an extension and Rucker and the team parting ways.)
After that, it will be high time for Morey to get to work on this misshapen roster. With reports indicating that the 2020-21 season could begin as early as December 22, and only just over two weeks until the NBA draft, Morey has limited time to maximize the team’s current personnel in his image. No executive in the league has executed more trades than Morey since he came into power. He tinkers on the edges, does his best to find value, and has a penchant for chasing that elusive ring, if stars are in place.
As it’s rather commonplace in the league for coaches and executives to reunite with players they formerly worked with, here are five trade-machine-generated moves that Morey could make to reacquire former players of his.
(Note: each following trade was made via TradeNBA)
1. Al Horford + 2020 2nd Round Pick (via LAL) for Patrick Beverley
This trade has the Sixers acquiring a player with experience playing underneath both Morey and new head coach Doc Rivers. In January of 2013, Morey signed Beverley to a multi-year deal which, at first, had the guard playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers — Houston’s Developmental League team. Beverley then made a name for himself over four years in Houston, before being sent to the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade in 2017.
Why the Sixers do it: In this trade, the Sixers take a step towards balancing the top-heavy roster by swapping out a big for a guard. They admit their mistake on the Horford contract, and acquire a tenacious defender at the guard position in Beverley. He is also a willing 3-point shooter, as he has attempted at least four per game in six of his eight years in the NBA.
Why the Clippers do it: After rumblings of discontent emerged following the disappointing semifinals exit for the 2019-20 Clippers, the team seems primed to swap out some of its longer-tenured players for pieces more in the image of stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Guys like Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Howard (either via free agency or a sign-and-trade) are likely to be on the move. The Clippers brass also has reportedly identified a weak spot at the center position, and could pursue a tested veteran and good locker-room guy like Horford to fill out their starting lineup. Just for good measure, the Sixers throw in the #58 pick in the draft, which the Clippers can either package with its own late pick (#57) to move higher in the second round, use as a flier on a prospect, or trade for cash in these uncertain COVID times. While this would leave a hole in the Clips’ point guard rotation, The New York Times’ Mark Stein has already reported last week that LA has legitimate interest in signing Rajon Rondo in free agency.
2. Al Horford + the OKC Pick for Eric Gordon and Robert Covington
Before he was a hero of The Process, Robert Covington was a discovery of Daryl Morey and the Rockets, as a young Covington learned to weaponize his 3-point aptitude in volume with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Last season, the Sixers were one of the teams rumored to be vying for RoCo’s services before losing out to Morey and Houston.
As for Eric Gordon, Morey first signed the shooting guard as a free agent in 2016, where he became a long-range bomber for the Rockets.
Why the Sixers do it: They get off of Horford, for one. They add a player in Gordon who’s on a similarly distasteful contract (that actually runs a year longer than Al’s). The team would be betting on positive regression to Gordon’s 3-point numbers, as he plummeted to only 31 percent from 3 and a staggering 36 percent from the field this past year. Gordon is a more-than-willing shooter, as he has fired away more than eight per game in each season with Houston. He certainly has the mindset the Sixers are striving for with new pieces around Simmons and Embiid. In Covington, the Sixers would be adding another above-average defender who’s already extremely well-liked in the locker-room. Covington has the positional versatility the Sixers tend to value on the defensive end, and he’s a willing and able shooter from deep, as well. The OKC pick is tough to give up (and probably the reason the Sixers ultimately say no to this in reality), but it’s the price of adding Covington along with Gordon, combined with Horford’s current negative value.
Why the Rockets do it: New Rockets GM Rafael Stone trades with his old boss here because he finds the ‘microball’ strategy that the team employed under Morey towards the end of his tenure untenable. The team would then get off of the Gordon contract, while acquiring a center they feel both defends and shoots well enough to play alongside James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Covington becomes less essential to them as they shift away from employing his unique defensive gifts in the role of starting center. Houston would be thrilled to acquire a first-rounder in the deal, as the team currently does not have a first-round selection until 2022.
The Process was never over. Celebrate a return to roots with BreakingT’s new Still Processing t-shirt here.
3. Josh Richardson for Lou Williams
Now remarkably entering his 16th season in the league, Williams is of course familiar to Sixers fans for playing his first seven seasons in the NBA with Philly. Only briefly in Houston after he was acquired midseason in 2017, Williams was re-routed to the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade the following summer.
Why the Sixers do it: This is basically the Sixers acknowledging what they have lots of and where they could improve. Richardson is a good defender and a subpar offensive player, while Williams is a poor defender but a maestro in the pick-and-roll, and instant offense whenever he takes the court. The Sixers need more offensive output and utility from its guards, which Williams would certainly provide. His act has infamously dried up in the playoffs, but if the Sixers count on him to run the offense in spurts throughout the regular season, he would certainly be helpful. The bet here, though, is that the Sixers could ultimately do better in exchange for Richardson.
Why the Clippers do it: As I mentioned previously, the Clippers seem destined to clear out some of their longer-tenured players this offseason. Here they would acquire a winning player who does the dirty work in J-Rich. They also may see him as a candidate for an extension with the team, depending on what happens with the Leonard and George contracts following the ‘21 season. Perhaps they gift the Sixers Terance Mann in an effort to seal the deal.
4. Al Horford, Josh Richardson + 2nd Round Pick (via ATL) for Kyle Lowry
Sixers fans know Lowry not only for being a remarkably irritating player to face off against, but as one of Philly’s best success stories. The Villanova alum was acquired by Daryl Morey all the way back in 2009 in a three-team deal from the Memphis Grizzlies. While he didn’t blossom in Houston — he endured a few injuries and clashed with then-head coach Kevin McHale — the point guard was traded to Toronto in 2012, where he would go on to become a perennial All-Star, the greatest player in team history, and an NBA Champion, all while rooting for the Eagles.
Why the Sixers do it: Lowry is really good at pretty much everything. Good passer, good scorer, good defender. He’s a culture-setter and true leader in the NBA. Once again, in this deal the Sixers move off of Horford, and include Richardson to sweeten the pot. The Sixers are able to hold onto their first round pick due to Lowry’s age (34) and his expiring contract. Lowry’s skillset and character would vastly enhance the careers of both Embiid and Simmons.
Why the Raptors do it: This would be a pivot by Toronto General Manager Masai Ujiri, who is due to lose mainstays Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet in free agency next month. In Horford, the Raps obtain a solid defensive center who pairs nicely with star Pascal Siakam in the frontcourt. They also grab a good culture fit in Richardson, with whom they could certainly strike a long-term pact. Unable to procure a first-rounder in the deal, they settle for a high second round pick (#34). I’m unsure how much a part of the deal this might be, but this could also be layered with the Raptors doing right by the most important player in the franchise’s history, and allowing Kyle to bookend his accomplished career back home in Philadelphia.
5. Al Horford, OKC Pick to Sacramento, Mike Scott, Zhaire Smith, Buddy Hield to Oklahoma City, Chris Paul to Philadelphia
Full disclosure: I deserve zero points for originality for this trade, as I’ve lifted it from a recent episode of the Hoop Collective podcast, wherein ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Tim Bontemps, and Tim MacMahon bandied about the possibility of Chris Paul winding up in Philly, and Bontemps submitted this trade for discussion. Paul, of course, was acquired by Daryl Morey in 2017 and played two seasons with the Rockets — the first of which seemed destined to end in a championship title, as the Rockets took a 3-2 lead over the gargantuan Golden State Warriors. Then Paul got hurt and missed the rest of the series, which the Rockets went on to lose. The relationship between Paul and Harden soured following the 2018 season, which led to Harden and Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta pushing Morey to move Paul and a bevy of first-round picks in exchange for Russell Westbrook.
Why the Sixers do it: Because Chris Paul is incredibly good, and is the best player the team could reasonably obtain without breaking up Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The Sixers desperately need an elite perimeter player to run the offense, and the trio of Paul, Simmons and Embiid would have a championship ceiling. I’ve seen Sixers fans online respond to this proposal with: “Why wouldn’t the Sixers just do Horford + the OKC pick for Hield??” The reason would be that Chris Paul is worlds’ more impactful a basketball player than Buddy Hield. Sure, Hield’s shooting would help the Sixers. But Paul’s shooting, passing, defense, leadership and overall scoring would help much more! He is coming off a season when he scored more, and more efficiently, in the clutch than any other player in the NBA.
Of course, there is a reason that Paul is attainable in the first place. He is old (35), has sustained multiple injuries in the past, and is on an extremely large contract for two more seasons. Those are all fair concerns, but none of them are reason enough to walk away from this deal. If Chris Paul wasn’t somewhat of a distressed asset, the Sixers would have no chance at acquiring him. In this trade, the Sixers get off of Horford (have you noticed a theme?) and attach only one first-round pick to procure an All-NBA player who fits positionally with the exact skillset the team desperately needs. Personality-wise, Paul has been a persnickety sort in the past, but the Sixers should trust in the stewardship of Doc Rivers and the way Embiid took to Jimmy Butler’s personality as reasons to persist.
Why the Kings do it: The Kings are in a tough spot with their roster. Prior to last season, they extended sharpshooter Buddy Hield with a four-year deal averaging $24 million annually, and then head coach Luke Walton benched him midseason in favor of Bogdan Bogdanovic. Now, Bogdanovic is due for an extension of his own, and Hield is reportedly ignoring Walton’s texts. The two parties seem destined for a breakup. They are also searching for a veteran center to help finally lift the franchise back into the playoff picture. Enter Al Horford. They also grab #21 overall in the upcoming draft for their trouble, all of which comprises a pretty good deal for a player they basically need to move.
Why the Thunder do it: It’s easy to forget due to his incredible season, but it was not long ago that the combination of Chris Paul’s contract and his injury history gave him such low value that a smart GM (Morey) needed to attach multiple first-round picks to trade him for a far inferior player (Westbrook). Fast forward 18 months, after Paul earned himself an All-NBA selection and vaulted the Thunder to the 5th seed in the West, and it seems that now is the right time for OKC and Sam Presti to flip Paul without having to pay any extra.
There are copious reports suggesting that, now, the Thunder are inclined to rebuild and fully hand over the keys of the franchise from Paul to budding standout Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. In this deal, the Thunder wipe Paul from their cap sheet without needed to attach an asset or consume another unsightly contract in the process. Instead, the Thunder bring in Buddy Hield — who not too long ago was an Oklahoman star in his own right in college — on a brand new long-term contract. Hield is only 27, so he’s not misaligned with the timeline of the Thunder’s current nucleus. Also in the deal are Mike Scott (to make the money work) and a lottery ticket in Zhaire Smith. Smith’s pro career has been riddled with mishaps out of the guard’s control, unfortunately, but the Thunder seem like the right spot to give him some minutes and see if he could stick.