With the 23rd pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the Sixers select... a 24 year-old guard out of the Memphis Grizzlies, De’Anthony Melton! ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski predicted we’d see a lot of trades, but we didn’t see as much veteran shake up as we might have expected. Melton was one of the bigger names to relocate and the 76ers landed a guard who is already good and has upside to get even better.
Daryl Morey wasn’t allowed to weigh in on specifics, because even though the deal was announced, it wasn’t official. But he did share some fun clues for fans to stew on this summer. So as he joked, he had to give a Jason Giambi-like performance. I’m deeply sorry, I’m just not going to say why I’m sorry.
Our Paul Hudrick was in attendance doing some midnight oil burning at the team’s facility in Camden, New Jersey on a huge night around the NBA. Let’s unpack what little Morey was allowed to share.
“We think we got better tonight. I just want to start by thanking Danny Green. I really wanted to get him (his) fourth ring. But we haven’t seen the last of Danny, and he’s been a warrior for us. I’m not allowed to talk about that, I just realized. [Laughs]. It’s going to be like a Giambi press conference. So we feel like we got better. [Sixers EVP, Communications] Dave Sholler’s putting me on with the media when I can’t talk about anything, so this is great. [Laughs].”
Similar to when Morey said “I’m just riffing, baby,” back in Nov. 2020, not long after selecting Tyrese Maxey and trading for Seth Curry, he may have been feeling some excitement and some relief that the big night was over and he’d mostly accomplished what he’d set out to accomplish. He seemed to be in great spirits, a far cry from the last time we saw him after soul crushing exits.
What he was looking for heading into the night to make team better?
“We’re trying to win now. We’re looking for players who can contribute. We were the No. 1 defense two years ago; we were good last year. We want to make sure we improve that. So if we can get a perimeter defender, maybe for a draft pick, we’d feel very good about that. I think someone like that is someone who can really contribute and be a two-way player. Someone like that would be a really nice addition.”
Morey carefully added in the requisite maybes and hypothetical qualifiers. But you can read between the lines. He liked his team’s defense in 2020-2021. But he knew it wasn’t up to snuff last season. The top two teams in defensive rating last regular season were the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors. Non-coincidentally, those were the two teams who met in the finals. Philadelphia ranked just 12th (110.2 def RTG), and by the time the playoffs rolled around they actually gave up more points per 100 possessions (111.3).
Chances are he reasoned that there was no Matisse Thybulle on the board at pick no. 23. And even if there had been, that wouldn’t have necessarily fixed the Sixers’ spacing issues. So he really wanted a plug-and-play, three-and-D perimeter player. That’s what Melton, who he once drafted in 2018, provided. Morey once described how he thought the Sixers could field a team with switchable two way players who have playoff experience when he acquired George Hill. That dream didn’t work out, but Melton may unlock some of what he hoped to achieve back in 2021.
He explained why rookies may struggle to help a win now team
“Look, it’s really valuable when you give up a pick, but we’re sort of in what we think is a very important window. Obviously we haven’t made it as far as we have wanted to. So we’re looking for more win now. If we can get someone maybe earlier in their career but already contributing and could be here for a long time, that would be great, too.”
Melton at 24, being able to play both ends of the floor, having playoff experience, he ticks a lot of boxes for this team.
De'Anthony Melton just turned 24 last month. He could be part of the Sixers' win-now and win-later window.— Bryan Toporek (@btoporek) June 24, 2022
And he's up for a new contract right when Tobias comes off the books, too.
“We’re excited for free agency. Don’t know how it’ll play out, but Josh [Harris] and David [Blitzer] have given us every ability to do whatever we need to do in free agency to make the team better now. Add hopefully another rotation piece. That’s a little ways away and who knows how it’ll play out. But people want to play here, people love our team, people love playing with Joel [Embiid] love playing with James [Harden] love playing with Tobias [Harris]. We’re optimistic about free agency but have no idea how that one’s going to play out.”
So it’s intriguing he noted another rotation piece in free agency. The team will no doubt be exploring all avenues to improve. If they still wanted a player like P.J. Tucker, they might have to find new homes for a couple smaller-salaried players. Matisse Thybulle, and Furkan Korkmaz would both seem to be on the block. Derek Bodner laid out a way the Sixers could trade those two without taking back salary and open up an exception to target Tucker, specifically. But he notes the financials are very tight.
Morey mentioned free agents want to play with Tobias Harris, but that might be a little awkward considering how often we’ve heard Harris’ name pop up in trade rumors.
So a big question fans have is will the Sixers have a $10M or $6M exception to offer? We didn’t learn the answer to that last night.
How close he thinks they are to competing with the Milwaukee, Boston, Miami, etc.?
“Yeah, those are tough teams. I think we can compete with them, absolutely — all of them. Of the teams you mentioned, I think we’re definitely better than some of them. Some of them, I think they’ve earned the respect; they’re probably better than us. We’ve got to show that we can beat them. But we feel like absolutely, we’re going to play better and add a couple of key pieces, hopefully — in trade and hopefully in free agency. We feel very good about where we’ll be.”
It’s intriguing he thinks they are already better than some of them. I’m not certain of the transcript for this question, but if those were the only three teams mentioned, I’d have to guess he thinks they’re better than the team that ousted them from the playoffs, in the Miami Heat. And here he noted they’ll be looking for “a couple” key pieces, not just Melton.
In need of a wing to replace Danny Green?
“We might need another wing.”
He’s right, preferably one who opposing defenses need to stick to like glue so Harden and Jo have more room to operate.
How much is unsettled, does he have a good idea of how the finished product might look?
“Don’t have a good idea. Look, again, Josh and David are going to let us spend whatever we need to spend. The CBA constrains us in certain ways; sometimes you don’t get everyone you want because of that. But we think mapping it out the best we can with quite a few options — maybe eight to 12 that we think could contribute and might be in the range of what we’re allowed to do — we feel pretty good that we might get someone that’ll contribute and be in our playoff rotation.”
Backup big man?
“I know Coach [Doc] Rivers is very excited with what Paul Reed gave us down the stretch. And generally guys don’t really contribute much in their first year, but [Charles] Bassey was a (G) League champion with the Blue Coats, and then champion runner-up — they’ve got two championships now in the G League; it’s awesome. It’s a long shot on a great, winning team like ours, but the hope is that Bassey could contribute at some point this year. Paul will hopefully build on what he did at the end of last year. Again, we’re going to be opportunistic with a bigger spend in free agency. There will be opportunistic looks, minimum spends. But I think the bar will be high on a minimum spend at the backup center spot because we feel like we’ve got some guys who can contribute.”
Perhaps no issue has highlighted what would appear to be differing basketball paradigms between Morey and Rivers than what they do when Embiid sits.
Morey has suggested on numerous occasions the team try options other than the traditional big on the roster. He’s long been an advocate for small ball and experimentation. But that’s not at all what Rivers has been comfortable with. So when Morey says Bassey is a long shot and they’ll try to be opportunistic with minimum spend deals, he knows he’s putting the fear of god into a fanbase who is still scarred by names like Greg Monroe, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, and how they each fared in pivotal playoff games. Here’s hoping they learn from past front offices and their own very recent mistakes. And here’s hoping that if the fans insist on trying Reed or Bassey next year over this vet minimum recruit, they don’t wait until the last two games to make the key switch.
It’s still a shame they don’t have a young lob threat for James Harden to run PnR with. He and Nic Claxton were so good at that in Brooklyn. Maybe Reed or Bassey can fill that role.
What about young guys and summer league?
“They’re here every day, which has been great for draft.... Coach Rivers does a really good job with putting young players in a development plan, and a lot of opportunity to improve over the offseason and then show what they’ve got in training camp next year.”
Cool, but they may be ready for NBA action months before this coaching staff thinks so. We’re justifiably going to need concrete in-game evidence that a young guy isn’t ready before we trust, after the whole Paul Reed victory tour incident.
How much does he value addressing specific weaknesses vs. just prioritizing good players?
“I generally go for the best player that we can get and then try to figure it out. … If you sort of lock in, ‘We’re going to do X,’ it can lead to missing opportunities and ideas on if you get this player, you can maybe do some other moves to make it all work. So I don’t go in with any preconceived notion.”
I like this thinking. Just because you were out rebounded in a series you lost, for example, doesn’t mean you “need a rebounder.” It may be that you need a player who can force Jimmy Butler to shoot more jump shots and then box him out.
What he looks for in vet minimum salary market?
“I would say there’s a mix. Either a player wants to be on a winning team because they’re at that stage of their life and career, or they’re looking for a clear role. … You’re either selling a winning team or a role. And one nice thing, too, is it’s very easy to sell the city, as well. There are some teams that I wouldn’t want to have to sell, but I’m thrilled to be selling Philadelphia.”
Hello to one of the Martin twins, you’re going to absolutely love this town.
Can he reserve/offer a role for a vet min guy?
“It depends on how the rest of free agency might shake out. I think one good thing about Coach Rivers is people want to play for him because he’s very up front with what role they’ll have, and I think that’s helped us recruit. We’re hopefully after free agency going to be a fairly deep team, so maybe we will have a challenge promising roles. But I do think what balances that is city, winning team, Coach Rivers. I can’t tell you how much when I’m out there, people are like, ‘I want to play for Doc.’ So that’s been very helpful for me.”
I’m scared that Rivers is going to be up front with one of the vet-floor bigs they recruit, promise a big role, and then deliver on that promise no matter the results or matchup.
Jaden Springer update
“I’m glad you asked, because we only talked about Charles, who was last year. But we think he can take a big leap forward. He was also on that championship G League team and runner-up team. Defensively, he’s there. He’s only 19, I think, if my memory serves. He’s defensively an NBA player — (already) there, in my opinion. And then the offense was really coming on strong. He had some injury issues with the G League last year — in and out with sort of a nagging thing that is over. A lot of guys take a huge step forward Year 2. I think we expect that with Jaden.”
Springer to play in Summer League?
Filip Petrusev? Summer league? Coming over?
“I’m just remembering … yeah, Filip will be playing with our team, so we’re excited about that. He had a great year overseas. Played on one of the best teams overseas and played well, so we’ll see what we’ve got there.”
I believe Petrusev was acquired using the last Sam Hinkie pick, from the Willy Hernangomez deal. Shoutout his ‘Hustle’ cameo.
Does he anticipate fairly quick resolution to Harden negotiations?
“Well, we can’t talk yet. I would expect … actually, I don’t know. We’ll have conversations with him. As you guys have heard, it’s a mutual love fest, so we feel like we’ll work it out.”
That’s good to hear. Fans who want a ring in 2023, are still holding out hope that Harden opts out and takes less money at the start. More realistic fans with their heart set on avoiding too much long-term money, are hopeful for max space in 2025.
Might Charlie Brown Jr. earn a role?
“Look, a lot of guys got a chance last year because of COVID and all that, and Charlie really, really helped. He showed he can be a defender; that was a big step for him. … We think he’s got a shot. The nice thing is because of COVID, the two-ways get more of a chance to play; there’s (fewer) rules making it hard. So I could see him getting minutes, for sure.”
Isaiah Joe update?
“Again, he’s got a chance to take a big step forward. He’s going to play with our summer teams and I think show what we can do. Look, we were a deep team, so he didn’t get a ton of (minutes). … He didn’t get as much of a chance as I was hoping he would just given how all the injuries timed last year. So I think he’s got a real chance to show us what he can do, as well.”
Stay tuned, it should be a fun time of year.