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Roundtable: Evaluating Daryl Morey’s tenure with the Sixers

Morey has been the Sixers general manager for nearly three years. How has he performed?

Philadelphia 76ers Introduce James Harden

President of basketball operations Daryl Morey is almost three years into his tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s worked three offseasons, three trade deadlines and three regular seasons. As the 2023 offseason concludes and James Harden’s trade request still looms, the Sixers appear at a crossroads of the Joel Embiid Era, with Morey responsible for navigating all of it and trying to maximize this team’s competitive window behind Embiid’s greatness.

For numerous reasons, Morey is a divisive figure throughout the league and particularly among Sixers fans, who desperately want the team to finally overcome that second-round hump and rightfully expect Morey to help the team achieve that.

Nearing the three-year anniversary of his hiring, I solicited insights from a few of my Liberty Ballers colleagues to grade Morey’s efforts in Philadelphia thus far. Thank you to David Early, Dan Volpone, Harrison Grimm and Bryan Toporek for graciously lending me their time and words.

David Early

Grade: B-

I’m going with a B- here because I think Morey’s job is largely still incomplete. Full disclosure, I thought there was an argument to be made that Morey was the best executive in the game when he arrived back in 2020. I think his gap over the field has continued to narrow over the years to where he’s still probably a top-five executive. Finding Tyrese Maxey doesn’t hurt.

As high as I am on Morey, it’s difficult to not be pretty disappointed with how this has played out in Philadelphia.

Did he ever offer Sacramento the same type of package for Tyrese Haliburton that he offered Brooklyn for Harden (i.e. Ben Simmons, two firsts, Andre Drummond, one of Seth Curry or Matisse Thybulle, but without including Tobias Harris)? Could he have rerouted Simmons to Atlanta or Indiana if Sacramento preferred?

My guess is he never did and that deeply bothers him in secret. Could De’Aaron Fox have been a clean add while saving the picks? But I would have held out for Harden at the time myself, too. So, I’m not killing him on the process of acquiring The Beard, nor am I lobbying any fancy “he was always obsessed with Harden or recreating the old Houston Rocketsyarns because I’m sure he would have preferred names like Damian Lillard or Jaylen Brown. Harden was just the only star available at the time, and likely took his pay cut specifically for buds P.J. Tucker and Danuel House. I’m still disappointed they didn’t try to trade Harris for Beal earlier this offseason. Explain that to me someone, please.

The Harden thing, and the potential for Embiid to ask for a trade in the next 12 months may make some of you feel a B- is way too generous. I think it’s a tricky exercise because the truth is we’re still largely incomplete here.

But man, I cannot shake this creepy feeling. My overarching sense here is that Morey sold (checks messy crayon pie charts) 11 percent of his soul coming to Philadelphia in the first place.

Before he was a Sixer he already knew his former assistant Sam Hinkie was once given (in Morey’s words to Bill Simmons, 2018) “ownership support there to execute on [The Process] and part of the plan was to not be as out there [media wise] ... if [Hinkie knew] that he didn’t have the support that he thought he had [from Josh Harris and co.] I’m sure he would have been out there more.”

Before he was ever hired by Josh Harris, the new owner of the Washington Commanders, Morey spoke openly (to Spike Eskin and Mike Levin, 2020) about how “[unlike Hinkie’s plan to exclusively focus on building an all-time great team] ... unfortunately this job ... the best thing for the team is [the GM] just surviving into the future just so that you can continue to make moves.”

So, you’re working for some notoriously fickle folks here and want to do what it takes to keep your job. With all of that context and more in mind, he took the $50 million knowing how much this management group values collaboration. Doc Rivers was hired before Morey and apparently needed to sign off on Morey’s hiring. Much of the disappointment I’ve felt in Morey here could potentially be chalked up to him needing to play nice with a coach who the game had passed by circa de 2018 as well as some owners who loved that coach. And before you yell at me for giving him a pass by blaming others, I’m not. I’m viewing all of that antiquated bullshit (from the Simmons-Dwight Howard lineups to the DeAndre Jordan and Montrezl Harrell debacles, to the stagnant, uncreative offenses) as falling under Morey’s reign, regardless of who pushed for it, did the recruiting, or called the plays. He sold a snippet of his MoreyBall, Small Ball musical-producing soul for what amounted to DeAndre Jordan starting playoff games in 2022.

When Morey was in Houston, he was involved in how the team played the sport and it changed the NBA for the better. In Philadelphia, they’ve made way too many of the same stupid mistakes dumb teams make on the floor. You’re up 35, rest your stars before they get hurt. Harden is injury prone, why’s he at 43 minutes on that bad foot? Where’s Isaiah Joe? Could Morey really not insist Rivers play a couple of his draftees more before making costly mistakes, or have found another way to skirt ownership’s precious luxury taxes? We blog bums knew Joe could play, why didn’t the multibillion dollar franchise?

Should they have just run it back with Harden on a long-term deal? Maybe. Did Morey want to offer Harden something different but truly just couldn’t find a way to tamper communicate with him? Something tells me he would have found a way if this was Embiid. But if not, then my grade should be much lower, lol. Bruh, you even tamper?

So, Morey knew exactly what he was signing up to collaborate in. If the last three years were the team’s best (or only) years of contention before a rebuild, then I’ll always wonder what if Morey was hired a couple weeks before Rivers.

Bryan Toporek

Grade: B+

Much like with the Process, we have to remember the starting point when discussing Morey’s tenure. He inherited double-agent Al Horford, who still had three years left on his bloated contract, and Josh Richardson, who was far more of a three-and-D wing in theory than in practice. Transforming those two into Danny Green and Seth Curry was a stroke of brilliance, and it was immediately rewarded by the No. 1 seed in the East and a theoretical cakewalk into the Eastern Conference Finals. (Or, so we thought.)

The following offseason, when Ben Simmons demanded a trade with an unprecedented four years left on his contract, Morey held the line rather than caving in for the first available offer. All of the speculation about whether the Sixers could get anything more for Simmons than CJ McCollum straight up became instant Old Takes Exposed material when they instead flipped him in a package for James Harden. (Granted, it’s still fair to wonder whether that was the best deal available to them at the time.)

Morey deserves credit for navigating back-to-back turbulent offseasons and finagling the finances last offseason to sign both P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. (albeit, courtesy of tampering that wound up costing them two second-round picks). Oh, and let’s not forget him landing a draft steal in Tyrese Maxey, which is arguably the single most important long-term move he’s made since arriving in Philadelphia.

Had Tyrese Haliburton been on the table for Simmons, I’d bump this grade down a full letter. Morey’s infatuation with Harden paid off, as Embiid finally won MVP, but the Sixers still haven’t gotten past the second round since Allen Iverson’s heyday, and they’re having an absolute dumpster fire of an offseason right now.

He’s also wasted at least one roster spot per season with his relentless cycling through past-their-prime bigs at backup center (DeAndre Jordan, Paul Millsap, Dewayne Dedmon, Montrezl Harrell, etc.), all of whom prevented Paul Reed and Charles Bassey from getting more run. Cutting Isaiah Joe ahead of last season was an own-goal, too. No matter how this Harden debacle plays out, though, there are few executives I’d rather have leading the Sixers through yet another turbulent period than Morey.

Harrison Grimm

Grade: B-

I give Morey a B- for his work with the Sixers.

How did I get here? I went through his transaction history, and labeled key moves that I viewed as positives (+) or negatives (-) margin movers. Below is what I factored in.

2020 offseason: traded Josh Richardson and Tyler Bey to the Dallas Mavericks for Seth Curry (+)

2020 Draft: drafted Isaiah Joe, Tyrese Maxey, and Paul Reed. (+)

Traded Al Horford, Theo Maledon, Vasilije Micic and a 2025 first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Terrance Ferguson, Danny Green, and Vincent Poirier (neutral?)

2021 trade deadline: acquired George Hill for Tony Bradley and multiple second-round picks (-)

2021 free agency: signed Andre Drummond and Georges Niang, re-signed Danny Green (+)

2022 trade deadline: traded Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, Ben Simmons, and two first-round picks for James Harden and Paul Millsap (+)

2022 midseason: signed Deandre Jordan (-)

2022 Draft: traded Danny Green and David Roddy for De’Anthony Melton (+)

2022 free agency: signed P.J. Tucker, Danuel House Jr., and Montrezl Harrell (-)

2023 early season: waived Isaiah Joe (-)

2023 trade deadline: traded Matisse Thybulle and an early second-round pick for Jalen McDaniels and two future second-round picks (-)

2023 midseason: signed Dewayne Dedmon (-)

Total: five positives, five negatives, one neutral

Morey’s 2020 Draft was as good as it gets, especially for a weird offseason and just arriving in Philadelphia. In the moment, moving off of Al Horford was an absolute must, although it came a cost. The first-rounder they gave up greatly hindered their flexibility moving forward. I don’t think it’s aged as a huge win that it first felt like, but you can equally argue that it had to be done.

The George Hill deal was a disaster, flat out. Giving up so many second-round picks for a player that didn’t make much of an impact was brutal. They couldn’t even use his salary in any trade before waiving him. The 2021 free agency class was somewhat underrated for the Sixers. Both Andre Drummond and Georges Niang outperformed their pay. Danny Green was getting older, but they brought him back on a team-friendly deal that they later used in a trade. Pretty solid!

Most don’t view James Harden in the same light they did when the Sixers first traded for him, and I get that completely. However, getting off of Ben Simmons’ contract turned out to be a massive bullet dodged, and Harden was a great co-star next to Embiid the following season. Harden’s trade request just a year and a half later hurts now looking back at this move, but I’d still argue it was a positive for a contending team.

Do I even need to touch on DeAndre Jordan? No? Good.

Morey’s last good move was the trade for De’Anthony Melton during the 2022 Draft. They turned a late first-round pick and an expiring deal into a meaningful producer. Now, Melton might be even more important with Harden’s trade request.

The past year or so has been rough for Morey, and all four of the last few meaningful transactions are negative. Waiving Isaiah Joe, who was a league-best shooter, for what turned out to be a few garbage time games of Dewayne Dedmon is horrible. P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. have had their moments, but their contracts certainly aren’t viewed as bargains either. Lastly, giving up Matisse Thybulle just to not re-sign the player you traded him for is questionable at best.

I didn’t want to dive into the recent signings because the roster technically isn’t complete, so time will tell on those. I hope we see more of the “old” Morey with upcoming transactions that are bound to happen. This team, and its fans, needs it.

Dan Volpone

Grade: D

If I had to pick one word to describe Daryl Morey’s tenure in Philadelphia, it would be disappointing. During his time in charge, the Sixers have squandered assets without making any postseason progress. Of course, the major feather in Morey’s Sixers cap has been the selection of Tyrese Maxey with the 21st pick in the 2020 draft. Maxey’s become a fan favorite, and although I don’t see him as a future perennial All-Star like much of the fanbase, he’s undeniably a home run draft selection and one of the most likable players on the team.

Besides the Maxey pick, Morey’s moves have mostly either not worked out or simply reflected a very questionable decision-making process. Trading Al Horford and a first-round pick for Danny Green is often touted as one of Morey’s best moves. Getting off Horford’s contract (and annoying family) was celebrated by many fans, all for Horford to find his way back to Boston and once again play a major role in keeping the Sixers from the conference finals, while Danny Green hasn’t been able to stay healthy in the playoffs, and the loss of the Sixers 2025 first-round pick has significantly limited their flexibility in trades.

The acquisition of Seth Curry was a success but was undone by Morey’s botched handling of the Ben Simmons situation, which resulted in Curry being moved to the Nets. Two years later, the Sixers are in the same position all over again, but with two fewer first-round picks and a “star” that seems to hold even less value around the league. Of course, we still have no conference finals appearances to show for it. Sure, many fans, myself included, were excited about the acquisition of Harden. But Morey was in a better position than anyone to understand the extent of Harden’s hamstring injury. In a vacuum, the trade will never look bad because of how much of a disaster Ben Simmons has been in Brooklyn, but there were better offers out there — offers that would have left us now with more young talent and more picks to pursue the next star that comes available.

Given our shortage of draft picks, losing two second-ound picks last summer due to blatant tampering was quite frustrating, especially when considering the players tampered for were a vastly overpaid P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr., who was barely part of the playoff rotation last season. Trading a first-round pick for DeAnthony Melton certainly wasn’t a horrible trade, but Melton hasn’t been the key bench piece to get the Sixers to the next level like many had hoped. Closing out last offseason by cutting Isaiah Joe, regardless of Joe’s opportunity up to that point here, just wasn’t smart.

This lack of care towards the end of the roster continued right into this offseason, with the Sixers now rostering five centers for some reason. As an executive who had been known for his creativity, Morey’s shown shockingly little of it in Philadelphia. If you look at the Miami Heat, you see multiple quality rotation players who were undrafted or otherwise given up on. The Sixers have found no such players, and frankly how could they when the entire backend of their roster is dedicated to players who can’t share the floor with their superstar.

Paul Reed, the other Morey draft success, negotiated unfavorable terms for the Sixers into his contract that the team was ultimately forced to match. This likely could have been avoided if the Sixers were serious about negotiating directly with Reed rather than encouraging him to test restricted free agency knowing they could match the contract later.

Evaluating Morey’s handling of and comments around the Simmons trade demand and Reed free agency, he seems to have the notion that something better will usually come from waiting rather than making the first move. In both instances, the opposite proved true.

The team’s other restricted free agent from this summer, Jalen McDaniels, the Sixers’ only athletic wing, was allowed to leave for the Toronto Raptors on a team-friendly deal. This closed the door on the Matisse Thybulle trade (aside from possibly using a $2.4 million trade exception) that, with the eventual loss of McDaniels, turned a formerly valuable asset into a casualty to avoid the luxury tax.

Despite the lack of team improvement and many questionable moves, Morey has spent the summer trolling the fanbase on the internet and bragging about his perceived accomplishments in Philadelphia.

Joel Embiid turns 30 this season, and the Sixers still haven’t made it out of the second round. For all the talk about how tough of a situation Morey inherited, he still stepped into a team with one of the top players in the league, a young All-Star, and a full slate of future first-round picks. Daryl Morey’s time with the Sixers has, to date, been a failure. The Maxey pick gets him from an F to a D, but the lack of playoff success, bungling of his biggest trade, and carelessness with the end of the roster keep him there.

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