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Plenty of work lies ahead for Daryl Morey in Philadelphia

Will Morey look to rebuild the Sixers into a 'small-ball' team like he did with the Rockets?

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

Daryl Morey had been the Rockets’ GM since 2007.

A team that doesn’t look like a “Daryl Morey team” by roster is about to become a “Daryl Morey team” by mandate.

Morey, who recently stepped down as general manager of the Houston Rockets, will be taking over the Philadelphia 76ers as their new president of basketball operations.

The hire, first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and confirmed in multiple reports, brings the veteran NBA executive with an idiosyncratic, analytics-heavy style used in Houston to a Philadelphia team that seems, at the moment, a poor fit.

Morey, 48, remade the Rockets into a “small ball,” 3-point shooting crew in the extreme, shedding center Clint Capela in February and eschewing traditional bigs in general to fashion an attack entirely around guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Houston went 44-28 in 2019-20, took and made the most 3-point shots in the league, finished 25th in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, and lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals. Coach Mike D’Antoni and the team parted ways at the end of the playoffs, and Morey announced his decision to step down two weeks ago.

Morey, who had been Houston’s GM since 2007, had presided over a team that posted the second-most victories since then (behind San Antonio) and reached the postseason the past eight seasons. Upon his departure, he had talked about planning to spend more time with his family. So maybe two weeks was enough during pandemic shutdowns to scratch that itch, or with everyone “WFH” these days, he found he could do both.

Either way, the co-founder of the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference has plenty of work waiting for him in Philadelphia and big pieces waiting to find a fit.

The Sixers finished 43-30 in the virus shutdown-disrupted regular season. They dealt with injuries, most notably to stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. After going 4-4 in the seeding games in the Orlando “bubble,” they landed the East’s No. 6 seed. From which they promptly got swept by the Boston Celtics from the first round.

Coach Brett Brown got fired after seven seasons, the first several spent nurturing along “The Process,” management’s strategy of earning repeated top draft picks by losing heavily. That gaming of the NBA’s draft system was orchestrated by former GM Sam Hinkie — who had been Morey’s “protégé” before moving to Philadelphia in 2013.

There’s some symmetry there. But Embiid has been the Sixers’ tent pole player at both ends, a three-time All-Star and at 7-feet, 280 pounds, a throwback center fit for the last millennium.

Simmons, meanwhile, was a third-team All-NBA selection this year despite making only two 3-pointers all year as part of his 16.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 8.0 apg season. In fact, the 6-foot-10 wing is a combined 2-for-24 from the arc in 7,449 minutes over his three pro seasons — the antithesis of a presumed “Morey” player.

Overall, the Sixers ranked 22nd in 3-point attempts (31.6) and 19th in makes (11.6). So there’s plenty of room for improvement — the Rockets averaged at least 40.3 3s in each of the past four seasons. But from the current roster, only Furkan Korkmaz (143) and Tobias Harris (131) attempted more than 300 or made more than 100. The Rockets have five who did one or both, led by Harden’s 299-of-843.

Keith Pompey, Sixers beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, cited a league source on Twitter Wednesday afternoon when he wrote that management likes “Morey’s draft history and the fact that he can go get shooters.”

Other pieces will need to fit, too. Doc Rivers, hired to replace Brown, was described as having personnel input with the Sixers, joining current GM Elton Brand. “That’s what was so exciting about this job, to have the opportunity to work with Elton,” Rivers told reporters in a Zoom news conference this month. “Not just on the court. I actually think it starts off the court.”

Per Wojnarowski’s report, though, “Rivers and Morey have a long history and strong relationship.”

Rivers also has had his greatest coaching success with talented bigs, including Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, DeAndre Jordan and Montrzell Harrell.

Brand might wind up staying in his current GM position but had been seeking a contract extension with presumably more, not less, empowerment than he’d had the past two seasons. He is widely respected around the NBA, despite recent moves with the Sixers that did not pan out.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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