What's Daryl Morey's Level of Culpability in this Fiasco?
The Sixers were totally obliterated by fans and media Sunday afternoon, and rightfully so. Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tobias Harris, Doc Rivers, etc. They again crashed out of the postseason while putting up the resilience of a wet paper bag. They folded and quit like the bums they are.
The only guy we didn’t mention was President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey, who assembled this current crop of losers. How much of the blame does he deserve?
It’s hard to say, but we have to go back to Morey’s Philadelphia start to do a real analysis. Everybody talks about the idea that he inherited a second round team, though in actuality the Sixers were swept out of the first round the year before Morey was hired. There are caveats to all of that, since Ben Simmons was injured, the postseason took place in the bubble, and the Sixers had indeed been to the second round in the two years preceding the bubble, so everybody will have to make their own determination in terms of the situation Morey walked into.
The main thing with Daryl is that he inherited two terrible contracts in Al Horford and Tobias Harris, which were immense hurdles to clear. He successfully moved the Horford contract, traded Josh Richardson, and matched Danny Green and Seth Curry with the Simmons/Embiid/Harris trio. He drafted Tyrese Maxey in the middle of the first round. That squad finished with a .681 winning percentage, the best since the Allen Iverson finals year, and only crashed out of the second round due to the ineptitude of the players and the coach.
Morey doesn’t receive much blame for the 2020-2021 season. He was actually fantastic that year. The only true negative was the mid-season addition of George Hill, which didn’t pan out, and the larger failure to improve the squad at the trade deadline.
The following year was highlighted, or lowlighted perhaps, by the Ben Simmons holdout fiasco. Morey drafted Jaden Springer and signed Andre Drummond in free agency, which at the time looked to be best backup center addition the Sixers had made in the Embiid era. They signed Green and Furkan Korkmaz to new deals, added Georges Niang, and bounced Paul Reed around. Ultimately, Morey was able to flip the petulant Simmons for James Harden while losing Curry and Drummond in the process. Embiid was injured again in the playoffs, Harden underwhelmed, and the depth-thin Sixers went out in the second round against Miami.
Morey receives blame for 2021-2022, though it’s hard to know how much of the Ben Simmons fallout is attributable to him. Could he have rectified the situation? Saved the relationship? Was Doc the main catalyst for Simmons wanting out? Or was Ben just a huge crybaby? It’s all nebulous and hard to define.
Which brings us to this season. With Simmons gone and Embiid and Harden both healthy, it was just a matter of surrounding them with the right players, or so we thought. Harris remained on his bloated contract, while Harden took slightly less money to facilitate the signings of Danuel House Jr. and P.J. Tucker. Morey also added two-way player De’Anthony Melton and backup center Montrezl Harrell to the squad, which looked to have much better depth, at least on paper. He traded Matisse Thybulle midseason for Jalen McDaniels and left 2022 draft pick Jaden Springer mostly in Delaware.
The result was a mixed bag. Melton played well for most of the regular season. Tucker was largely absent until the playoffs, and McDaniels was a complete non-factor. House fell out of the rotation entirely before a brief second round cameo, while Niang, Korkmaz, and Shake Milton played peripheral roles. In hindsight, waiving Isaiah Joe was a bad move, and perhaps moving on from Charles Bassey as well. Ultimately, Morey just didn’t surround Harden and Embiid with enough guys who could hit an open shot and play some defense, and it showed in the playoffs.
That said, the Sixers lost to Boston this year because Embiid and Harden weren’t good enough. Morey’s tenure will be defined by the trade that brought in the latter, but in a vacuum I think we’d all say that moving Simmons for Harden turned out to be an excellent move. We all need to remember that Harden came here as the result of the other “star player” holding his team hostage and forcing Morey’s hand. Yes, Morey could have pursued a different trade package for Simmons, but the 2022 blockbuster was predicated on a player he inherited wanting out. It wasn’t a blind free agency overpay for the guy that he had in Houston. There’s a distinction to be made there.
Same situation with the Harris contract. Morey inherited that. He inherited Horford’s contract as well. He did a good job cleaning up the mistakes of his predecessors, but not all of them.
My thing with Daryl is that the Sixers just never had that killer 6th man off the bench. There was no Jordan Clarkson or Malcolm Brogdon on any of these rosters. When the Celtics and Heat were throwing two-way wings at you like they were going out of style, the Sixers bench was providing close to nothing. There was no guaranteed bucket as we all watched Doc roll out the dreaded “all bench” lineup night after night, or stagger Harden into lineups that at least held serve while Embiid was off the floor.
There’s another Philly media member who is always in my mentions talking about Morey, and he said this on Sunday night:
“Is this team any closer to winning a title than it was when Morey was hired? My answer to that question is no.”
He’s not wrong. This team is not any closer to winning a title than it was six years ago. But I do think Morey’s rosters were better than every Bryan Colangelo or Elton Brand roster that did not include Jimmy Butler, and he absorbed a lot of Brand slop. The Ben Simmons situation was unfortunate. Doc ended up underwhelming, as did the big stars. Morey did not take on some blank slate and build this thing out from scratch, which is undeniable.
Another thing that’s hard to define is the accusation that Morey gets this free pass from the “Process” section of the fan base, which latched on to the storyline of Daryl being Sam Hinkie’s mentor. Maybe there’s something to that, but it’s hard to nail down accurately. I’m sure there’s a subset of the Ricky Sanchez crowd that does the sycophant thing with Morey, but I haven’t sensed that fawning from a larger portion of Sixers fans or four-for-four casuals. My sense is that Morey doesn’t get a ton of attention simply because fans and media are too busy killing Embiid, Harden, Harris, and Doc.
Ultimately, Morey’s tenure is going to be defined by the Harden move, and Harden was a superstar in games one and four of the Boston series while playing like a bum the rest of the time. Morey’s wagon is attached to Harden whether it’s fair or not, so yes, Daryl has to take his share of the blame for these guys again failing to get past the second round. I wouldn’t blame Morey as much as the three highest-paid players and the coach, but Daryl doesn’t get to just slink away from this. He’s the one who put the roster together, a roster that just wasn’t good enough.