It didn’t take long for Daryl Morey to make his mark on the Philadelphia 76ers. Just weeks after he was named the team’s new president of basketball operations, Morey made his first move, and it was a big one. Before the 2020 NBA Draft got underway on Wednesday night, the Sixers agreed to trade veteran big man Al Horford, along with a protected 2025 first-round pick, the 34th overall pick in the ’20 draft (French guard Theo Maledon), and the rights to Serbian guard Vasilije Micic to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for veteran guard Danny Green and Terrance Ferguson.
The fact that Morey’s first move with the Sixers was to trade Horford is fitting, if not ironic, since a big part of the reason that Morey was brought to Philadelphia in the first place was to clean up the mess that the organization’s front office made last offseason when it signed both Horford and Tobias Harris to monster, long-term deals. Both deals quickly proved to be amongst the worst league-wide.
The move to send Horford to Oklahoma City is a solid one for Philadelphia, as it nets them a player in Green that will fit perfectly alongside the team’s two best players in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and provides a player with a big-time championship pedigree. Over the course of his career, Green has won three NBA titles with three different teams, including the last two champions — the Toronto Raptors in 2019 and the Los Angeles Lakers this past season. Green played a major role on each team, and in turn, he knows exactly what it takes to win at the highest level.
Along with being a decent defender on the perimeter, Green is a career 40 percent shooter from long range, and he is adept at knocking down corner 3s and spotting up in transition — two things he will be tasked with doing quite often in Philadelphia. His experience playing alongside LeBron James on the Lakers last season will come in handy too, as Simmons is similar to James when it comes to his ability to generate open opportunities for his teammates in transition. In fact, since he entered the NBA in 2017, no one has assisted on more 3-point shots than Simmons. There should be ample opportunities in Philadelphia for Green to do what he does best: knock down shots from the outside.
Landing Green was only part of the reason that this trade was a good one for Philadelphia though. It also allowed them to get out from under Horford’s contract without having to give up too many assets. The Horford experiment didn’t work for Philadelphia, and that was evident to anyone who watched the team last season. He just didn’t fit well alongside Embiid and Simmons, and in turn, he struggled to find ways to make a positive impact.
The main issue was that Horford’s skill set on the offensive end was redundant with Embiid and Simmons. Horford is at his best when he’s operating either from the elbow or the low block. He is very comfortable with creating good looks for himself and others from these areas. The problem was that Embiid and Simmons are also both most comfortable in those areas, especially on the low block, where Embiid does a fair share of his damage, and where Simmons is often relegated as a result of his inability to space the floor with his shot. Thus, Horford was forced to spend a lot of his time with the Sixers on the perimeter, where he’s limited, and not especially effective. He could potentially still be a very productive player in the league, but that wasn’t going to happen with the Sixers.
By unloading Horford’s contract, the Sixers opened up nearly $10 million in cap space this offseason, and over $50 million in space moving forward after next season, as Green is set for unrestricted free agency in 2021. If things go well, the Sixers could look to bring him back at that point. If not, they can cut ties and spend the money elsewhere. Either way, they’ll be free from the albatross that was Horford’s contract. With this one move, they gained back a lot of the future financial flexibility that they lost last offseason.
Morey wasn’t done there though. As the draft drew on, he made another move. This time sending Josh Richardson and the 36th pick in the draft (University of Colorado forward Tyler Bey) to the Dallas Mavericks for Seth Curry. Like Green, Curry projects to fit very well alongside Embiid and Simmons. He’s a knock-down shooter, and he holds the second-highest 3-point shooting percentage in NBA history (44.3 percent). Richardson is a better defender than Curry, but between Simmons, Green, and Matisse Thybulle the Sixers should have enough elsewhere to make up for it.
Then there were the draft picks. In the first round, the Sixers selected Tyrese Maxey from Kentucky — an explosive, athletic guard capable of playing both on and off of the ball — a skillset that the Sixers have consistently needed since Simmons’ career began. In the second round they landed Arkansas shooting guard Isaiah Joe and DePaul forward Paul Reed, who is great around the rim:
Rumors persist, but the Sixers continue to insist that their plan is to continue to build around Embiid and Simmons. Elton Brand has said so. As has Doc Rivers. Morey reinforced this point after the draft on Wednesday night, as he emphasized the fact that the team was making moves to complement their All-Star duo.
“We have two young superstars in their prime, and you want to put around them guys they can build with,” Morey said on a conference call with media members. “… Joel and Ben are going to be here for a long time.”
At this point, the Sixers’ roster for next season is far from a finished product, so it’s tough to tell exactly where Green, Curry, and the rookies will land in the rotation. But on paper, they all project to fit on a Sixers squad that finally appears to have a clear direction. Surrounding Embiid and Simmons with shooting is what the Sixers should have been doing all along, and it seems like that’s finally what they’re doing under Morey’s direction.