The Philadelphia 76ers have swung for the fences this offseason, and so far they've hit home runs. The Sixers needed a new head coach after parting ways with Brett Brown and hired Doc Rivers, arguably the best -- and most experienced and well respected -- coach available. Then, the team wanted to bolster its front office around general manager Elton Brand, and landed former Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who is widely regarded as one of the best front-office executives in the business.
To say that the Sixers lucked into both hires would be oversimplifying things, but in a way they kind of did. The team conducted an entire coaching search, and had zeroed in on former Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni. Then, Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers unexpectedly parted ways, and the Sixers immediately changed course and pounced. Had the organization hired a different head coach a few days earlier, it would have missed out on Rivers entirely.
After a decade-and-a-half in Houston, Morey wasn't expected to be available either, especially after Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta publicly stated that his job was safe after Houston's season came to an end. But then Morey stepped down earlier this month and the Sixers again capitalized on an unforeseen opportunity. Now, Philadelphia's front office/coaching combination is as formidable as any in the league.
The latest front-office shakeup is much needed for Philadelphia, as the previous regime was largely responsible for the team falling well short of expectations this past season when it was swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Philadelphia's front office saw the direction the league was trending in -- with an increasing emphasis being placed on floor-spacing and dynamic guard play, and in turn less emphasis being placed on traditional post play -- and then constructed a team that was the complete opposite of the popular paradigm.
Despite years of consistently high draft picks, and copious picks in general, the Sixers largely opted against selecting young guards who could potentially excel in today's game. In free agency, rather than pursuing players who complement their two best players in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers blew the bank on Tobias Harris and Al Horford, two pricey stars who aren't capable of consistently generating offense, don't make life easier for Embiid or Simmons and just generally don't raise the ceiling of the team much, if at all.
In Morey, the Sixers, who've had three separate GMs since 2013, get some much-needed front-office stability and direction. They get an executive who was at his previous post for well over a decade, and one that is well respected for his basketball acumen. They also get an executive with a proven track record of building a winner. Since Morey took over the Rockets in 2007, Houston had the league's second-best regular-season record. Houston also currently holds the league's longest current playoff streak with eight straight postseason appearances. Though they were never able to advance to the Finals, they came extremely close in 2018 when they lost in the Western Conference finals in seven games to the Golden State Warriors, and they were in the contention conversation annually.
The Sixers are also getting an executive who's not afraid to make moves. Morey made 77 total trades as GM of the Rockets. The only team that made more trades during that same span? The Sixers. Morey also has a knack for landing stars. He acquired James Harden, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook in Houston. Stars win in the NBA, and Morey knows that well.
Speaking of stars, Morey will inherit two young ones in Embiid and Simmons, and though rumors will fly, there's no reason to think that the Sixers will look to move on from either player now that Morey is on board. The organization has steadily maintained that it plans to continue to build around its young All-Star duo, and that there's a sense of eagerness to see what a new coach can bring out of Embiid and Simmons. Brown is the only coach that either have had in the NBA thus far. Rivers has stated he's extremely excited to coach the combination of Embiid and Simmons.
Morey learned the hard way last season that size still matters in the NBA, and Embiid is arguably the best big in the league. And while Simmons may not seem like an ideal fit for a Morey team because he doesn't like to shoot 3s, he may actually be an ideal fit due to how he generates so many of them for others. Since he entered the league, no one has assisted on more 3s than Simmons. He could absolutely wreak havoc on a defense if surrounded by shooters the way Harden is in Houston.
Thus, rather than trying to trade either Simmons or Embiid, Morey will likely spend a lot of his early energy in Philly trying to upgrade the players around them. Part of that will entail trying to find takers for the deals of Harris and/or Horford -- a task that will be easier said than done. But, if anyone could do it, it would be Morey. His ability to get creative in trade talks while maintaining a long view is one of the main reasons why the Sixers brought him in, after all.
The order of Philadelphia's moves this offseason has been slightly unorthodox, just because freshly minted basketball executives often like to bring in a coach of their choosing, and Rivers was hired by the Sixers before Morey was on board. However, Rivers and Morey have a relationship as the two worked together with the Celtics in Boston before Morey joined Houston, and as two extremely smart, respected figures in the league, there's no reason to think they won't be able to make it work together.
Then there's Brand, who is expected to remain as general manager. Exactly what his role entails moving forward remains to be seen, especially if Morey ultimately gets the final say in basketball decisions. After the Sixers were eliminated in the Disney bubble, Brand said he was eager to put his "stamp" on the team moving forward, implying that some of his previous moves were influenced by ownership.
"To be clear and frank, we feel that the collaboration days didn't work too well, so I will be leading the search," Brand told media members when discussing the Sixers' coaching search in August. "And I've grown as a leader. I've grown as a general manager. I was put under fire, I had so many great, tough decisions to be a part of. But now, I'm looking forward to putting my stamp on this thing and take full accountability for whatever happens next."
Now, Brand won't really be putting his stamp on anything, unless Morey's stamp is next to it, or directly on top of it. How will that sit with the man who the Sixers empowered to run the team after Burnergate? Maybe Brand will take it in stride, but there's definitely some potential for a bit of uncertainty on his end under the new arrangement.
The Sixers are surely hoping that Morey and Brand can enter into a collaborative partnership of sorts, potentially where Brand is the well-liked former top pick who can relate to the players, and Morey is the numbers guy behind the scenes. Such a collaboration would take some swallowing of pride on Brand's end, but it's probably the best-case scenario for him in Philadelphia moving forward.
There's also the question of exactly how Morey will improve Philadelphia's cash-strapped, underperforming roster, but we'll start to find answers to that soon enough. To say that Morey is an upgrade over what the Sixers had going on in their front office is an understatement. They now have an experienced, respected president, and a head coach that fits those same adjectives. That's two things the Sixers didn't have when the 2019-20 season ended. Sure, there's still work to be done, but the Sixers are absolutely trending in the right direction this offseason.