Daryl Morey, speaking Monday for the first time as president of basketball operations of the Philadelphia 76ers, expressed excitement about the championship potential of a roster built around All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
“My goal is to win a championship, so whatever gets us there is what we’ll do,” Morey said during a virtual news conference officially announcing his hiring. “But I would say to have two star-plus players in 24 and 26 years old, that is why I couldn’t get Doc Rivers to come interview in Houston.
“He saw this roster and he said, ‘It’s amazing,’ and ‘Sorry I couldn’t fly to Houston to meet with you, Daryl.’ And then, obviously, I end up here a couple weeks later. … It was pretty cool.”
Morey agreed to leave the Houston Rockets, where he’d run the team’s basketball operations for more than a decade, last month. At the time, he said he was planning to take a “gap year.”
However, on Monday he found himself sitting alongside Rivers (who himself was hired to coach the team last month shortly after a similar departure from the LA Clippers), general manager Elton Brand (whom Morey is now ahead of on the organizational depth chart) and owner Josh Harris.
“That was my plan,” Morey said of taking a gap year, before adding with a smile, “My kids are giving me a lot of crap about it.
“I’m a pretty competitive guy, but that was my plan. My wife was actually urging me to do that. But Elton and Doc and Josh were relentless, just relentless, as soon as I stepped away. Frankly, the more you look at what Elton has put together, on this roster with Joel and Ben as the headliners but with great players — Al [Horford], Josh [Richardson], Tobias [Harris] and some of the younger players brought in last year — I’m with Doc.
“He and I have been chatting a lot, and the more you dig into the players that are here, the more you get excited about what this team can do.”
In the span of a month, the Sixers have separately landed one of the best and most respected coaches and executives in the NBA. Harris said that, in both cases, when he and the rest of the Sixers ownership had an opportunity to pursue both men, doing so was a no-brainer.
“You have to be self-reflective,” Harris said. “When we came out of the bubble, we were self-reflective. It didn’t work last year. We were disappointed. And also, it’s hard. People like Doc Rivers, or coaches like Doc Rivers, executives like Daryl Morey, they’re under contract. It’s very hard to get them out of their current situations. It’s very rare they leave current situations, or you have availability to talk to them.
“So, the minute they were available, we jumped on it, and yeah, I think we’re now really well set up with great leadership and great people. I think it is a new dawn, a new era, and I hope it lasts for a long, long time. And I think hopefully it will yield success on the court. I believe that it will.”
The Sixers entered last season with sky-high expectations, only for them to fall short. The team was hindered by injuries — most notably to Simmons in the NBA’s bubble in Orlando — while the trio of Simmons, Embiid and Horford, in particular, struggled to fit together.
But while Embiid and Simmons are about as big of a departure as one could find from the small-ball, nonstop 3-point-shooting team Morey built with Mike D’Antoni with the Rockets, his long-standing philosophy has not been to chase 3-point shooting, but to chase stars. And, repeatedly, Morey went out of his way to praise Embiid’s potential, in particular, during Monday’s news conference.
“Well first I would say, how we play is going to be up to Doc,” Morey said. “But that’s one reason I’m very excited to be here is to work with a championship coach like Doc. I think — and I think he agrees with me, he can jump in — the best way to win in the NBA is to take your talent and figure out how to utilize them the best. Right? It’s not to take your talent and hammer it into a particular system. It’s to try to get the most out of who you have.
“It doesn’t take much to look at when Joel is on the floor and healthy, and he’s been in here twice a day for quite a while, he’s very focused and motivated, this is an unbelievable defensive team. The fact that he’s also an extremely good offensive player … Joel is the kind of player you win championships with if you look back through NBA history. We were trying to build our best team around our talents in Houston, but here Doc is going to take the talent we have and use them to the best of our ability.”
While no one doubts the individual talents of both Embiid and Simmons, questions remain about their fit on the court together — particularly in today’s NBA, where shooting and spacing are more crucial than they’ve ever been. But both Morey and Rivers attempted to quash any notion that Philadelphia should move on from one or the other.
“I absolutely think they can work together,” Morey said.
“I have no doubt they can,” Rivers added. “Again, I haven’t been in the lab with them yet, but I know they can.
“I think we have to change the narrative. They haven’t won yet, not that they can’t win. The ‘can’t’ should be taken out. But there’s a lot of combinations of players around the league that haven’t won yet, and they’re just two other ones. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”
Part of that challenge is going to land on Morey’s shoulders — specifically, trying to sort out how, exactly, to make a roster full of talented, but seemingly ill-fitting, pieces fit better together. Or, more likely, changing out some of those pieces in order to accomplish that goal.
But while Morey has a well-earned reputation from his time in Houston as being the most active executive in the league, he stressed the importance of finding the right mix around the team’s stars as well as patience.
“One thing I think organizations make mistakes is they try to make sure the roster is perfect on Game 1 [of the regular season],” Morey said. “The players who are going to thrive under Doc and how Doc utilizes them is going to teach Elton and I a lot about how best to fit the players around them.
“If there’s a great opportunity, obviously we’re going to do it early. But the main thing is, you want to do great moves when they are available. But often the best move is not a move that is done right away.
“We want to increase our understanding before we start to make those moves.”