Philadelphia 76ers fans aren’t the only ones who were shocked that the East’s top-seeded team wasn’t able to take care of business at home against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7. That feeling also extends to the 76ers’ front office.
“I’m still stunned sitting here that we didn’t win Game 7 at home,” Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey confessed to media members during his end of season availability on Tuesday.
The Sixers lost the series against Atlanta despite the fact that they had home-court advantage and took an early 2-1 lead in the series. Philadelphia blew leads of 18 points or more in Games 4 and 5, and still had an opportunity to win the series in front of its home crowd. The Sixers fought hard all season to secure the top seed in the East, and being able to host a decisive Game 7 in front of a raucous crowd at the Wells Fargo Center was their reward. Ultimately, though, it wasn’t enough. The Hawks won the final game of the series, 103-96, to advance to the Eastern Conference finals, while the Sixers’ postseason ended earlier than expected with plenty of time to contemplate their collapse. The way Morey sees it, Philadelphia’s failures this season are an indictment on him.
“You want to go into the playoffs as the favorites to win the title, and we weren’t,” Morey said. “Look, ultimately you win or lose mostly with your players. It’s my job to get the best players, and frankly, we didn’t have quite good enough players.”
Morey has been with the Sixers for less than a calendar year, and he has already made major improvements to the roster. Trading Josh Richardson for Seth Curry was an excellent move, as was getting out from under Al Horford’s albatross of a contract by moving him to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Danny Green. Morey also drafted Tyrese Maxey, who appears to have an extremely bright future in the league. Those moves, while all solid, obviously weren’t enough in and of themselves this season. But while Morey is understandably disappointed about the way his first campaign in Philadelphia came to an end, he isn’t all doom and gloom and remains extremely optimistic about the Sixers’ outlook moving forward. As such, he pushed back on the narrative that the team is in an unenviable spot.
“A lot of what I’m reading I frankly don’t understand — people saying the Sixers are in a bad situation,” Morey said. “I don’t choose to come here, Doc [Rivers] doesn’t choose to come here if this is a bad situation. I mean, really 25 or 26 teams in this league would love to be in our situation with an MVP-caliber top player, an All-Star, a near All-Star, great young players who are signed for the long term, and good veterans. So, we’ve got a good foundation. We just have to do better. I have to do better. Everyone has to do better.”
The Sixers were dominant defensively throughout the year, so it’s on the other side of the floor that Morey mainly sees the need for improvement. “We need to be a better offensive team,” he said. “I think if you replay that Game 7 a bunch of times and, you know, we execute better, then we win. But look, reality is reality. We didn’t do it, and frankly if we’re squeaking by the second round that just tells me we’re unfortunately not good enough, probably, to win the title so we need to get better.”
Morey is correct in saying that everyone on the Sixers needs to improve, and that includes Ben Simmons, who had a less-than-stellar series against Atlanta and shot a historically poor percentage from the foul line during the postseason. In 12 playoff games, Simmons made just 25 of his 73 attempts from the charity stripe, which equates to 34 percent — the worst mark in a single postseason in NBA history. Simmons’ struggles from the foul line clearly shook his confidence, and that leaked over into other areas of his game. In the full seven-game series against Atlanta, Simmons took three total shots in the fourth quarter. He didn’t attempt a single shot in the fourth quarter of five of the seven games.
Simmons’ struggles, combined with his perceived lack of improvement, led to an explosion of trade speculation on the internet after the Sixers were eliminated. Yet while some Philadelphia fans are eager to unload Simmons, Morey was much more measured when discussing Simmons, Joel Embiid and the rest of the Sixers squad as currently constructed, saying that he was happy with the group without ruling out the potential of a major shakeup.
“We have a very strong group we believe in. None of us can predict the future of what’s going to happen in any place. We love what Ben brings, we love what Joel brings, we love what Tobias [Harris] brings,” Morey said. “In terms of what’s next, we’re going to do what’s best for the Sixers to give us the best chance to win the championship with every single player on the roster. So, any move that will help our team win the championship, or improve our odds, we will look at and do if it makes sense to do that.”
Based on his track record, it’s safe to say Morey will evaluate all options when it comes to improving the Sixers over the offseason. Morey was reportedly willing to trade Simmons for James Harden during the season, so he obviously wouldn’t be opposed to doing so — if the right deal were to present itself. Still, that doesn’t mean he’ll make a deal just for the sake of making one. At just 24 years old, Simmons still has a lot of upside, and he’s already one of the best defenders in the entire NBA. Trading away a player like that for pennies on the dollar could prove to be a major mistake.
Roster turnover has been a consistent for the Sixers over the past several seasons, and though we don’t know exactly what moves Morey will make over the next few months, it sure seems to be shaping up to be another eventful offseason in Philadelphia.
Courtesy: CBS Sports