Longtime Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has already found his next challenge.
Morey has agreed to become the new president of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers after stepping down from his position with the Rockets. It was initially unknown whether Morey would even pursue a basketball opportunity, but he has evidently chosen to remain in the game.
The Sixers pose quite the test for Morey.
Philadelphia is a team in transition. Doc Rivers is taking over head coach, and there are a slew of questions regarding some of the team’s top names. The Sixers might also be in line for a roster makeover with Morey taking charge.
Morey prioritized spacing and perimeter-oriented players in his final few seasons in charge of the Rockets. Meanwhile, the Sixers have a point guard hesitant to shoot in Ben Simmons and a center in Joel Embiid who’s most effective in the paint. They also have limited shooters.
Needless to say, Morey will have his hands full in Philly. There is no guaranteeing he will assess Philly’s roster in the same way he evaluated the Rockets, particularly with a more traditional head coach in Rivers. However, the goal is to take the Sixers to the next level, and Morey will have to act quickly in deciding what is the best route for the team.
That process begins by attempting to move Al Horford’s contract.
The Sixers surprised the NBA community by prying Horford away from the Boston Celtics last offseason.
Philly made an aggressive offer of four years and $109 million ($97 million guaranteed), which proved too lucrative for Horford to turn down. Only, that contract has only hamstrung the Sixers further.
The 34-year-old put up decent numbers this past year. Horford averaged close to 12 points and nearly seven rebounds while also tallying four assists per game. But he often stagnated Philly’s offense and provided complications with respect to Brett Brown’s rotation given the clunky fit with the rest of the roster. This ultimately led to Horford coming off the bench at the end of the year.
Indeed, Horford tallied the second-lowest PER of his career and value over replacement player (VORP) mark since 2014, per Basketball-Reference. The traditional numbers seem fine, but the advanced metrics iterate what a strange fit Horford is in the content of Philly’s roster.
If Daryl Morey intends to do a bit of a makeover, he needs to find a way to move Horford’s salary. The Sixers already have plenty of money tied up in Embiid, Simmons and Tobias Harris, and they have little financial flexibility going forward.
Trading Horford would at least give the Sixers a little more breathing room. Moving off Harris’ contract would have a similar impact. However, Harris’ ability to rebound and play an undersized forward could appeal to Morey in terms of how he approaches constructing. Thus, it might be more likely he tries to trade Horford.
The question is, can Morey find suitors to take on Horford’s remaining salary?
Daryl Morey’s first call should be to the New York Knicks.
Ian Begley of SNY recently reported the Knicks are willing to use their contracts to take on bad salaries. While that would seem to signal New York’s willingness to trade for someone like Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook, Horford might be an option here as well.
The Knicks are desperate for veteran leadership, and Horford has also traditionally been a steady interior defender despite not being the most elite shot blocker.
Or, instead, what if Morey tries to navigate a trade for CP3 using Horford’s contract?
Morey did business with Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti last year as part of the Paul-Westbrook swap. He leveraged draft picks to make the deal happen. Is it possible a similar scenario could play out this offseason?
What about the Sacramento Kings? Could Morey make a Horford swap to acquire Buddy Hield? Doing so would give the Sixers a legitimate sniper and floor-spacing option. Hield has hinted at a desire to go to Philly.
It is unlikely Morey will mortgage Philly’s future in his first year on the job. Simultaneously, he has hardly been afraid to go big on deals for players he feels could alter the complexion of the team.
Morey might have to part with the likes of Matisse Thybulle in order to trade Horford, but that might be a necessary loss if he feels it opens up more opportunities this offseason.
Regardless, it is imperative Daryl Morey does what he can to try and trade Horford.