Contrastingly, the Sixers' president of basketball operations bears a large responsibility for one of the most underwhelming 2023 offseasons of any NBA team. Philly lost numerous key pieces and has yet to resolve the James Harden situation. Now, a top-heavy roster with less-than-ideal positional balance has to forge ahead after an embarrassing playoff defeat.
The Sixers' title hopes took an even bigger hit when the Milwaukee Bucks scored Damian Lillard in a trade that also freed up Jrue Holiday to land with the Boston Celtics. Philly trending in the opposite direction of its biggest conference foes looks like the nails in the Joel Embiid era's coffin.
Through the storm, Morey remains steadfast in his belief in the team he has assembled — with or (most likely) without Harden.
“Obviously, we came up short, but in a year where there's a lot of skepticism, I think I would ask the same thing: let us show you,” Morey said. “Let us show you in the regular season. Let us show you in the playoffs.”
While Morey did fully acknowledge the skepticism that has snowballed since the Sixers flamed out against the Celtics, he pointed out that skeptics were aplenty even when the Sixers' vibes pendulum was on the upward swing, like it was last year. He expressed his love for the passionate fan base and listed reasons why the team could be a winner.
“Now we start with,” Morey said, “we have the MVP of the league. We have one of the great up-and-coming players in Tyrese Maxey in this league. We've got winning players in Tobias and Melton. We've got additions we love in Pat Beverley and Kelly Oubre and Mo Bamba. We've got young, great players like Paul Reed. We come in here every day and feel like we're going to show the league that this is a team that can win.”
Morey added that new head coach Nick Nurse is a massive source of optimism, too. Each time the players were asked, they talked with reverence and admiration of Nurse and what he could bring to the Sixers. Philly is better positioned to win the title than most teams — but that only serves as the foundation of the Philly faithful's frustration.
The Sixers, throughout their quest to make a deep playoff run, have long held on to the belief that there exist other teams who would trade places with them if they could. It's not a far-fetched sentiment, to be fair — for just the MVP candidate and young star on the rise alone, there are bound to be teams who envy their position and how they're a lock to win roughly 50 games right off the bat.
But for all that, in the Embiid era, the Sixers have tallied more disgruntled stars skipping out on the team than they do appearances in the conference finals. Although Morey inhabited a hot mess of a team, he has yet to change its trajectory. It's not an easy job but it is one that Morey has stated his credibility for. The end-of-season results haven’t been what was hoped for for half a decade now.
Morey didn’t have full control of the Harden train but he is the one who not only brought the Sixers' ticket onto it — a move that looked perfectly understandable at the time and looked great for much of last season — but doubled down on staying aboard. Salvaging the situation is all but a lost cause with such a weak trade market that has an equally weak shot of heating back up.
Morey said that Harden, who did not show up for media day, “continues to seek a trade and we're working with his representation to resolve that in the best way for the 76ers and hopefully all parties.” The Sixers' lead executive reiterated his stance that only a trade package that retains the team's ability to compete for a title — whether it be a player or assets used to get that player — will get him to deal Harden.
Harden has himself to blame for this, too. He held some of the cards with his decision this offseason and used them to opt into his player option, which caught the Sixers by surprise. His desire to go to the Los Angeles Clippers limited an already slim trade market to the point where LA wasn’t making any legitimate offers. Morey ran the risk of alienating Harden by waiting to get a more bountiful return. But the lack of such a return is partly Harden's fault. The fact that the Sixers even have to trade him in the first place is squarely, entirely on him.
The Clippers look more than willing to move on, leaving the Sixers with seemingly no room left to make a trade. Without Harden, Philly loses one of its key scorers, its best playmaker by miles and a player that has the respect of the locker room. The most popular response to Harden's situation at media day from his fellow Sixers followed the lines of wanting him back but recognizing that they’re gonna have to be ready to play without him.
Morey, as he showed in the Ben Simmons situation, isn’t willing to let a star go for the sake of easing tensions. And he wasn’t alone in taking umbrage with the idea that the Eastern Conference's elite teams have passed the Sixers by.
“Who said they surpassed us?” Embiid said when asked about the Bucks and Celtics' big moves. “We still gotta go out there and compete. You can do whatever you want off the court but you still gotta go out there and put the ball in the hoop. I believe that any team that I'm on, we always gonna have a chance. Just need to be a little bit lucky. Just need to stay healthy — be healthy and stay healthy — and as a team, just come together.”
When asked how he justified the lack of a huge trade to Embiid, Morey said that the Sixers have “a great roster” and that Embiid is “a smart player” who understands that those huge additions came with significant subtractions. He stressed that the season has to play out so that they can see what these squads play like. Morey also brushed off Embiid's tweet from right after the Holiday trade as some Twitter shenanigans.
Embiid, for his part, is putting his faith in the franchise and continuing his quest to try to win a championship for the Sixers. He knows the heat is really on to win, too, but isn’t running from the grind at this time. As long as that is the case, Morey can take comfort in the fact that he has one of the five or so best basketball players in the world on his side. That’s a pretty powerful voice to have to vouch for you.
The Sixers may have very well lost their chance at championship contention but obviously, in the setting of media day — or any public one, for that matter — Morey would never admit that, even if he believes it deep down. His actions say that he still sees s way for this team to make it happen. Morey's staunch confidence in the team, however unfounded it may seem, can only serve the good of the organization.
“We feel strongly we have a winning team. We have a team that can win and make a lot of noise in the playoffs,” Morey said.