By Connor Thomas
When a season ends prematurely, the next step for that team to go through is dealing with the fallout. Sometimes, that’s as simple as saying “we had a great run, we out-performed our expectations, and even though we fell short, it was a successful year”. That is absolutely not the case for the 2020-21 Philadelphia 76ers. As the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference, they once again fell short of advancing past the 2nd round of the playoffs for the 20th time in 20 years. This year marked their 3rd Eastern Conference Semifinals loss in the past 4 seasons. So no, it was not a great run, the Sixers did not out-perform expectations, and it was NOT a successful year. So when President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey took the zoom podium yesterday, there was really only one question the fan base wanted answered: “how do we fix this team so that they can finally make a deep playoff run?” Now it’s understandable that the Sixers’ top poker player wouldn’t want to show his hand just 2 days into the team’s offseason, but what Morey did reveal about his feelings surrounding the team was at best optimistic, and at worst, completely tone-deaf.
It started with the head of basketball operations sharing his thoughts on the head of making sure the basketball team operates. Morey’s thoughts on Doc Rivers were not exactly in lockstep with the fan base as he recapped the veteran coach’s impact on the organization. Yesterday Morey claimed that “Doc did a really good job talking to players yesterday and really in his remarks he challenged all of us to look at each of us in our role and how we can do better.” Why in the world does a coach who has blown the most playoff leads in NBA history have the right to challenge the President of Basketball Operations and the GM of his team to look at their roles and try and be better? Does Daryl Morey really think that Rivers deserves to be the passer of judgement following the epic collapse we all just watched? Well according to another quote from Morey, that may very well be the case.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot from Doc, I’ve learned a lot from all the coaches I’ve worked with, but this past year has been really positive for really everyone to be with a championship caliber coach and what he brings to the table.”, Morey said of the Sixers’ head coach.
Well maybe someone should remind him that Doc Rivers has not been a championship caliber head coach since 2008, and has blown double digit losses multiple times in multiple playoff seasons in a row. His rotations against Atlanta were questioned by even the most novice basketball fans in Philadelphia, his motivation seemed to fall on deaf ears down the stretch, and ultimately, his team was sent home by a lesser opponent. So the whole learning from a championship caliber coach thing? Yeah, I don’t think the fan base is going to be buying that one anytime soon.
Now in complete fairness to Morey, no one should be able to fault him for his non-answer responses to questions about Ben Simmons’ future in Philadelphia. That would be showing your cards at the start of a hand of poker and it is in no one’s best interest for an executive to bare his soul about a player potentially on the move this offseason. However, there was some questionable commentary on another player on the team this year; one that the Sixers new front office head had a direct hand in acquiring. The Sixers’ sole mid-season acquisition was veteran guard George Hill, who came to Philly at the trade deadline in a deal that included Tony Bradley, Vincent Poirier, and Terrance Ferguson. Hill seemed like a non-factor in the majority of time on the Sixers this year, and came up very small in the playoffs for a player who led the NBA in 3 point shooting percentage just last season. When asked about Hill’s future with the team, Morey claimed that they “Really liked what George brought, he’s just the kind of guy you want on a team that’s trying to win the championship. Obviously he’s gone very deep in the playoffs many times so we really like what he brings.” He also lauded Hill’s defensive abilities, and mentioned that the offensive focused fan base may not be giving that its proper due. Well regardless of what Morey feels the fans may or may not be appreciating, Hill was a -17 over the course of the Hawks series and only a +14 including his regular season and playoff games as a Sixer. I would imagine that most front office executives would want a veteran trade deadline acquisition to add more than 14 points to his team over the rest of the season, but apparently Daryl Morey does not feel the same way. It’s hard to expect Morey to rag on his own move, but frankly the George Hill trade did not work out.
The bottom line is, it doesn’t appear that Morey has the amount of anger, disappointment, or evaluation of the 2020-21 Sixers that most fans would expect him to considering the ending. There is no real reason to doubt his ability to re-tool this roster; he did a fantastic job of adding Seth Curry, Danny Green, and Dwight Howard this past offseason. But his press conference yesterday simply did not have the criticism that his team’s epic collapse warranted. Hopefully the offseason leaves less to be desired.