Heading into Daryl Morey’s first offseason as Sixers president of basketball operations, it seemed the team was backed into a corner.
Any discussion about the team’s options inevitably had to mention Al Horford, Tobias Harris and the expensive, multi-year contracts they’d signed when general manager Elton Brand was running the show.
It’s not as if the Sixers are now skipping around with ample room to operate, but they at least have a smidge more flexibility as a result of Morey’s first trade with the team. The Sixers are trading Al Horford, a lightly-protected 2025 first-round pick, the 34th pick in Wednesday night’s draft, and the rights to Vasilije Micic to the Thunder, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. In return, they’re receiving Danny Green and Terrance Ferguson. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the trade.
Green, 33, is a player with the credentials to help the Sixers in the playoffs. He’s a veteran 3-and-D wing who’s made 40 percent of his career attempts from long distance, won three NBA championships and played in a lot of important games. His defense isn’t what it once was, but he’s a no-brainer inclusion in most team’s postseason rotations.
Ferguson is a rangy wing with excellent defensive tools. The image of Ferguson and Matisse Thybulle as a young, lockdown duo on defense is fun, though it of course remains to be seen what the Sixers’ roster will look like and where Ferguson might fit in.
With all due respect to both players, one of the best parts about the trade for the Sixers is that they both have one year left on their contracts. Green will be a free agent after the 2020-21 season, while the Sixers will have the choice of giving Ferguson a $5.7 million qualifying offer. If Ferguson has a decent year and can return to his 2018-19 form from three-point range (36.6 percent), a qualifying offer might be worth it. If not, there’s little harm in moving on.
The expiring deals do not magically alleviate the fact that the Sixers are set to pay a hefty luxury tax penalty, nor do they catapult the team to title contention. They’re still in the early stages of big contracts for Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Harris. Though Morey dished out a lot of praise at his introductory press conference and pointed to Simmons’ season-ending left knee injury as a major reason why the Sixers were swept by the Celtics in the first round, the truth is that the Sixers did not appear constructed for a fruitful playoff run even when Simmons was healthy.
For both this offseason and the years beyond, though, no options meaningfully narrowed as a result of this move. The Sixers didn’t part with a devastating volume of draft picks or any active NBA players besides Horford.
Micic, we should note, is a 2014 Sixers second-round pick who currently plays for Anadolu Efes and is one of the EuroLeague’s best point guards. He’s 26 years old and has yet to come to the NBA, though, so it can’t be called a massive loss at the moment. With Horford, we’d be remiss not to comment that he’s still a solid NBA player. Especially at backup center, there’s a void the Sixers will need to fill. Will Morey address it in the draft? Free agency? As a power forward next to Embiid, the Sixers will miss Horford much less. In 88 Horford-Embiid postseason minutes, the Sixers had an absurd minus-34.3 net rating.
Brett Brown explained his decision to start Horford in Game 3 vs. the Celtics by saying, in part, “If we’re going down, I’m going down with him,” and that he trusted Horford’s resume. His answer encapsulated the Sixers’ 2018-19 season well.
Morey is moving Horford’s resume on to a new destination. Even if neither Green nor Ferguson pan out next season, it looks improbable that the Sixers will be worse off because of Morey’s first move in Philadelphia. It feels like they're not backed into that corner quite as deeply.