The logical way to describe the deal the Sixers officially announced Wednesday is “the James Harden trade.” And Morey was in the spotlight for months following Harden’s trade request and the 10-time All-Star’s very public claim in August that Morey was a “liar.”
With Harden now a Clipper, Morey held a post-practice press conference to address the Harden deal and his outlook on high-stakes decisions to come.
On the topic of Harden, he tried to de-emphasize his own feelings.
“Look, I think time heals,” Morey said. “He wanted to be traded and we did follow through on what he wanted. … Honestly, I think he chose to handle things certain ways that I wouldn’t have. He might feel the same on us, that we should have moved quicker or whatever. Look, he’s a great player and he’s going to do great things for the Clippers — PJ Tucker as well. I’m glad they’re in the West. We wish him well. Had a long run with him. I think this will just be a blip and something that we won’t remember when we’re at James’ Hall of Fame induction someday.
“There’s always questions like, ‘How do I feel?’ But who cares, honestly? The fans should care about: Do we win games? Are we on our path to win a championship? It’s not about me. It never should be about anyone in the front office. It’s about the players and winning games, and winning the title.”
In summarizing what led him to believe the Clippers’ offer was sufficient, Morey highlighted both the draft assets the Sixers received and his belief that those picks can ultimately enable the team to land a high-level player.
By shipping out Harden, Tucker and Filip Petrušev, the Sixers got four players (KJ Martin, Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington, Marcus Morris Sr.), two first-rounders, a 2029 first-round pick swap, and two second-rounders.
“We’re really excited for what this trade brings as far as our ability to keep improving the team going forward … in the draft capital we got that we thought was extremely important for our ability to keep improving and be a championship-caliber team,” Morey said. “Very encouraged at what we were able to get. We set a bar in June, really, when James requested the trade and said, ‘Look, if we can get it to here, that should be what generally allows you to go out and get a player.’
“Having a player like Jrue go for a similar package was sort of validating on that. So we set that bar, and obviously it came together where the Clippers met that price. That’s why the trade happened when it did.”
As Morey acknowledged Wednesday, his next steps will be crucial.
But with the Harden deal done and 79 regular-season games to go, he at least has some time to evaluate where the Sixers’ title odds stand and what moves might be viable to elevate them.
“Look, I think you saw against Milwaukee that we can hang with anyone,” he said. “I will say part of becoming a great team and a championship team is to be realistic. There are some tough competitors in the East — Boston and Milwaukee, in particular. … Let’s let it play out. Right now as I sit here, I’m not willing to concede anything to them, but if you ask 100 people, they’d say (the Celtics and Bucks) are better than us right now.
“So let’s see how this plays out, see where our weaknesses are. Now we have assets and the ability to address any issues, and we will address those if we see them. … We will show our fans in the marketplace if we’re a championship contender based on our play. If we keep winning two out of three games against good opponents, we will be. If we don’t, we’ll have to address that.”
Morey and the Sixers have almost nothing cemented beyond this season. Everyone on the roster has an expiring contract besides Joel Embiid, Paul Reed and Jaden Springer. Tyrese Maxey sure looks like he’ll stay in Philadelphia long term, but projections past that have been somewhat speculative.
Morey gave some insight Wednesday on how (and when) the Sixers might use their considerable cap space.
“So I think for cap space, (outside) people think about it in more of this narrow way,” he said. “Ideally, we would actually use that cap space early. That’s generally better, because then you both have the front-end flexibility and (also) the back-end flexibility to re-sign them, and you can see who’s available. In the parlance of how teams talk, we would like to use it early, if we can. In terms of acquiring the people we might re-sign or bring back early, it gives you more flexibility.
“That said, the nice thing is we do have the back-end optionality that if we don’t use (cap space) early on players we want to re-sign or have longer deals, then what we want to do is go after the best players who are in free agency, which people are too down on. It’s not the famous years like 2011 or whatever, but it’s a normal free agency year with quite a few good players that we would be excited about if they became available.”
As far as trades, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Sixers rumors related to players like Zach LaVine and OG Anunoby ahead of the deadline.
Harden will also be a free agent next summer.
“It wasn’t difficult because we had a conversation early where he said he wanted to be traded,” Morey said. “I said we would work toward it. So at that point, I know my mission is to trade him.
“But I had to do it in a way that was appropriate and helped this team continue to move forward to win a championship. So it wasn’t actually difficult in that it was what I committed to do, and so we did it.”