Daryl Morey is a frontrunner for the Executive of the Year award, putting together a masterful offseason of work that has positioned the Sixers as a true contender for the title this season. The former Rockets executive has long made prudent moves and the one he took from Houston to Philadelphia shouldn’t be discounted.
The MIT graduate parted ways with the Rockets organization during the offseason, citing a desire to spend time with his family. However, just 13 days later, he joined the Sixers as their president of basketball operations. Several sources tell Tim McMahon of ESPN.com that Morey opted to leave the franchise because he knew James Harden wanted out and it was only a matter of time before that happened. Morey was concerned about not being able to “keep James happy” since Houston didn’t many additional assets to bring.
Morey did a great job of compiling assets and talent, including the trade that brought Harden to Houston, though he began emptying the war chest during his final run with the club. Sending away two first-rounders and two pick swaps for Russell Westbrook (and then additional assets for Robert Covington) put a uniquely talented squad on the floor, albeit at a costly price. Once Westbrook and Harden decided they didn’t want to play alongside each other, the organization didn’t have the means to pivot in a meaningful way.
Morey had to have known of Westbrook’s and Harden’s on-court preferences in order to make the “preemptive decision” to part ways with the Rockets. McMahon writes that the Rockets privately came to terms with it in early November or about three weeks after Morey departed from the franchise. Westbrook rumors heated up in early November with Shams dropping the bomb that Westbrook wanted out on November 11; he was traded to Washington for John Wall about a month later.
What if Westbrook and Harden would have given it another chance? Would Morey and the Rockets continued their relationship? Surely there were other factors at play, though team owner Tim Fertitta deemed Morey’s job “safe” back in the fall and there would have been an on-court case for Houston to run it back. The 2020 small-ball Rockets gave the Lakers some trouble in the Western Conference Semi-Finals before Danuel House selfishly broke NBA Bubble protocols and left the team short-handed. Houston could have easily made a few slight improvements (trading House would have been one) with an eye on blending in with the Western Conference’s elites.
Yet, that’s not what happened. Westbrook headed to Washington. Harden maneuvered his way to play alongside another friend in Brooklyn and once again, just as he was ahead of the curve in the NBA’s 3-point revolution, Daryl Morey was a step ahead yet again, already in Philadelphia before either superstar changed zip codes.