The biggest decisions facing Sixers’ Daryl Morey this offseason

The spotlight will soon be back on Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey.

The Ben Simmons saga is off his plate, but there’s still clearly a lot for Morey to consider after a second straight second-round elimination.

Here’s an overview of his biggest decisions ahead:

Keep the core four?

Millions of words will be written this summer about James Harden, who’s got a player option of $47.4 million for the 2022-23 season.

Of course, Harden’s future isn’t the only matter Morey must figure out. In a broad sense, he’ll need to assess how confident he is in the four Sixers who played the most this postseason. Are bad injury luck and minimal time to gel compelling enough as mitigating factors to make Morey believe in Harden, Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris?

“Joel and James, Tobias, Maxey, that group played very well together,” he said Friday at an end-of-season joint press conference with head coach Doc Rivers. “We can play even better. So we’re excited about what that can look like in the future.”

The Sixers’ main lineup after the Harden trade, featuring Matisse Thybulle as the fifth starter, had a plus-20.3 net rating, per Cleaning the Glass. The primary playoff unit, with Danny Green in Thybulle’s place, posted a plus-11.0 net rating.

All indications are that the Sixers see Embiid and Maxey as foundational pieces, and that they plan to bring Harden back in some form. As for Harris, he has two seasons left on his contract and a $37.6 million salary for next year.

Thybullus possibilities

Thybulle will be extension-eligible this summer and play the 2022-23 campaign under a $4.4 million fourth-year option.

Rivers described the Sixers as “patient” with Thybulle because he’s working to progress offensively and has “marching orders” to improve his outside shooting during the offseason. Still, neither Rivers nor Morey tried to sugarcoat the difficulties for a limited offensive player like Thybulle in the playoffs.

Thybulle just turned 25 years old in March and flashed encouraging signs alongside Harden, including 14-for-33 shooting from three-point range (42.4 percent) in the 19 games after the 10-time All-Star’s debut. But being ineligible for the Sixers’ first-round road games against the Raptors because he’s not fully vaccinated threw his season off course, as did the reality that playoff opponents target offensive weak spots. And he’s now played seven seasons since high school, meaning dramatic offensive growth would be a bit surprising.

It would be sensible if Morey is a lot less steadfast about keeping Thybulle a Sixer compared to this past trade deadline. Other approaches would be defensive, too. When Thybulle’s on the court, the Sixers are significantly better at forcing turnovers, playing in transition, and guarding star perimeter scorers.

Even after a frustrating final five weeks of Thybulle’s season, the notion that he has untapped potential shouldn’t be an impossible sell — both internally and around the NBA.

How much faith in the young guys?

At his press conference to conclude the 2020-21 season, Morey said he expected meaningful internal improvement and specifically named Maxey as a player with “a really good chance to step into that rotation next year.”

Maxey ended up finishing sixth in Most Improved Player voting after averaging 17.5 points and shooting 42.7 percent from three-point range in his first season as a professional starter. He’ll still be 21 years old when next training camp begins.

Though banking on young players taking huge leaps wouldn’t be prudent, perhaps one or two will seize real roles next year.

None of Paul Reed, Isaiah Joe and Charles Bassey have fully guaranteed contracts. Reed has been excellent for a late second-round pick, winning G League MVP as a rookie and then serving as Embiid’s playoff backup this season. Furkan Korkmaz beat out Joe for playoff minutes, though the Turkish wing had a rough season in which he shot just 28.9 percent from long distance. Bassey made the G League Second Team and impressed at times during the November stretch when Embiid was out with COVID-19.

“Charles, I love that kid,” Rivers said of Bassey, the 53rd pick in last year’s draft. “I don’t know if he’s ready yet. I would say staff-wise, he needs to get stronger — gets pushed around pretty easily.

“Offensively, he’s raw, but not as raw as you think. I think of the guys, he’s got the chance to have a huge summer. And as far as development, we need him, too. And we’re going to push him. Got to get him stronger, that’s the No. 1 thing.”

Draft day

The terms of the Harden deal allow the Nets to defer the Sixers’ first-round selection this year to 2023.

For this year, that pick is No. 23. The Nets must decide one way or the other by June 1

“We’re trying to find somebody for this roster, for this team that can help us move forward,” Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks told reporters last week. “Obviously, if we find a group that we think is going to be there, then we’ll keep the pick. That’s what we’re planning on right now, but we’ll see.”

The history is slightly convoluted, but the Sixers don’t currently have a 2022 second-round pick. They sent it to the Timberwolves in 2018 as part of their trade for Jimmy Butler. The Heat would own that selection, but Miami forfeited it as a penalty for early free agency discussions with Kyle Lowry.

Regardless of Brooklyn’s decision on the first-rounder, there’s always dealmaking on draft night and Morey is known for exploring all options.

Finding the right free agents

The Sixers in free agency last summer signed Andre Drummond on a one-year, minimum deal and added Georges Niang using a portion of their mid-level exception. They also re-signed Korkmaz and Green.

Morey wants to upgrade the Sixers’ toughnessdepth and defense, but he understands they’re not positioned to throw money at those problems.

“I think we’ve had very good success at finding guys,” Morey said Friday. “We’ll have the max resources under the CBA available to us, but a lot of that’s going to be finding the right minimum guys, which I think we’ve had good success at.

“I find that to be one of the best parts of the job — once you’ve got your main guys in place, which we do, finding the guys who can fit in. And we need to do a better job. But that is the job. It’s part of why I love being in basketball.”

Green’s contract for 2022-23 is non-guaranteed, and he’ll be rehabbing his left knee after suffering ACL and LCL tears during the Sixers’ Game 6 loss to Miami. More shooting around Harden and Embiid would always be nice for the Sixers, as would a veteran with deep playoff success.

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