Sixers analysis

Morey's star-hunting plan ends exactly as he envisioned with Paul George splash 

Morey was right that the Sixers were “the best set up” to acquire a star this summer.

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On one hand, the Sixers were sincerely ready to react to whatever chaos in the NBA world unfolded around them.

On the other hand … they wanted a star wing. Paul George, for instance. 

Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey got just what he desired, securing a wee-hours star deal (is there any other kind?) Monday morning. George has agreed to sign a four-year, $212 million contract and become a Sixer.

This sort of news is not the norm for Sixers fans, who six years ago heard interim general manager and head coach Brett Brown declare the team was “star hunting.” None came to Philadelphia that summer, although Jimmy Butler eventually landed in November. The Sixers are accustomed to such dealmaking being necessary. Elton Brand’s five-year free-agent contract in 2008 is a rare example of a big name choosing the Sixers. 

Now the Sixers’ general manager, Brand himself would tell you that George has the loftier résumé; he earned his ninth career All-Star nod last year. As they did 16 years ago with Brand, the Sixers pounced when the Clippers decided against making George a satisfactory offer. 

L.A.’s firm, anti-four-year stance is not random. The Clippers have plainly stated that the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement guided their approach. Extended, excessive, bad contracts are indeed especially damaging these days, since going over the second tax apron is highly restrictive.

Morey has been well-aware of all that. 

“A lot of our moves are for planning in the new CBA environment, which I think is very impactful,” he said in February, “and setting ourselves up for those big moves in the future. … There are all these new rules coming in — limits your draft picks, limits your abilities in free agency. All these things are coming. We’re the best set up of any of those teams that are contenders, by a good margin.”

In terms of having the cap space to acquire a max-contract star, Morey’s assessment was spot-on. Outside of in-house All-Stars Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, the Sixers started this summer from close to scratch.

Obviously, George’s star status alone doesn’t mean he’s destined to push the Sixers past their playoff woes. He’s 34 years old, lost in Round 1 of the postseason last year, and missed the 2023 playoffs with a right knee injury. As the Sixers saw with James Harden, aging can diminish players in both subtle and drastic ways — nagging injuries; decreased burst; one or two more shots falling short in fatigued fourth quarters. 

There’s tons of evidence to suggest a healthy George should boost the Sixers’ title contention chances, though. If Embiid’s unstoppable in the post or Maxey’s rolling toward a 50-point performance, he’ll be comfortable with a more peripheral, defensively oriented night. If Embiid’s hurt or resting, he’ll be fine firing up a dozen three-pointers and sinking some tough jumpers late in the shot clock. 

It also doesn’t hurt that George’s arrival should ease the pressure on 23-year-old Maxey — last season’s Most Improved Player — to immediately take another massive leap and carry the Sixers’ offense when Embiid sits. Sixers head coach Nick Nurse believes Maxey’s growth is nowhere near finished, but miraculous shots and 42-minute regular-season outings don’t look quite as essential with George on board. 

“I certainly like where we’re going, especially with Tyrese,” Nurse said after the Sixers’ first-round series loss to the Knicks. “I think people were wondering where he fit in this thing, but I think we all know now that Joel-Tyrese is a helluva combo to start with.” 

The Sixers now have a trio, so Morey’s new focus is on picking up the right role players. 

On the first night of free agency, Kelly Oubre Jr., Andre Drummond and Eric Gordon were his moves in that department. 

“In those situations, I like having the challenge,” Morey said in May, “finding the guys that are overlooked — the Kelly Oubres of the world. Getting a Kyle Lowry, guys like that. I like that challenge.

“I think that’s something that the front office is very good at. … I think generally, the history of the NBA would favor — even with the new CBA — get studs who can then put the work and the onus on the front office to find the players that fit around (them).” 

Whoever forms that supporting cast and however the next four years shake out, Morey’s determined run at another stud ended just as he’d wished. 

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