Daryl Morey’s Big Mistake Was Trading Sixers Bullies

Former Sixers guard Patrick Beverley has a well-deserved reputation as an NBA agitator.

Before we go any further, please know that I approved of this move when the Sixers traded Patrick Beverley and Marcus Morris Sr.

This is not an “I told you so” column. This is a “You should be smarter than me” column.

Daryl Morey is, in most ways, much smarter than me. That’s why he makes $12 million a year, at least twice as much as I do, and that’s why he should never have done what I would have done.

I cheered on February 8 when the Sixers sent Pat Bev to Milwaukee for Cam Payne and sent Morris to the San Antonio Spurs in a three-team deal that landed them Buddy Hield from Indiana.

“I feel like we got the best player at the trade deadline,” Morey said at the time.

“I love the Buddy Hield trade,” I tweeted, along with a poll in which 161 like-minded souls agreed with me and Big D.

We were all so naive.

Blinded by Hield’s 16.1 point average over his first seven full seasons, stricken by his 40.2% three-point rate, we ignored his shortcomings – he can’t create his own shot, and his defense makes James Harden look like Dennis Rodman – because the Bahamas bomber was the answer to our feverish, analytical dreams.

Payne? Well, he had been to the NBA Finals with the Suns. Maybe not “the best player at the trade deadline that got traded,” but he had playoff DNA, baby.

Never mind.

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The Sixers dumped their two smartest and toughest players, and they are paying the price. They find themselves down 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs against a Knicks team built on courage and guile. Beverley and Morris together lasted 25 years in the NBA because of their craftiness.

Maybe the series would be different if the Sixers had more guts and guile. Maybe they wouldn’t be eliminated on Tuesday in New York. Who knows?

It started with such a promise.

The Sixers lost their fourth straight game the day after the trades, but Hield recorded the first of four straight 20-point games. Daryl (and I) looked brilliant.

Hield hasn’t sniffed a 20-point game since his honeymoon with the Sixers. He’s suddenly shy in the playoffs; he made only four three-pointers in three games and he only scored one basket, a layup. Nick Nurse can’t afford to let him come off the bench. Payne has his minutes.

This is not optimal, as Payne was immediately relegated to the backup role when the Sixers agreed to terms with veteran Kyle Lowry on February 10.

Lowry is shooting 42.3% from the field in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson is cooking everyone. If Beverley were in Philadelphia, Brunson might still have hoops, but he would win them.

On Morris’ side: Paul Reed, Joel Embiid’s backup, was so bad, so soft and so clumsy that Nurse had to play against Embiid all 24 minutes of the second half in Game 4 on Sunday. Mo Bamba did not appear in the series. The Knicks charge the paint with abandon when Embiid is out. This abandonment would be verified if Morris was still there.

The trade made sense at the time.

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Embiid was coming off knee surgery that would cost him most of the rest of the season, which it did. He led the NBA in scoring. Shooter De’Anthony Melton suffered from back pain. The Sixers needed offense.

Pat Bev is 35, and he hasn’t averaged double figures in seven years, so he wasn’t going to give them that; his 6.0 average with the Bucks is in line with what he contributed in Philadelphia. Morris, who is 34, wasn’t going to get any buckets either. He averaged 6.7 points in sporadic duties over 37 games with the Sixers.

But do you know what they would have done? When the Knicks punched the Sixers in the mouth, they would have fought back. Everytime. Stronger. Dirtier.

Instead, the Sixers have Nico Batum and Kelly Oubre Jr. roaming around the paint, fearing that Josh Hart or OG Anunoby will hurt them if they bring a ball into the hole with their chest. They have Tobias Harris hoping his layups will come through. They have Lowry playing hard, but 38-year-old NBA guards don’t have much butt left.

Would Beverley and Morris make a material difference? Probably not against, say, the top-seeded Celtics, who are too good for the Sixers personnel to count. Probably against the third-seeded Bucks, who stink without injured superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. In fact, with Embiid back — even at 70 percent, or whatever his knee allows — the only team besides Boston that would give the Sixers any problems is the Knicks. Of the six other teams, they are the only ones needing the unique services of Beverley and Morris, sluggers in sneakers.

After all, Beverley and the Bucks are trailing the Pacers, 3-1, and that’s over now that Damian Lillard has joined Giannis on the sidelines with an Achilles injury. Beverley is averaging 7.5 points and 33 minutes. He doesn’t make a difference there.

The Spurs bought out Morris’ contract and he landed in Cleveland, where the Cavs and Magic are tied 2-2. Morris did not play in the first two games the Cavs won and scored nine points in 15 minutes in Games 3 and 4, which the Cavs lost. He doesn’t make a difference there.

No, there’s only one playoff team in the Eastern Conference that Beverley and Morris would have made a difference on: the one that eliminated them.

And I knew that from the start. (I absolutely did not.)

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