“We’re hopeful,” Morey said before the 76ers hosted the Atlanta Hawks and three days after Embiid underwent surgery on his left knee. “Feedback has been more good than bad since we first heard about what led to his procedure. So, we’re hopeful and we’re building the team to make it better this year. Obviously, it’s not at 100 percent. But with Joel playing at an MVP level, hopefully, he could get back to that. And this is a year that we have a real shot.”
Asked if his approach would have been different depending on Embiid’s injury news, Morey was clear.
“If the hope wasn’t there in Joel, I think it would have changed things dramatically,” Morey said. “We’re very hopefully. Obviously for sure, it’s not 100 percent. It’s something that is probably unfortunately a good chunk short of 100 percent. But we thought it was the right thing.
“There’s a lot of ways to not win the title. Winning a title is hard; Joel not coming back at the level we hope is one of the ways we can’t win a title this year, most likely. … But you always want to be among the best teams and that means taking risk on the injury front and that’s where we are at right now.”
Embiid, averaging 35.3 points and 11.3 rebounds in 39 games, has missed the past five contests since Golden State forward Jonathan Kuminga fell on his left leg, injuring the meniscus that required surgery on Tuesday. The initial report from the 76ers said that Embiid would be “reevaluated” in four weeks. Before that, Embiid had been held out because of left knee swelling in Philadelphia’s two previous games.
Morey declined to describe the exact procedure that Embiid had, which would have provided a clue to the significance of the injury.
Morey said he struck out in a bid to fill Embiid’s shoes and upgrade the team’s backup center position from Paul Reed. He said he was shocked that no bigs were dealt before the trade deadline.
Instead, Morey picked up veteran guards Buddy Hield and Cameron Payne in separate deals. Philadelphia acquired the two as part of four deals that included the departure of Patrick Beverley, Danuel House, Furkan Kourkmaz and Jaden Springer, as well as forward Marcus Morris Sr. The 76ers also shipped four second-round picks in those moves while receiving two back in trades with Milwaukee and Boston.
“Our priority was to get a big, but we wanted to add to our playoff rotation this year,” Morey said.
Hield will likely be a key 3-point shooting threat for Philadelphia, helping to assist All-Star Tyrese Maxey, who has seen defenses swarm to him after the Embiid injury.
“We have to win games and it’s going to be a battle,” Morey said. “But we were focused on playoffs, we have a rotation that we know can win at a super high level and that he was the only player who moved teams that would play a big role in our rotation. What he brings to the table is pretty obvious.”