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After De’Anthony Melton trade, Sixers’ Daryl Morey talks what’s to come in free agency

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De’Anthony Melton will be a Sixer.

However, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey couldn’t quite acknowledge that yet during his post-NBA draft news conference at the team’s practice facility in Camden, New Jersey. Since the league didn’t finalize the Sixers’ trade for Melton, Morey made an early-morning attempt to address the deal while also being able to claim, if anyone cared to review the tape, that he wasn’t addressing anything specific.

“We’re trying to win now,” Morey said. “We are looking for players who can contribute. We were the number one defense two years ago. We were good last year. We want to make sure we improve that. So if we can get a perimeter defender, maybe for a draft pick, we’d feel pretty good about it. I think someone like that is someone who can really contribute and be a two-way player. Someone like that would be a very good addition.”

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As it happens, the hypothetical player in question exists in the form of Melton, who celebrated his 24th birthday last month.

Morey also suggested that the Sixers view Melton’s youth and contract in a positive light. Melton is owed $16.25 million (provided he hasn’t resigned by July 3, 2023) over the next two years. With Joel Embiid in his prime, the Sixers want to maximize those seasons.

“I like to have a mix of veterans and young guys who push the veterans,” Morey said. “So I think we value draft picks quite a bit. …Look, it’s really valuable when you give up a pick, but we’re in what we think is a very important window.

“Obviously we haven’t gotten as far as we wanted. So we’re looking for more ‘win now’. If we can get someone maybe earlier in their career but already contributing (who) could be here for a long time, that would be great too.”

Asked to look ahead, Morey was once again cautious about crossing any lines. But he remained consistent in his public messages about James Harden’s contract situation.

The 10-time All-Star has a $47.4 million player option for next season.

“Well, we can’t talk yet,” Morey said. “I would wait… actually, I don’t know. We will have conversations with him. As you have heard, it is a mutual love party, so we feel like we will figure it out.”

On the Sixers’ approach behind Embiid, Morey spoke more freely.

The team added two big men late in the second round of last year’s draft, choosing Filip Petrušev 50th and Charles Bassey 53rd. Excluding theoretical small-ball options like Georges Niang and Tobias Harris, the Sixers now they have two centers on their roster behind Embiid. And Paul Reed is the oldest at 23 years old. Petrušev will play for the Sixers in the summer league after a season with Anadolu Efes in Turkey, according to Morey, but it’s clearly not certain he has a future in Philadelphia.

“I know (head coach Doc Rivers) is very excited about what Paul Reed gave us down the stretch,” Morey said. “And in general, guys don’t contribute much in their first year. … It’s a long shot on a big winning team like ours, but the hope is that Bassey can contribute sometime this year. Hopefully, Paul will build on what he did late last year.

“Again, we are going to be opportunistic with more free agency spending. There will be opportunistic looks at minimum expenses. But I think the bar will be high on minimal spending at the backup center spot because we feel like we’ve got some guys that can contribute.”

Though limited in the details he could divulge, “contribute” was perhaps a code word for Morey.

And while it wouldn’t have made strategic sense to discuss the Sixers’ free-agent hopes outright — any questions about PJ Tucker would have been immediately deflected, for example — Morey’s present-oriented attitude was certainly sincere.

“Look, (managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer) are going to let us spend what we need to spend,” he said. that’s why. But we think we map it out as best we can with quite a few options, maybe eight to 12 that we think might contribute and might be in the range of what we’re allowed to do. We feel pretty good that I could get somebody to contribute and be in our playoff rotation.”

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