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How Daryl Morey Found Himself on the Other End of the ‘Poison Pill’

Danny Ainge put Daryl Morey in a tough position regarding RFA Paul Reed, but the Philly GM — innovator of the “poison pill” in NBA contracts — has no one to blame but himself.

Daryl Morey and the Philadelphia 76ers matched an offer sheet on Sunday night that the Utah Jazz made to restricted free agent Paul Reed. Outside of the backup center’s fan-favorite status, there isn’t much reason to get worked up over this. After all, Reed’s a player who averaged just north of 10 minutes per game for the first time in his career last season.

But when you break it down, the unfolding saga is equal amounts ridiculous and hilarious. Before we get into the why, here’s a brief timeline of what went down:

First, the Jazz extended a three-year, $23 million offer sheet to Reed, which isn’t outlandish in the slightest. Many believe that if given the opportunity — looking at you, Doc Rivers — Reed could be a more than serviceable backup, if not a starter in the right situation (though likely not in Utah with Walker Kessler in the fold). This is evident by his per-36 numbers of 13.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 2.4 blocks.

Having signed it on July 8, the Sixers had until Sunday night — 11:59 p.m. ET, to be exact — to match the offer extended to their 2020 second-round draft pick. With Philly fans already on the edge of insanity following another playoff failure and the latest trade rumors surrounding James Harden and Tobias Harris, a mutiny may have been on-hand if the team didn’t match the offer. The team opted to also bring back Montrezl Harrell and sign Mo Bamba in recent days, albeit on vet minimum deals, so folks were already planning for the worst.

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Daryl Morey and Co. waited until nearly the last minute, but Philadelphia ultimately matched, bringing Reed back into the Sixers’ rotation.

Philly fans rejoiced, with many excited at the prospect of Reed on a Nick Nurse-run team. But why was this whole scenario just the most utterly ridiculous thing? Let’s take a closer look at that offer sheet Danny Ainge and the Jazz extended to Reed.

On the surface, again, it’s a fair deal that Philadelphia normally may not have hesitated to match if not for the specific provisions that exist within. Just take a look at Woj’s report below:

For the Jazz, this provision likely wouldn’t matter much. Utah winning a first-round playoff series seems unlikely as it rebuilds, despite it battling for a play-in position last season. They’d pay the man for the first season and then revisit the idea of bringing him back after another year of development that puts the team closer to contention.

For the Sixers, however, a team that has made it to the conference semifinals in five of the last six seasons (almost painfully so, as they can’t seem to get over the hump to the ECF), the above detail made matching a bit more difficult for the front office. The expectation is that Philadelphia will advance to the second round of the playoffs this upcoming campaign, and if so, Reed’s contract then becomes guaranteed for the duration of the deal.

Getting a serviceable (and improving) backup center at $8 million per year while maintaining the flexibility to start him in a pinch considering Joel Embiid’s injury history is still a good deal for Philadelphia. Fully guaranteeing it, however, certainly made Morey think twice about matching.

Morey Ainge
Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

But if Morey has anyone to blame for this, it’s his Houston self. Turn back the clock to 2011. Morey was the GM of the Houston Rockets, looking to make a splash in free agency via unconventional routes. He settled on two restricted free agents in Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, but there was a twist. Both would eventually sign three-year, $24.3 million offer sheets with the Rockets, but only after their respective teams — the Bulls and the Knicks — declined to match after Morey included what has become known as the “poison pill” provision.

In this provision, $15 million of the respective deals were offloaded to the third and final year. For the Rockets, a team under the cap at the time in the pre-Harden era, this was a non-issue. But for the Bulls and the Knicks, both over the cap at the time, it presented a complicated predicament due to the lack of financial flexibility, ultimately leading to both declining the offer sheets.

Now, with the shoe on the other foot, Morey is finding out first-hand the difficulties those teams experienced thanks to his doings. What makes it even funnier is that Justin Zanik, now the GM of the Jazz, was Asik’s agent when this all went down in 2011. He should be well-versed in the trouble such provisions can cause a front office.

Morey Ainge

Whether it was Zanik or Ainge — who seems to be at the epicenter of Philly’s demise at all turns as the former GM of the Boston Celtics and now the CEO of Basketball for Utah — who came up with the idea doesn’t really matter, but it’s certainly ironic that both were involved with the target set on Morey.

Those Asik and Lin deals didn’t necessarily age well in Houston, and who knows how this will turn out for Reed in Philadelphia, so it remains to be seen whether matching the unique offer sheet will be viewed as a win or if such provisions will become more popular in the years to come.

But one thing is certain: Morey has no one to blame but himself for having to make this tough decision.

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About The Author
Griffin Adams
Griffin Adams
Griffin Adams is an Editor at Boardroom. He's had previous stints with The Athletic and Catena Media, and has also seen his work appear in publications such as USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and MLB.com. A University of Utah graduate, he can be seen obnoxiously cheering on the Utes on Saturdays and is known to Trust The Process as a loyal Philadelphia 76ers fan.