Saturday, February 24

James Harden-Ben Simmons deal: The whole story behind trade

By Yaron Weitzman
FOX Sports NBA Writer

The best way to understand these Philadelphia 76ers is to understand team president Daryl Morey. And the best way to understand Morey — not just who he is but also how he approaches the job of running a professional basketball team — is to hear the story of his relationship with Shane Battier.

You probably know most of it already. The two, after all, have been tied at the hip ever since Michael Lewis profiled them in 2009, as sort of a basketball-centric follow-up to “Moneyball.” Battier was the ground-bound athlete who was able to overcome his lack of athleticism by embracing analytics. Morey, as general manager of the Houston Rockets, the team for which Battier played, was the man who normalized the use of analytics in the NBA.

“I was closer with Daryl than any other executive I’ve been around,” Battier told me recently over the phone.

Colin Cowherd: 76ers win the Harden-Simmons trade

Colin Cowherd: 76ers win the Harden-Simmons trade

Colin Cowherd reacts to Thursday’s NBA blockbuster and breaks down why he thinks Philadelphia won the trade.

He was calling at Morey’s request. I was a few months into my reporting on a story about everything swirling around the Sixers, the team Morey is now running, and Morey, Battier said, wanted to make sure I was hearing from friends and not just from foes.

“This isn’t the first time Daryl’s asked me to speak to someone about an article,” Battier said. He started chuckling. Then he told the story of their friendship. It started when the Rockets traded for Battier in 2006. “I was so fascinated with analytics,” he said, “and thought I could have a huge advantage if I used them. So I sought out Daryl and got to know him pretty well.”

The two grew close over Battier’s four-plus seasons in Houston, which is why it stung him when, in February 2011, he was told he was being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies for a package of Hasheem Thabeet, DeMarre Carroll and a first-round pick. Battier was angry and grew even angrier the next day, when a medical condition forced his pregnant wife onto bed rest.

“Daryl at the time was not a favorite in our household,” Battier told me.

But, he added, he also understood. “You have to separate the relationships you build from the business aspects of things,” Battier said. “I always knew Daryl was going to do whatever he thought gave the team the best chance to win, that nothing mattered more to him. That’s just the nature of the business. It’s high-turnover. For everybody: players, coaches, front office. The only people that stick around are the owners.”

Daryl Morey (left) once traded Shane Battier, but the two became fast friends over their love of analytics. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Battier eventually got over the trade — he joined the Miami Heat two seasons later and helped them win two titles — and said his friendship with Morey has grown in the years since. He pointed out Morey once donned a pink dress for a performance alongside him during one of Battier’s yearly Karaoke-themed fundraisers. Today the two joke about the deal.

“I kid him and say, ‘You seriously traded me for Hasheem Thabeet?’” Battier said.

Which is the key part of the story, and to understanding how one of the men at the heart of one of the most high-profile standoffs in modern sports history was able to pull off exactly what he said he would and get exactly what he wants, after months of hearing people say he had no chance. (Full disclosure: I was one of them.)

James Harden is a Sixer. Ben Simmons is a Net. 

With Harden and Joel Embiid, Morey has his two MVP-level stars — who both swear by him and his ability to lead a team — and right now, despite spending more than half the season competing with a $33-million hole in their lineup, the Sixers might just be the favorites to win the East. For the first time in a decade, they have a structure in place in which everyone knows their roles and where they fit.

The show belongs to Embiid and Morey and Harden now.

How did Morey pull it off? The answer is in the Shane Battier story. It’s not just that Morey would deal his firstborn if it garnered a return that could better his team’s championship odds. It’s also his assumption that, as time goes by, those on the other side of the table, no matter how angry or aggrieved, will one day come around to his point of view.

*** *** *** 

This past October, a member of the Sixers’ starting lineup was speaking with a friend when talk turned to the upcoming season.

“Everyone’s gotten better except us,” the player said, referring to the rest of the Eastern Conference contenders. “This season feels like a wash.”

Two months into the season, the player looked to be right. Simmons was holding out. Morey’s attempts to swap him for a star were failing. His insistence that Simmons would cave and eventually return to the court, despite being told otherwise by Simmons’ agent, Rich Paul, and Sixers employees who knew Simmons best, had proved misguided.

More than that, Simmons’ prolonged absence had revealed just how important he was to the team. More than that, Simmons’ willingness to remain absent had revealed that Morey, by insisting he would only swap Simmons for a star as opposed to a package of high-level starters to surround the in-his-prime Embiid, had perhaps misplayed his cards.

By Christmas, the Sixers were 16-16. They didn’t have enough ball-handlers. They couldn’t generate open shots. They couldn’t rebound. Their title odds — the only number that matters to Morey — were at 1, maybe 2%.

Embiid, meanwhile, was regularly flailing his arms and shaking his head after watching teammates make mistakes. Coach Doc Rivers was sniping at reporters. Both were on board with Morey’s approach, but it was clear they were growing frustrated with playing every game short-handed.

Morey was frustrated, too. He knew Simmons no longer wanted to be a Sixer, but Morey couldn’t wrap his head around the way Simmons was approaching the situation. For one, Simmons’ list of grievances was long and varied. He was angry at Rivers, and Embiid, and felt limited by the structure of the team. Simmons had a desire to lead his own team, and he said he couldn’t play for the Sixers for mental health reasons.

Which, fine, Morey was willing to accept. But the way he looked at it, if Simmons wanted to be traded so badly, the easiest way for that to happen would be by coming back. In Morey’s view, if Simmons was acting in any form of a rational way — and Morey couldn’t understand anyone not acting in a manner that he believed to be rational — Simmons would have already returned. Then this whole ordeal could have been sorted out, either via trade or by Simmons suiting up.

In the eight months since this saga began, it’s become a cliché to describe Morey as someone comfortable with discomfort. This is true, but it also misses the point. Morey doesn’t operate the way he does because he’s comfortable with discomfort but rather because in his view, the whole exercise of team building is, in a weird way, simple.

He wants to win a championship. That’s the only goal. The only way to win a championship, he believes, is by stacking stars. None of this is particularly novel. What is novel is the manner in which Morey is willing to prioritize the chasing of those stars — chemistry and continuity and fit, he believes, don’t boost championship odds in any significant way — and then empowering them once they’re reeled in, in a way that it becomes clear that only they matter. 

And this, unlike Simmons’ actions, was something he could control.

*** *** ***

The story of Morey and the Sixers (which is detailed here and based on interviews over the past two years with dozens of sources connected to the Sixers and NBA) begins in the summer of 2018. The Sixers, upon the firing of Bryan Colangelo in the wake of his bizarre Twitter scandal, were in need of a new top basketball executive. Morey was one of the first candidates they pursued.

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The job intrigued him. He met with managing partner Josh Harris, co-managing partner David Blitzer and minority owner Michael Rubin. He liked what he heard, but in the end, Morey turned down the offer, partially because he wanted to let his son finish high school in Houston. He soon negotiated an extension with the Rockets, this one for five years.

With Morey off the board, the Sixers handed the GM job to Elton Brand, the former NBA All-Star who had joined their front office in the summer of 2017. Brand was popular among his colleagues and respected by peers, but two seasons later the Sixers had fallen a few rungs down the Eastern Conference standings. It was toward the end of that 2019-2020 season, during the NBA’s bubble, that Harris, according to a league source, approached Brand with a question.

There was talk among NBA circles that some high-profile executives could be on the market that upcoming offseason. Morey was one of them. Harris wanted to know what Brand thought. Was Morey someone Brand believed could boost the Sixers? Also, would Brand be open to working for him?

Brand told Harris he didn’t think the Sixers needed to bring in someone else, that he was confident in himself and his group. But, he added, after more than 20 championship-less NBA seasons, both as a player and as an executive, what he wanted most was to win a title, and also, he’d actually gotten to know Morey in the bubble — they had lunch one day and sat next to each other during a Sixers-Rockets game — and Brand believed Morey could help both him and the organization.

“If you can get that type of guy,” Brand told Harris, “you gotta do it.”

Ben Simmons’ days in Philadelphia might have been numbered ever since the Sixers hired Daryl Morey as team president in November 2020. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

*** *** ***

Morey, however, was still in Houston. And anyway, first, the Sixers needed a new coach.

They had fired Brett Brown in August 2020 after being swept out of the playoffs. Soon after, they narrowed down their search to two candidates: Ty Lue, then an assistant with the Clippers, and Mike D’Antoni, who had recently told Morey and the Rockets that he wouldn’t be returning as head coach.

Both men spoke with Brand and ownership. Brand, according to multiple league sources, told D’Antoni that Joel Embiid was in his corner; Embiid and D’Antoni had clicked during D’Antoni’s stint as a Sixers assistant in 2016. D’Antoni and Brand discussed contract terms. D’Antoni even told some former Rockets staffers to begin house hunting in Philadelphia, and he believed ownership was on his side.

At the same time, Lue, according to a source with knowledge of his thinking, got the impression that he was Brand’s top choice. The problem, according to that source, was Lue didn’t believe the decision was Brand’s to make.

Lue wasn’t the first person to feel this way about a Sixers GM in recent years. Among Sixers ownership, Harris and Blitzer were both hands-on. There was also Rubin who, despite owning around 8% of the team at the time, “has a huge say in things there,” according to one person familiar with the team’s inner workings. And there was also CEO Scott O’Neil, who earlier in his career had aspirations of working in basketball operations. Overall, the Sixers had four individuals above their GM who had a say in basketball decisions.

In this case, it wasn’t until a third coaching option presented itself — when the Clippers fired Doc Rivers — that the Sixers were able to agree on a path forward.

The news of Rivers’ firing broke on the last Monday of September. Brand immediately reached out to Rivers, who also happened to be speaking with Morey, who was searching for a replacement for D’Antoni in Houston. Morey, according to a source, had done some background work on Rivers, speaking to then-Celtics president Danny Ainge and Clippers president Lawrence Frank, and both had passed along positive reports.

Morey and Rivers had also been colleagues in Boston for about 18 months, and Rivers’ son, Austin, had spent two seasons playing for Morey’s Rockets, an arrangement that came together after Doc had sold Morey on Austin’s ability.

Morey wanted Rivers to be the Rockets’ next coach and believed Rivers was interested in the job. Rivers was scheduled to meet with the Sixers on Friday in Philadelphia and then travel to Houston on Sunday to talk with the Rockets.

Instead, Rivers decided to take the Sixers’ job on the spot.

Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid have developed a strong relationship in Philadelphia, resulting in Embiid playing his best basketball and finally becoming a team leader. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Morey’s name was never brought up in Rivers’ discussions with the team. After securing his coach, Brand began recruiting executives around the league to come work with him in Philadelphia. Then, in October, Morey and the Rockets announced that he’d be stepping away from the team at the end of the month.

“My youngest son just graduated from high school, and it was just the right time to see what’s next with family and other potential things in the future,” Morey told ESPN at the time. He had the Sixers and Mavericks pegged as possible future landing spots, according to a source, but with the 2020 draft less than a week away, he couldn’t imagine either of them — or any other team — bringing him in for that upcoming season.

The Sixers didn’t care. Rubin, who had become friends with Rockets star James Harden, with whom Morey was close, pushed for the Sixers to go after Morey. Brand, when asked by Harris, reiterated that he was on board but also believed the group needed to hear Rivers’ thoughts.

Rivers, according to multiple sources, was both surprised and skeptical.

He’d taken the job because he believed in the talent of Simmons and Embiid — and because he’d clicked with Brand. He respected Morey, but that didn’t necessarily mean he was jumping to work for him. Rivers’ longtime chief of staff, Annemarie Loflin, would later tell people that Rivers never had any intention of taking the Rockets’ coaching job, despite his speaking to Morey about the vacancy, and that Rivers had to sign off on the Morey hiring.

Rivers was also concerned that Brand was being layered against his will.

“How do you feel about it?” he asked Brand.

“The more firepower the better,” Brand replied.

With Rivers on board, the Sixers shifted into recruiting mode. Rubin led the charge. He flew Morey into Philadelphia on his private chopper for an interview. Harris invited Morey out to his Hamptons home. By the end of October, the two sides had agreed to a deal, with Rivers telling Morey that he was thrilled to be working alongside him.

Two months after being swept in the playoffs’ first round, the Sixers had completely revamped their franchise. It didn’t matter that the order had been chaotic and backward. Ownership was giddy.

“Everyone else is cutting costs because of the pandemic,” a person familiar with the group’s thinking told me at the time. “Josh [Harris] and the group saw this as an opportunity to get more talent in the building, and they’ve done just that.”

But not every member of the Sixers felt the same way.

*** *** ***

In Houston, every decision Morey made — from what offense to run to what trades to make to what days and times to practice — was made either at Harden’s behest or with Harden in mind. Now in Philadelphia, Morey wished to do the same with Embiid.

“He went out of his way to connect with Jo early on,” a source close to Embiid said. The two FaceTimed the day of Morey’s introductory news conference. They played tennis together. Embiid, for his part, was eager to accept the role Morey was offering, even asking Morey to lunch.

“[Embiid] has a real interest in the salary cap and team-building strategies,” the source close to Embiid said. “And he really enjoyed talking to Daryl about all of that stuff.”

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Watching all of this, Ben Simmons could read the tea leaves. He knew Harden would soon be asking out of Houston, and how close Rubin was with Harden, and with Embiid, too, and the role Rubin played in pushing for Morey, and how close Embiid was growing with Morey, who, by the way, had never asked Simmons to lunch. It was like a new circle of power had been formed, and no one had extended him an invite.

“To us it seemed like the whole reason for bringing in Morey was because they felt like that could get them Harden,” a source close to Simmons said.

Despite publicly stating otherwise, in January 2021, Morey tried doing exactly that. He didn’t care that there were all sorts of forces working against him. That the Rockets — and their new GM, Rafael Stone — didn’t consider Simmons a foundational star. That Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta was furious with how and when Morey had left Houston and was not particularly interested in helping Morey improve his new team. That dangling Simmons in a deal that might not go through but where the negotiations were sure to become public would likely fracture the relationship between Simmons and the team.

Morey was aware of this all, and yet, in his view, a Harden trade was still one with pursuing. First off, if Stone — a longtime colleague and friend of Morey’s — believed Morey’s offer was the best on the table, then the Houston GM would probably be able to convince Fertita to approve the deal. Also, if a trade didn’t happen and Simmons’ feelings were hurt, well, it wasn’t like Morey had tried trading him for a bum. This was James Harden, one of the five best players in the league. If anything, Simmons should be flattered.

More than that, though, Harden was a player worth the risk. The Sixers with Simmons and Embiid were one of the league’s best teams. The Sixers with Harden and Embiid were, based on Morey’s models, the best, or, rather, the one with the best championship odds.

Morey offered a package centered around Simmons. The Rockets listened — then, on Jan. 14 sent Harden to the Nets. Different sources connected to different people have different recollections of how the negotiations played out.

Sources connected to the Sixers’ side say that, in fact, the Rockets never came to the Sixers seeking a final offer. They insist that once Brooklyn had put everything it could on the table — all its core young players and every pick it was legally allowed to trade — the Sixers were no longer needed. In other words, Stone had used them as leverage to bid the Nets up, that a true teardown is what the Rockets wanted, that Fertita had no intention of ever trading Harden to Morey.

“There was no way that was ever going to happen,” a person familiar with Fertitta’s thinking said.

Sources familiar with Stone’s thinking insist that, despite Fertitta’s anger with Morey, Stone was given the latitude to make the deal he thought was best and that, a couple hours before agreeing to the Nets’ deal he called the Sixers to see if they wanted to match, and that the two sides had spoken multiples times that day before the deal, and Morey even called Stone after the deal to congratulate him and acknowledge the package the Rockets had received from the Nets was one Morey could never have matched.

Either way, Simmons believed he was headed to the Rockets — he had started looking for homes in the Houston area — and, according to a person close to him, “it took a couple of games for him get back in the swing of things.

“But,” the person told me last June, “he got over it fast. He understands this is a business.”

Sure, Simmons knew Morey had tried trading him, which meant Embiid had signed off, and there was a chance he’d be dangled and perhaps dealt in the offseason. But he also felt the Sixers — and especially Rivers, who’d been his most vocal supporter all season — appreciated the skills he brought to the table, even if the public never did.

“Doc’s been great, and Ben loves working with [assistant coach] Sam Cassell,” the Simmons source told me before last season’s playoffs. “This year has been the best of Ben’s career.”

Simmons, for the moment, was content.

*** *** ***

Morey hadn’t planned on shopping Simmons after the season. He figured he’d make a few tweaks along the margins of the roster, and if the opportunity to flip Simmons for an upgrade presented itself, he’d take a look, but only on his timeline.

The playoffs changed everything.

By now you know the story. Of how Simmons stopped shooting. Of how he dished off rather than put down a wide-open dunk. Of how the Sixers were upset by the lower-seeded and inferior Atlanta Hawks in seven games. Of how Rivers, when asked after that Game 7 whether he still believed Simmons could be the starting point of a team with championship aspirations, replied, “I don’t know the answer to that right now.” Of how Embiid had singled out Simmons’ turning down of that dunk as “the turning point” of the series.

Simmons felt betrayed by everyone within the organization. The front office, which had tried trading him. Rivers, who had changed his tune so fast that it left Simmons wondering if any of his praise throughout the season had been honest. Embiid, with whom he’d been through so much with and now appeared so willing and eager to throw Simmons under the bus.

“I never did that to him when he didn’t play well in the playoffs,” Simmons told associates in the months since.

The two, after all, had spent years strengthening their relationship. It started about midway through the 2016-2017 season, Simmons’ rookie year, when someone close to Embiid approached someone close to Simmons with a question:

“How can we get Ben and Joel to get close?” the person asked.

The response was there was nothing anyone other than Simmons and Embiid could do, time was all that was needed, time together in the locker room, time together on the court.

But the issues were glaring. Both players wanted the offense to run through them, but their skills and styles clashed. So did their personalities. Embiid is an introvert. “He’s happiest when sitting at home and playing video games,” one former Sixers staffer said.  Simmons, like any one-time childhood star, is guarded. Over the past year I’ve asked about a dozen different people with Sixers ties which teammates Simmons was closest with. I never got a single name.

At times, the relationship between the two was tense. Teammates would notice eye rolls and slumped shoulders. The pair exchanged passive-aggressive barbs through the media. If one of them received some sort of perk — such as the use of an owner’s private jet to get to the All-Star Game — the other would request the same.

“There was definitely jealousy going both ways,” another former staffer says.

Yet through their four seasons on the court together, the two stars were able to form both a respect and a bond. Not necessarily because they wanted to, but because they recognized it was what was needed in order to succeed. They’d meet with Brett Brown in his office to discuss how to co-exist. As the years went by, they could be seen laughing with each other more frequently.

Embiid and Simmons built a bond based on necessity, both thinking they needed to co-exist in order to win a championship. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

After the conclusion of their first playoff run together, in 2018, Simmons approached Embiid, held up a hand and said, “There’s gonna be a lot of [championship] rings on this before we’re done.” 

One year later, in the moments before their Game 7 battle with the Raptors, I watched Simmons break the silence in the locker room by making eye contact with Embiid and asking, “You ready, Jo?” the way one friend would talk to another. Not long after that, Simmons signed a max extension with the Sixers.

“I’m really happy for him,” Embiid told a friend at the time. “He deserves it.”

But now Simmons was done with Embiid —  according to a source, Embiid had tried reaching out to Simmons in the months after the season only to receive no response — and the entire organization, leaving Morey with little control over the situation.

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Less than a week after the Game 7 loss to the Hawks, Morey met with Simmon’ agent, Rich Paul, in Chicago at the NBA’s annual pre-draft combine. Paul told the Sixers that Simmons would not suit up for them again. The meeting was cordial. The two sides agreed to work together to find a solution.

Morey started working the phones. He didn’t feel the need to trade Simmons — after all, there were still another four years on Simmons’ contract — but he was open to canvassing the market. He called teams and asked for everything: stars, draft picks, young players. No one was interested. Rival GMs laughed at his requests — and relayed them to the media.

Morey didn’t care. He believed in the anchoring effect — the idea that people use an initial piece of information to make decisions and judgments, meaning, in the case of a Simmons trade, all subsequent negotiations would stem from the initial conversation, and with that being the case, there was no such thing as an insulting offer.

And also, even though Paul was telling him otherwise, Morey believed, if no trade was found, eventually Simmons would return to the team.

Things remained quiet for most of the offseason. In mid-August, at the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas, I asked someone from Simmons’ camp for an update.

“He’s not playing for the Sixers again,” the person told me. “But right now, we’re letting the team do its thing. No reason to get in the way.”

Later that month, Morey, Brand, Rivers and Josh Harris flew out to Los Angeles to meet with Simmons at Paul’s home. The intention was to convince Simmons to come back to Philadelphia. They gathered, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, “in a special room — across the pool area at Paul’s house — filled with cigars, sports memorabilia and expensive liquor.”

The conversation, according to people with knowledge of the meeting’s events, opened like one between two exes. It was stilted. The Sixers’ group asked Simmons how he was liking it in L.A. And about his workouts. Then the group made its presentation, which consisted of all sorts of statistical evidence outlining how effective Simmons and Embiid had been together. The short of it all was that the Sixers wanted him back and believed he could help them, and they could help him.

Simmons was quiet. He listened. Then, when the group finished, he shared his thoughts.

He said his mind hadn’t changed. He said he wasn’t coming back. He said he couldn’t play for the Sixers anymore. That mentally, he just wasn’t there. That the partnership with Embiid had run its course. That the structure of the team was holding him back, and it was time for him to find a new home.

Rivers, at one point, shot back, reminding Simmons that he was under contract.

“You’re not hearing what I’m saying; you never hear what I’m saying,” Simmons replied. He remained frustrated that, in his view, Rivers had never apologized for his comments after the Hawks’ loss. “You never listen.”

About a week later, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Simmons had told “team brass he no longer wants to be a Sixer and does not intend to report to training camp.”

Morey, however, wasn’t ready to give up or give in.

*** *** ***

Throughout the season’s early months, Morey and some Sixers executives would meet multiple times a week to assess where they were with Simmons.

Around late December, Morey had a thought: What if they expanded the pool of players he’d be willing to take back? Not by much — after all, teams built around a single star that won titles, like the 2011 Dallas Mavericks, were extreme exceptions to the rule — but maybe there was a more creative way to attack the situation. 

They could try nabbing a talented young player on a rookie scale deal who could one day become a star. Or maybe there were teams that could trade a top 30 or 40 player along with draft picks, which then could be flipped for a star later. Or maybe they could attach Tobias Harris and his massive contract. Maybe there was one move to make which would get them closer to the move.

Morey wasn’t quite budging — Rich Paul was telling people around the league at that time that he thought Morey was holding out for Harden, either this season or at the trade deadline — but he was open to the idea that maybe there was another trade out there he had missed.

Then something funny happened — the Sixers started winning games. Seven in a row and then two in a row and then five in a row. Empowering Embiid had paid off. He was playing like an MVP, and also, for the first time in his career, acting like the leader that he always claimed to be. 

It was as if Simmons’ absence had freed him, both on and off the court. You could see it during press conferences, but it was also evident behind closed doors. He was having a blast and trusted Morey and loved that Morey trusted him.

“He’s owned this being his team,” a Sixers executive says. “He’s having a ton of fun with it and trusts everyone around him.”

Around the same time, the Nets started losing games. Harden had seemed off all season — both during games and with his comments after them — and was growing frustrated with the situation in Brooklyn. He and Kevin Durant weren’t getting along. He disagreed with some of Steve Nash’s coaching decisions and, as a former Rockets staffer said, “With James if you’re not 100 percent on his side, you’re his enemy.”

Meanwhile, the trade deadline was inching closer. Morey made it known he’d be interested in a Harden-for-Simmons swamp, but the Nets refused to engage, with Nash even telling reporters the Nets had no plans to trade Harden. Privately, though, the Nets remained open to the idea. They knew Harden wanted to leave in the offseason, and he and the Sixers had mutual interest. Also, Nets general manager Sean Marks thought all the noise swirling around Harden was hurting his team. 

“I don’t need this stuff affecting our locker room,” he told an associate recently. 

But it wasn’t until Thursday morning, with the deadline just hours away, when the Nets and Sixers began kicking deals back and forth for the first time. Like Shane Battier, the Nets eventually came around. Morey didn’t want to give up everything — he knew he could get Harden in the summer — but this was also one of the few times he wouldn’t insist on holding the line. 

Before long, the Nets and Sixers agreed to terms. Morey gave up a lot: Ben Simmons, Andre Drummond, two first-round picks and Seth Curry, who happens to be married to Rivers’ daughter, which is a pretty good metaphor for Morey’s approach. 

Embiid was thrilled. Harden, as part of the deal, will opt into his contract for the 2021-2022 season. The fit isn’t perfect. What’s Harden going to do when Embiid is posting up? What’s Embiid going to do when Harden dances up top? Can Harden rediscover his bounce? Can he learn to play with another star; you can build a Hall of Fame lineup just using teammates with whom he’s clashed. 

But those are questions for a different day. 

“Daryl’s a firm believer that if you don’t have two top-15 players, everything else is meaningless,” a former Rockets colleague said. He now has them. He bent the NBA to his will and remade the organization in his image.

The Sixers are Daryl Morey, and Daryl Morey is the Sixers. 

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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