Daryl Morey's Failure to Trade Ben Simmons For James Harden Will Haunt Sixers Forever

Ben Simmons and James Harden
Ben Simmons and James Harden / Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers are embroiled in Ben Simmons trade rumors. If that sentence sounds familiar, it's because it should. Last offseason also featured a host of Simmons trade rumors. The circumstances, though, could not be more different.

In 2020, Simmons' name was floated in trade rumors because James Harden wanted out of Houston. Daryl Morey was the man who brought the MVP to Houston in the first place and had recently accepted the job of president for the Sixers. At the time, everyone knew Simmons was a good player but his fit with Joel Embiid was in question. As the offseason progressed and Philadelphia did not trade for Harden, it seemed obvious that Morey believed Simmons to be a championship-caliber player and would not sacrifice him for Harden.

As we all know, the Brooklyn Nets ended up being the team to give up a king's ransom for Harden's services. Philadelphia initially proved to everyone that keeping Simmons was the right call, or at least wasn't the wrong call; he played a crucial role in helping the Sixers seize homecourt advantage and the No. 1 overall seed with the best record in the Eastern Conference. For all his shooting woes, Simmons' defensive versatility and passing made the pairing with Embiid work as well as anyone could hope for in the regular season.

Then, of course, the playoffs happened. Simmons' inability or unwillingness to take shots in any capacity proved to be Philly's death blow. Embiid and Doc Rivers expressed their frustration with that in no uncertain terms to media members after their ousting in the second round. Simmons went on the trade block almost immediately. Morey has spent all summer trying to find the right trade package, but to no avail. It could lead to disaster if the Sixers can't find that trade package before training camp.

Thus, the Harden trade becomes the ultimate what-if for Philadelphia. What if they decided the superstar shooting guard was worth giving up their best asset in Simmons to go along with an unholy haul of future draft picks? What if Morey had pulled the trigger no matter the cost? Shams Charania gave that particular knife an extra twist today when he reported for The Athletic that Philly "almost" traded Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, and two firsts for Harden.

For now, all signs continue to point to Simmons’ career in Philadelphia coming to an end.

Simmons was almost moved to the Rockets along with Matisse Thybulle and two first-round picks in the James Harden negotiations, but Houston traded Harden to the Brooklyn Nets. With previous trade talks coming so close to moving Simmons out of Philadelphia — coupled with the comments of Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers to end the 76ers season — the writing appears to be on the wall.

Oof. In retrospect, trading Simmons and Thybulle with a few picks for Harden would have been the deal to end all deals. Even if Harden's 2020-21 season played out the same way with all the injuries he suffered, Philadelphia would have been in a great spot. We'd call them a super team of sorts and they'd easily slot high on the short list of championship contenders. Instead, Philadelphia is stuck with trying to convince someone to give them an exorbitant return for Simmons-- and even if they do, no player they'll receive will hold a candle to Harden's skills (unless the Damian Lillard thing works out, which seems very unlikely at this juncture).

By the phrasing of this insider report, it wouldn't be fair to blame Morey for this entirely. He didn't turn down that trade package. He offered it and Houston rightfully chose the decade's worth of picks from Brooklyn instead. But he could have done more. He could have offered more. Whether or not he should have offered the same number of picks Brooklyn did doesn't matter as much as the fact that he didn't do it. He failed.

And it'll haunt the Sixers forever. They were close, far closer than any of us realized, to getting James Harden for what amounted to Simmons and filler. With the benefit of hindsight, it's a laughably great deal for Philly. What a reality that would have been.

But it did not come to fruition. Philly is instead stuck with trying to trade a player that everyone, including the player himself, knows they have to trade. There isn't a tougher position to be in. But it's the Sixers' reality now.