The Philadelphia 76ers came up short in the James Harden sweepstakes, but it wasn't for lack of putting their best card on the table. That card, of course, was Ben Simmons. There have been a pair of reports as to why the Rockets ultimately shunned the Sixers' package in favor of the four-team deal that sent Harden to Brooklyn.
Initially, it was reported that the Sixers offered a package centered on Simmons, Matisse Thybulle and draft compensation, but would not go so far as to include rookie Tyrese Maxey, whom Houston wanted. Maxey looks like a nice young player, but it's a stretch to believe the Sixers would really consider a late-first-round pick who's played 13 career games a bridge too far with a chance to acquire James Harden and become an immediate, and probably top-tier, title contender.
The second report is more believable, which is that Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta was adamant he wasn't going to make a trade with his former GM Daryl Morey, who of course is now running the Sixers.
This, if true, was stupid for Fertitta to allow personal grievances affect his decision making regarding a deal that will define his franchise for the next decade, but it makes far more sense, particularly as now another report has been brought to light: That the Sixers, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, were so certain they had a deal for Harden done that Simmons was informed by his agent on Wednesday to basically start packing his bags.
But the Sixers thought they had a deal for Harden done, according to sources. The team won't come out and say it, but Morey pushed hard to reunite with the 2018 MVP. Simmons and Thybulle were even informed by their agents on Wednesday of an expected trade.
You can imagine the timeline going like this: New Rockets GM Rafael Stone's talks with Brooklyn and Philadelphia boil down to decision time, at which point he realizes the Nets' offer, while rich in draft equity, lacks the franchise-cornerstone piece that the Sixers can offer in Simmons. He's leaning heavily toward Philly, strongly enough for word to trickle down to Simmons, at which point Fertitta steps in and kills the deal.
Next thing you know, Harden is going to Brooklyn.
The math adds up here because had Fertitta made it known to Stone from the start, explicitly, that a deal with the Sixers was not going to happen, while Stone still could've, and almost certainly would've, kept negotiations with Philly open for leverage against the Nets, it never would've gone as far as Simmons being told to expect a trade.
No right-thinking GM -- particularly one getting his first shot at running his own club with presumably no interest in torching his credibility with front offices, players and agents throughout the league -- would knowingly deceive people to that length. More likely, Stone believed he had the green light to make the best deal possible, got set to make that deal, then had the plug pulled by his owner.
If Pompey's reporting is accurate (there's no reason to think it isn't; he's a highly trustworthy reporter who has been embedded with that team and in the NBA for years), the Sixers won't be able to tell Simmons in the aftermath of all this that he was never going to be traded just to save face with a player they now still employ. His agent was told. Simmons got the news to expect a trade. The cat was, and is, out of the bag.
To Simmons' credit, he was professional throughout the rumor stages of this negotiation and has said all the right things in the aftermath. He was reportedly "ecstatic" to remain with the Sixers, and he's since called these trade talks part of the business and that he can only worry about what's in his control, which is coming to work every day and being the best player and teammate he can be. It's straight out of the PR handbook, and good for Simmons. He got his wish to stay with the Sixers, it seems, because Stone did not get his wish in trading for him.