In recent weeks, Ben Simmons has frequently been mentioned as the centerpiece in a potential trade between the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets -- a deal that would also include James Harden, who has made it abundantly clear that he no longer wants to be a member of the Rockets. Houston's interest in Simmons makes sense, as they could do much worse than the dominant defender and nightly triple-double threat that Simmons is if they were going to lose their former league MVP. However, every time these rumors resurfaced, the Sixers have quickly shut them down.
In recent sessions with media members, Doc Rivers has twice emphasized that the leaks and rumors aren't coming from the Sixers side of things.
The Sixers' new president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey, "liked" the above Tweet regarding the rumors, presumably showing solidarity with Rivers' remarks. Morey also publicly declared that the Sixers wouldn't be trading Simmons.
"We are not trading Ben Simmons -- he is an important part of our future," Morey said in a statement earlier this week. A team source also confirmed to CBS Sports that the Sixers have no plans of moving on from Simmons at this point in time. So, Simmons seems safe for now. But here's the thing, situations can change very quickly in the NBA, as we have seen time and again over recent years.
Also, just because an executive says one thing, that doesn't mean that they won't ultimately do the exact opposite. Morey, specifically, has a history when it comes to saying one thing but doing another. During the 2019 offseason, Morey traded veteran guard Chris Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder just days after telling Paul that he wouldn't be moved. This understandably rubbed Paul the wrong way.
"My initial reaction? I was shocked," Paul said of the trade after it occurred. "Truth be told, I just talked to Daryl [Morey] a couple days before the trade and he said he wasn't going to trade me [to Oklahoma City]. That's funny because that is going to be the alert that pops up on everybody's phone because nobody knows that. But what the hell, I just said it.
"Every situation is different," Paul added. "But the team is going to do whatever they want to do. They'll tell you one thing and do a smooth 'nother thing ... The GM there in Houston, he don't owe me nothing. You know what I mean? He may tell me one thing but do another thing. But you just understand that that's what it is."
That trade wasn't an indictment on Morey's character, but rather it just represented the reality of the business of basketball. Things change quickly in the league, and as a result, teams have to remain flexible and fluid. But, if Morey was willing to do that to a player like Chris Paul with the reputation that he has built up over the course of his career, it's not a stretch to think that he would also be willing to do something similar with a less-proven player like Simmons. Plus, Morey's relationship with Harden needs to be taken into consideration. Morey brought Harden to Houston in 2012, and the two enjoyed some serious success together. When Morey left the Rockets to join the Sixers earlier this year, he was very effusive in his praise of Harden.
"An entire page could be dedicated just to James. He not only transformed my life but also revolutionized the game of basketball — and continues to do so — like almost no one has before," Morey wrote in an ad that he took out in the Houston Chronicle. "The game is played differently because of James, and on every playground in the world, the next generation of talent is studying and imitating his game… I can't believe I won't be able to have another strategy session with James," Morey wrote. "I loved working together on how to get his incredible Hall of Fame teammates Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook to the Rockets. I will be rooting for James to win a championship in Houston. It's how this story should end."
Morey clearly has some strong feelings for Harden, and he would probably be happy to continue their professional relationship. But, at the end of the day, Morey was brought to Philadelphia to help lead the Sixers to their first NBA title since 1983, and he is well aware of the difficulties in building a title team around Harden. Despite all the success that the Rockets had during Harden and Morey's time together, they were never able to advance out of the Western Conference, much less win a title. While some of this can be blamed on injury issues (mainly Chris Paul missing the final games of the Western Conference Finals in 2018), some of the blame also has to fall on Harden, who has suffered through his fair share of postseason struggles.
Also, there's a legitimate argument to be made that moving forward, Simmons could be more valuable than Harden. There's the age difference -- Harden is 31, while Simmons is still just 24, and the contract comparison -- Harden has just two more team-controlled years on his current contract, while Simmons is under team control for the next five seasons. Plus, as good as he is, Harden has likely already hit his ceiling as a player at this point in time, while Simmons' vast skill set is still developing. In two or three years he could be a much better player than he is today, and he's already a two-time All-Star and a First Team All-Defensive player. Sure, Harden is a much more dominant scorer, but Simmons does almost everything else on the floor better.
It's for these reasons that a deal hasn't already been done. The Sixers, and Morey, are clearly very high on Simmons, as they should be. But again, that doesn't mean that things can't change. The Sixers have long maintained that they want to see what a new coach can bring out of Simmons and Joel Embiid as a duo, as Brett Brown was the only head coach that either ever had before Rivers. For that reason, it seems almost certain that the Sixers will begin the 2020-21 season with both young All-Stars on the roster. The pressure to perform will be there though. If the Sixers start the season hot, all the trade talk will be put on the back burner. But, if the team struggles out of the gate, calls for change will come. Externally at first, but they could eventually come internally, too. At that point, the Sixers' stance regarding trades could change.