As the Rockets were mulling their eleventh-hour options for trading James Harden, it came down to two teams: The Nets, who ultimately won the Harden sweepstakes via a four-team deal, and the 76ers, who were reportedly offering a package centered on Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle and future draft compensation.
The deal the Rockets took landed them four future first-round picks and the rights to four future pick swaps with the Nets, all unprotected, plus Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs and Victor Oladipo, the latter of whom came by way of Houston flipping Caris LeVert to the Pacers.
The Rockets got a good deal either way, but one could argue Simmons was the prized jewel in any of these offers, and they missed out on him. Why didn't Houston do the deal with Philadelphia? Initial reports indicated the sticking point was rookie Tyrese Maxey, whom the Rockets wanted and the Sixers didn't want to include. But was that really the case?
Hanging in the background of all this was the rocky relationship between Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and Sixers GM Daryl Morey, who held the same position with Houston under Fertitta before stepping down under the guise of spending more time with his family, only to take the Sixers job shortly thereafter.
Fertitta and Morey had their differences with the Rockets. For one, Fertitta reportedly stepped in when Morey wasn't too keen on trading for Russell Westbrook and made the deal happen.
"My basketball ops got maybe a little weak at the end [of the trade discussions]," Fertitta said at the time. "And I just said, 'We're doing this.'"
Fast forward to Wednesday, and as the Rockets were mulling their options, and everyone was thinking the Sixers were a very realistic trade partner, Fertitta was reportedly adamant that was not going to happen. From Yahoo's Chris Haynes, speaking on this "Posted Up" podcast:
"After that, I was told that Tilman Fertitta – the Houston Rockets owner – he was just adamant that they not make a deal with Philly, obviously with Daryl Morey being the GM over there now."
Let's assume this report is true: Fertitta is really playing with fire letting whatever animosity he harbors toward Morey interfere with a transaction that will largely define the next decade of Houston Rockets basketball and business.
If Rafael Stone, who took over for Morey as Houston's new GM, really believes the four-team deal with Brooklyn, Indiana and Cleveland was a better play than whatever Philly was willing to offer, then fine. But if the Rockets passed on Ben Simmons for any reason other than basketball, that's a bad deal.
With a specifically tailored roster around him, there are plenty of people who believe Simmons could lead a championship-caliber team. The picks Houston got from Brooklyn (and Cleveland) are good, and perhaps will end up being better than the Sixers' future picks once the Harden-Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving triumvirate ages out and the Nets possibly go in the tank, but there's a good possibility none of those picks net a player the caliber of Simmons.
Time will tell on this one.