Daryl Morey isn't kidding about Ben Simmons. He's bluffing.
Appearing on 97.5 The Fanatic on Thursday, the Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations spent over 15 minutes digging a trench in the increasingly acrimonious war between the team he runs and the three-time All-Star no longer interested in being a part of it.
The most relevant comment for our purposes focused on just how long Morey and the Sixers are willing to extend this stalemate, via Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice:
Coming from anyone other than Morey, a statement like that would ring laughably, nakedly hollow. Four years? In an era defined by ever-shortening timelines and ever-diminishing patience? Ridiculous, right? But Morey has carved out a highly successful career by aggressively booting aside norms. He entered the national consciousness in 2009, an outsider with a computer science degree from Northwestern and an MBA from MIT's Sloan School of Management, the guy who saw value in Shane Battier nobody else did.
Morey wasn't the subject of the now seminal piece by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Magazine, but it solidified his reputation as a nonconformist, a man as responsible for the widespread replacement of old-school thinking by new-school analytics as anyone.
His 2014-15 Houston Rockets set the NBA record for three-point attempts, scoffing at the conventional wisdom that jump-shooting teams couldn't win championships. The team broke its own record three more times and now holds the four highest-volume three-point shooting seasons in league history.
Morey also challenged convention on an individual basis, empowering James Harden to control an offense like few players ever had. The approach led Harden to win the MVP award in 2017-18, and The Beard owns three of the dozen highest single-season usage-rate figures ever posted.
All that's to say Morey is someone whose confidence as a disruptor is well-founded. His rejection of orthodoxy has worked over and over again. You don't operate that way, successfully, without developing some hubris, without thinking you really can keep doing what's never been done.
If ever there were a person willing to approach a situation such as the one with Simmons in an unprecedented way by, say, extending the standoff for almost a half-decade, it'd probably be Morey.
Yet for all the reasons we might take the Sixers' top executive at his word, there are a couple of more compelling ones forcing us to doubt him. The first is Joel Embiid who, in his age-26 season last year, was arguably the per-minute MVP. He didn't win the award in part because he missed 21 games—no shock for a player who has lost significant time because of injuries in every season of his career.
Whatever stubborn patience the Sixers may have with the Simmons situation has to be balanced against the screaming urgency to win—right now—while Embiid is at the peak of his powers. And that's to say nothing of the risks they run with respect to Embiid's happiness. He, perhaps more than the Sixers, must understand the exigency of the moment. Nobody should be itching to get this resolved more than Embiid. If he applies pressure to the front office, you can forget four years. Simmons will be gone in four seconds.
The only thing worse than one star demanding a trade is two, and if the Sixers drag this out, they will risk adding Embiid to the ranks of the disgruntled.
This is why Morey's insistence on waiting for the right trade package falls flat.
His repeated assertions that the Sixers won't trade Simmons for role players, that they must instead receive a difference-maker in return, doesn't check out. Morey says he's got four years of patience because dealing Simmons for less than a star lowers the team's championship odds. He claims keeping Simmons, even if he never plays, is the only alternative.
But how does rostering Simmons while he refuses to suit up improve a team's title shot more than a handful of helpful support pieces? Take Morey's comments to their logical conclusion. Are we expected to believe the Sixers will wait this mess out for the duration, hold on to Simmons because nothing out there ups their championship odds and then lose him in 2025 free agency?
This is great theater, but like all theater, it involves performance. Morey has made a career of seeing angles and seeking edges. We should credit him with thinking things through and deciding that the best move involves projecting Olympic levels of intractability. At the very least, it might signal to Simmons that he won't get what he wants through insubordination.
Realistically, when most of the 35 percent of players currently ineligible to be traded hit the market Dec. 15, the Sixers' options will expand. By then, we might have a new set of big names hoping to shake loose from situations that have soured. Maybe Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard won't be available. No matter. There'll be others. Discontented stars seeking trades are a renewable resource. There are always more.
What's happening with Simmons and the Sixers has already gone on longer than expected, but it won't last forever. There's no scenario in which Morey lets it fester through this season's trade deadline, let alone three more.