Wednesday afternoon, the Sixers appeared to be on the cusp of acquiring James Harden, a move that would have reunited the three-time scoring champ with former Rockets GM Daryl Morey, now Philadelphia’s President of Basketball Operations. The 76ers offered an enticing package centered around All-Star Ben Simmons, but instead, Houston went in another direction, pulling the trigger on a four-team blockbuster that landed the Rockets Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs and a deluge of future draft picks.
Seeing the trade fall through at the last second was a frustrating development for the Sixers, who were hoping Harden would elevate them to contender status in the Eastern Conference. Much like Pistons legend Isiah Thomas, famously snubbed from the “Dream Team” that dominated the ’92 Olympics, the 76ers
met all the criteria, but weren’t selected.
With Harden now a Brooklyn Net, Philadelphia is left to wonder what the hell happened. Not everything has to be a full-fledged conspiracy theory, but you could understand why Sixers fans might be a bit irritated by Houston’s sudden change of heart. Did the Rockets get cold feet? Were they skeptical of Ben Simmons’ shooting (his career-long case of the yips is well-documented)? Or was it as simple as Houston preferring Brooklyn’s offer?
All would be reasonable explanations, though it seems, in this instance, spite was the culprit with Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta apparently still harboring resentment over Morey’s awkward departure this offseason. Morey resigned from his role as GM, a position he had held since 2007, in October under the guise of spending more time with his family. Weeks later, Morey resurfaced with a new title in Philadelphia, a stunt that understandably rubbed Fertitta the wrong way. When Harden (who arrived to training camp several days late and noticeably out-of-shape) expressed his desire to be traded, Morey became predictably obsessed, working night and day to bring the future Hall-of-Famer to Philadelphia … only to have Houston pull the rug out from underneath him.
Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports says that’s no coincidence. Per Haynes, who discussed the Harden trade at great length on his podcast, “Posted Up,” Fertitta, still incensed over Morey defecting to Philadelphia, had no intention of cooperating with his former GM. “A lot of us thought Philly was the front-runner,” said Haynes. “[Fertitta] was just adamant that they not make a deal with Philly, obviously with Daryl Morey being the GM over there now.” Obviously that sentiment was unbeknownst to the 76ers, who thought they were progressing toward one of the biggest trades in franchise history. Instead, the Rockets used them as leverage to coax a better offer out of Brooklyn.
The Sixers are arguably better off—Harden’s ball-dominant stylings and aloof locker-room presence may not have meshed well with coach Doc Rivers—but Morey getting scorned by his ex-employer couldn’t have been an easy pill to swallow.