What Do Daryl Morey's Comments Mean?
Is this really going to take four years?
Mike O’Connor is the best O’Connor in basketball writing. Previously of The Athletic, you can find Mike on Twitter @MOConnor_NBA. Mike’s writing is brought to you by Body Bio, supplements based on science, focusing on your gut and brain health. Get 20% off E-Lyte and all Body Bio products with promo code RTRS20 at Body Bio’s website.
Has there ever been a more toxic player/team relationship in the history of sports than Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers? Every single day, there is another demonstration of pettiness between the two sides dominating the news cycle.
At times, it’s just that -- pettiness. Other times, it crosses into legitimately meaningful statements that help give a window into the long term outlook of the situation. Such was the case Thursday afternoon, as Daryl Morey effectively stated in a radio interview that he would not trade Simmons for anything less than a “difference maker” and that the process of accomplishing that could take up to four years.
Morey’s statements have largely been received positively. He certainly deserves credit for being candid, and to some extent, he deserves credit for not caving to Simmons’ camp’s demands. However, one wonders about the merits of Morey’s goals and beliefs towards the situation, beyond simply being a win in the power dynamic aspect of things. Sure, the Sixers have avoided being bullied by Simmons’ camp, but are they truly helping the long term health of the franchise?
In the midst of all this chaos, it’s easy to fall in love with winning the power dynamic aspect of things. It feels good not to cave -- but simply doing whatever wins the dick measuring contest doesn’t mean that’s what’s best for the franchise.
Step back from the power dynamic battle, and you’ll see that both sides are at least a little bit delusional at the moment. Daryl Morey will only trade Ben Simmons for an All-NBA caliber player. Ben Simmons’ trade value is not that of an All-NBA caliber player at the moment. The only way for him to once again achieve the value of an All-NBA caliber player is for him to play, and play well. But Ben Simmons doesn’t want to play (for the Sixers), and even if he did, there’s no guarantee that he would raise his value.
Morey could not possibly believe that Simmons is currently worth an All-NBA player in terms of a trade return; the market must have told him that by this point. If he thinks that Simmons will rejoin the team, play well enough to raise his value to that point, and not implode the locker room in the meantime, I’m dubious to say the least.
That’s not to say it can’t be done, but rather that Simmons simply will not do such a thing. I’m not sure Simmons will ever decide to face the Philadelphia media, play in front of the Philadelphia crowd, and do so in a way that raises his trade value.
Perhaps Morey looks at recent superstar trades and wonders if the circumstances around them can be replicated; generally speaking, players play amidst all this drama. That’s what James Harden did in Houston. That’s what Jimmy Butler did in Minnesota. While everyone joked about how fat Harden was and how mean Butler is, those two guys showed up, played, and reminded the world of who they are and why you should want to trade for them. Harden did eventually mail it in, but only after a few outrageous performances that helped show the league what they’d be getting in a trade.
This is a different player, a different city, and a different set of circumstances. Shame on me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Simmons could ever relish the challenge of showing up and dominating in the midst of all this in the way that Harden and Butler did. If Simmons agrees to play at all, it’s hard to imagine him dominating the league to prove his trade value. As he supposedly said, that’s not his job.
One thing is for absolute certain: that’s not going to happen right now. The noise is too loud. The best thing the Sixers could do is send Simmons away for a couple weeks, let the news cycle die down, and regroup from there. Perhaps all parties including the fans will be in a different headspace by then, and Simmons can feel comfortable taking the floor. With a few decent performances, maybe some team ups their offer, and you go from there.
But one could just as easily envision Simmons reigniting his holdout, keeping the news cycle hostile, and continuing to lose any remaining supporters. I can’t envision things getting much worse, but the continued negative news cycle can’t help.
I applaud Morey for not being spooked by Simmons’ threats, but we also have to consider reality. He expects Simmons to either report back and play indefinitely, or to trade him for a difference maker. I cannot imagine Simmons mending fences and rejoining the team for the long haul, and I cannot imagine the Sixers getting an All-NBA player in return for Simmons (save perhaps for Kyrie Irving). Those two things are simply not realistic. It seems that he is placing his bet on the very narrow possibility that Simmons returns, plays, and raises his trade value. It’s certainly not impossible, but it’s not a bet I would make.
We are four long months into this trade request saga. Bridges have been burnt, the market has spoken, and money has been lost. Seemingly everyone wants to be done with it, except for Daryl Morey.