Cue the music, Ben Simmons and Daryl Morey are engaged in a modern-day episode of “Tom and Jerry.”
Action and reaction. Tweets and videos. All fun for the gallery, but misery for the collateral figures — the actual roster of the Philadelphia 76ers and coach Doc Rivers.
Petty games that seem to reach a crescendo — until tomorrow.
But we’re no closer to a resolution today than we were when it was obvious this marriage needed to end.
This is about Simmons, of course, but Morey, the 76ers president of basketball operations, wants this to be about him — or is at least behaving that way.
Defiantly holding the carrot of “no play, no pay,” Morey has forgotten, ignored or never learned the NBA is a people business which can be augmented by spreadsheets but not guided by.
Is it a back injury? Or a guy not being mentally ready to face a notoriously raw home crowd? Or maybe it's just out of control, unnecessarily.
“Buckle up,” Morey said in an interview with Philadelphia radio station 97.5 The Fanatic after the latest volley with Simmons, indicating this could be a long standoff between Simmons and the team in relation to Simmons’ trade demand.
"Would you rather eliminate what people perceive to be a distraction, or would you rather have better playoff odds? I'll take playoff odds. ... Whatever we have to deal with that helps the Philadelphia 76ers win the title, we'll do it.”
He also intimated this could go on for four years — the length of Simmons’ contract — drawing a firm line publicly and spitting in the face of player empowerment. But tell that to Joel Embiid, the center who has a history with knee and back issues and can’t afford to sit and watch while Morey plays a game of ego with Simmons and his agent, Rich Paul.
Morey views this coldly, as if this can only be evaluated through a prism of numbers and any discomfort that must be endured is a minor inconvenience in the name of maximizing a return. He refuses to concede Simmons’ value isn’t what he thinks it is and will not cut his losses for the sake of that, because he doesn’t have to be the one to deal with the discomfort in the meantime.
Multiple executives reached by Yahoo Sports all stated a similar line: Morey’s asking for the moon and stars, as in multiple players and as many as three first-round draft picks in exchange for Simmons.
And Morey’s statements and the 76ers’ actions will also be monitored by the NBPA, sources told Yahoo Sports, considering so much of this is surrounded by the fact the 76ers are clearly trying not to pay Simmons, already putting an $8.25 million payment due weeks ago in escrow.
Morey didn’t create the Simmons problem, and neither did Rivers — but they weren’t swindled when they took this job, so it is their responsibility.
Taking a subpar package by Morey’s standards makes the 76ers a better team by erasing this cloud from the roster while simultaneously bringing in at least one player who can actually help the team.
Fifty cents on the dollar is better than that dollar sitting in a glass case on the wall like a souvenir, incapable of being used. Even the threat of this saga dragging along makes one question if Morey has a pulse on the team, because this sure doesn’t feel like a negotiation tactic.
It feels like his MO, unwilling to shoot anything other than a layup.
Simmons won’t go full Jimmy Butler — punking the franchise by acting a fool in practices and showing its ills with a funhouse mirror — because he’s just not that type. It’s not so much that he’s trying to be professional, but he’s playing this true to form of his performances on the floor — open to interpretation, more questions than answers and refusing to go all the way.
Operating in the NBA is not about how you think it should be, but working within the parameters with what is.
Morey can’t change the rules and neither can Simmons. Simmons’ immense talent — and more practically, his max contract — demand he perform like a superstar. His numbers for his first four seasons look like Groundhog Day — consistent, but no uptick and it’s hard to detect even subtle improvements.
The 76ers have been built with some of Simmons’ talents in mind, and it’s safe to say he hasn’t held up his end of the unspoken superstar covenant.
The 76ers rightfully questioned his long-term fit, and he wasn’t too fond of the messaging in the immediate aftermath of their playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks. He came up short, thus the reason his trade value isn’t parallel to his talent.
He wanted out, a common practice in today’s NBA and let it be known in the most aggressively passive way possible, culminating with his chill-mode actions when he showed up at practice, ostensibly to collect his money.
“They chose Joel,” a source told Yahoo Sports some time ago.
Embiid has been more dependable and his performances more bankable than Simmons. Clearly, he’s had it with the circus, so it’s hard to foresee Simmons returning to actually play with all the scorched earth between himself, the team and the city. His body language from snippets of videos shows a man who has nothing to give to this franchise anymore, even if he’s the biggest reason why the state of affairs are as such.
In some way, perhaps Morey has a point and believes he should stand on some high ground as a moral authority against players gone wild. After all, he’s fired off a tweet that created an international firestorm that others had to answer for while he stayed in the ivory tower, later escaping to Philadelphia for a contract that places him among the highest-paid executives in sports.
But just because choosing Embiid is the correct and obvious choice doesn’t validate every subsequent action in the name of it. There’s a human touch he clearly doesn’t exercise or doesn’t possess, and although he’s had success as an executive, his blind spots have deterred him and his teams from reaching the ultimate goal.
Buckle up — except he’s not in the car. He’s in a plane, 30,000 feet in the air, comfortable watching everyone else be uncomfortable.